The lifestyle guru, 53, made headlines once again on Wednesday after calling it quits with longtime boyfriend Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York since 2011.
Lee, who referred to herself as the “First Girlfriend,” and Cuomo, 61, had been together since 2005 after meeting at a cocktail party shortly following his split from wife Kerry Kennedy, with whom he shares three daughters.
The couple made it a point to keep their relationship away from the public eye, though Lee often talked in interviews about their happy life together, and how she considered his children her own.
Long before their split, Lee lived her own life of glitz and glamour. Already a household name before she met Cuomo, New York magazine once commented, “It’s hard to think of another First Lady, anywhere, whose Q rating eclipses her significant other’s.”
“We never fight. He’s so patient and mellow,” she told the New York Times magazine in 2012. “He doesn’t give me grief.”
Though Lee shot down rumors in May after she sold the couple’s New Castle, New York, mansion, the couple officially announced their split on Wednesday in a joint statement. “Over the recent past, we have realized that our lives have gone in different directions and our romantic relationship has turned into a deep friendship,” they said. “We will always be family and are fully supportive of each other and dedicated to the girls. Our personal lives remain personal and there will be no further comment.”
Long before their split, Lee lived a life far different than the glitz and glam of her life with Cuomo.
Born to a drug-addicted teenage mother and absent father, Lee wrote in her 2007 memoir Made From Scratch that she was responsible for raising her four siblings on welfare and food stamps.
RELATED VIDEO: See Inside Sandra Lee’s New York Estate That ‘Smells Like Cookies and Feels Like Heaven’
After dropping out of college at the University of Wisconsin/La Crosse, she launched her first business, a window-dressing kit called Kurtain Kraft.
“I used old wire coat hangers to create hooks and loops that I wove fabric around and created valances and curtain panels,” she explained to Vogue in 2011.
Lee was soon able to parlay Kurtain Kraft’s success into a gig as on-air talent for the home shopping network QVC.
That, in turn, landed her the job that would go on to make her a household name: Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee.
The series, unique in that she combined fresh ingredients with store-bought items, launched on the network in 2003, and ran for 15 seasons. Lee’s recipes were accessible to busy homemakers, as many of them were created with a “30 percent fresh, 70 percent store-bought” rule in mind.
“Why I have had such a huge career and why I have sold over four million books is that people can do what I share with them to do,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011.
Though she’s faced criticism in the past for using processed foods in her recipes, Lee shrugged off the naysayers in 2012, telling the New York Times magazine: “I think they’re snobs. I’m not sure that some of the food purists are in touch with what really goes on in American households.”
In addition to her memoir, Lee has published more than two dozen books, and has hosted a series of other shows in addition to Semi-Homemade, including Sandra’s Restaurant Remakes and Sandra’s Money Saving Meals.
Lee’s TV shows, which have aired in 63 countries, have two Emmy wins.
“She is a workaholic, through and through,” her brother-in-law Lee Gaskill told the New York Times in 2010.
She has focused much of her free time on causes she is passionate about. In addition to being a founding member of UNICEF’s Los Angeles chapter, she has served as UNICEF’s special nutrition emissary and spent 10 year as the national spokesperson for No Kid Hungry. She donated all of the proceeds from her second cookbook to home-bound food delivery organizations Project Angel Food and God’s Love We Deliver. In addition, she has long supported the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
For her works, Lee’s has received many of the most prestigious recognitions and accolades including the President’s Volunteer Service Award, the Albert Einstein Award of Excellence, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Capitol Hill’s Congressional Families Award, City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Award and the Eleanor Roosevelt Medal of Honor.
Though Lee has long shunned the spotlight that comes along with being the de facto first lady of New York (and has eschewed contributing to political discussion on multiple occasions), the star’s relationship with Cuomo came to the forefront once again in 2015 when she revealed she’d been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
Lee received her diagnosis in March 2015, just after leaving PEOPLE’s Most Beautiful set, and told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts that she was so shocked she didn’t even cry.
“I was stunned. And that’s just how fast life turns. It turns on a dime,” she said. “Both the radiologist and the doctor said, ‘You’re a ticking time bomb.’”
Cuomo was shocked, too, telling PEOPLE in May 2015 that he promptly cleared his schedule and whisked her away to Turks and Caicos.
“I wanted to protect and shield her, but the best I could do in that moment was reassure her that everything would be okay,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve left for more than a couple of nights since becoming governor, but I knew Sandy needed a break, and we needed to be in a place that allowed us to focus on her.”
The star, who is currently cancer-free, underwent a double mastectomy two months after her diagnosis, something she chronicled in the HBO documentary RX: Early Detection – A Cancer Journey with Sandra Lee, which premiered in October.
“No doctor can tell you everything you need to know. The biggest thing I can do is really show people what it looks like to go through this so they walk in with open eyes ��� which I did not have,” she told PEOPLE last year. “Early diagnosis just gives you the opportunity to be the most aggressive that you can be. It’s the best treatment.”
Her bout with cancer even inspired Cuomo to pass legislation to improve access to breast cancer screenings by expanding hours at hospitals and clinics and removing some insurance barriers.
“Sandy’s experience with breast cancer was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through personally,” he told PEOPLE. “But it opened my eyes and I learned a lot.”