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Wearing a metallic red spandex top with holes that show off her melon-size breasts, a matching skirt slit to the top of her model-long legs, and silver lace-up go-go boots with four-inch stiletto heels, Leslie Glass is dressed for work.
Writhing on stage and then pirouetting around a brass pole, she looks similar to the other strippers at Pure Platinum in Fort Lauderdale with one major exception: her hair. The other erotic entertainers have long hair cascading down their backs, mostly blond. But Glass' hair is just a quarter-inch long and bleached white, a sleek cap outlining her heavily made-up face.
The short hair gives Glass a striking, sexy image, but the look is not intentional. It's a result of massive doses of chemotherapy and the only outward sign of the war that is raging inside her body.
The men in the audience -- a mixture of young, middle-aged, and grandfatherly customers -- ogle Glass appreciatively. What they don't know is that the seemingly perfect physical specimen displayed in front of them has advanced cancer and just returned from a hospital, where her tumors were fried with a special needle inserted into her liver. The patrons have no clue that the dancing is ripping apart the scar tissue forming in her liver and the pain is so intense Glass had to pop a Percocet before going on stage. Glass doesn't want them to know that.
"It's not good for the men to know about my cancer, because it ruins the fantasy," she says. "They're not going to want a table dance from me if they know I have cancer."
Eighteen months ago, at the age of 35, Glass was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer that had by then spread to her liver. The cancer was so advanced that her liver was sprinkled with 72 tumors. A blood test that detects the presence of tumors was at a level of 6500; 4000 is considered fatal. She was given two weeks to live.
The night she was supposed to die, Glass dragged her weak, 15-pounds-underweight body on stage, determined to prove the doctors wrong. She's been astonishing them ever since.
News of Glass' illness rocked the adult-entertainment world, where she is a star. Glass, who got her start as one of the original professional wrestling "ring girls," was the 1994 International PenthousePet of the Year and has appeared in Penthouse 86 times. She starred in seven adult films for Vivid Videos, including Where the Boys Aren't Part 10; served as set decoration in music videos for Tone Loc and Extreme; and guested on the Howard Stern radio show three times, once as the "Snapple girl," a spokesmodel for the soft drink.
Members of the adult industry were distressed about the news because of her lifelong contribution to helping animals, her down-to-earth attitude, and the grace with which she was handling the illness, says Craig Korka, a Pure Platinum manager. In her hometown of Baltimore, Glass ran a shelter for abused and stray animals called Two by Two and says that for years she spent all her money on animals, visiting shelters wherever she was traveling and flying injured animals back home. She also started a nonprofit organization called Pets-4-Pets, in which scantily clad Penthouse Pets are featured in posters and calendars with their pets, with the proceeds going to a shelter for abused animals in West Virginia.
"She's fighting a fight no one would want to fight and doing it more gallantly than anyone," says Korka. "She's never gone around looking for pity. We sold posters of hers, and she contributed half to her treatment and half to the animals. Who would do that? And she still manages to look sexy. It's unbelievable."
"She's a very courageous girl," says a stripper at Pure Platinum who goes by the name Brandy. "She's been through a lot of ups and downs, and she's a big fighter. We all love her."
The cancer might have shocked others, but it was not a surprise to Glass. She had stomach pains and bloody diarrhea for years and thought she had an ulcer. "I'd never drink alcohol because it would burn," she says. "I knew something was wrong." But doctors glanced at the gorgeous young porn star with a mane of chestnut hair and called her a hypochondriac. At her urging they took stool samples and performed a colonoscopy in February 1998. Finding nothing the doctors told her she had irritable bowel syndrome, a mild illness often psychological in origin.
In July 1998 her abdomen swelled up so much she looked five months pregnant. She was admitted to Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, and an ultrasound revealed a grapefruit-size tumor in her colon. Suspecting cancer, her doctor promptly shipped her to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. After 13 hours on the operating table, Glass awoke to grim news from the surgeon, who she says could not look her in the eye. "He said, 'We did everything we could,'" recalls Glass, and informed her he had removed one ovary, which the cancer had swallowed, and a piece of her colon and stomach. Says Glass: "He knew I was going to die. I felt sorry for him."