A Touch of Glass

Stripper and adult-film star Leslie Glass is battling cancer in the same way she's conducted her career: with compassion and guts

Glass is thankful to the surgeon for one thing: giving her a tiny C-section-type scar instead of slicing her down the middle. That could have ended her career.

But she's bitter about her lack of early diagnosis and treatment. Glass is convinced either the lab or the doctors screwed up. "If they caught it in time, I might still have had cancer on my liver, but probably only two or three lesions that could have been cut off. You can't cut out 72 lesions."

Right from the start, Glass was determined to beat the cancer, which kills 95 percent of sufferers within five years. "I'm strong as hell," says the talkative, gravelly voiced woman. "I wasn't going to let it kick my ass."

Leslie Glass lounges in a private back room at Pure Platinum, where she has danced for Richard Gere and Chris Rock
Leslie Glass lounges in a private back room at Pure Platinum, where she has danced for Richard Gere and Chris Rock

After doing research on the Internet, Glass visited the top hospitals in the country for treating her disease. Each doctor took one look at her liver scans and shook his head -- except Dr. David Van Echo at the University of Maryland. He told her she would likely die in two weeks but nonetheless agreed to fight the disease with every weapon in his arsenal. He made Glass a human guinea pig, using the latest, most aggressive treatments. "Leslie is the first one I tried all these procedures on," says Van Echo.

He started with a 29-hour infusion of a three-drug chemotherapeutic cocktail commonly used in Europe. He then moved to a treatment in which chemotherapeutic medicine is injected directly into each tumor, thus avoiding the side effects of traditional chemotherapy. Van Echo next tried a procedure in which a large needle hooked up to a radio frequency is inserted into the tumor and fries it away.

Van Echo, who'd never heard of his famous patient before, couldn't help being wowed by her: "She has a can-do attitude and doesn't want to give up. She also has a charismatic personality -- it's part of her job. She gets people to like her and to try to help her."

Indeed. With no health insurance, Glass rang up her friends in the adult-entertainment industry. "Believe it or not, this is a big-hearted industry," she says. Penthouse paid her airfare to various hospitals; Vivid Video, her rent for a year. A rich benefactor in Connecticut, who had donated to her animal shelter, paid for a year's worth of health insurance. Pure Platinum sold her Pets-4-Pets poster every night for a year. It paid for her treatment until Medicaid kicked in.

"We care about her, and we care about this cause," says Jeff Collins, promotions manager at Penthouse. "[Penthouse publisher] Bob Guccione's wife died of breast cancer, so he's well aware of the effects of this disease in this country."

The treatments exacted a huge toll. Glass calls chemotherapy "the most horrific trip I've ever gone through." She recalls leaving the stage at Pure Platinum to vomit and then running back to continue her set. Her liver is now dotted with holes, cracks, and scars where the tumors used to be.

But the latest scan reveals the aggressive killer still lingers in her blood and liver, although it has not surfaced anywhere else in her body. She is taking a drug holiday for a few months before Van Echo starts a new treatment: injecting radioactive pellets into her liver. "Who knows," Van Echo says when asked about her prognosis. "We have several more procedures left to try."

But Glass refuses to stop her battle for even a second. She will fly to the Bahamas this week for an alternative treatment in which vials of her blood are drawn, sent to Germany, activated with gene therapy to boost the white blood cell count, and reinjected in her veins.

Nor is she curtailing her busy schedule. Not only does she need to make a living, but "I believe when you sit in bed and eat Percocet all day is when you die. I go out there and dance no matter how bad I feel." Glass just returned from Los Angeles, where she did a photo shoot as the first bald Penthouse Pet (looking like a Star Trek babe). The photo will be part of a planned October issue devoted to breast cancer awareness. Two weeks ago she was in New York for a Penthouse breast cancer benefit and Howard Stern appearance, where, with two other Penthouse Pets in tow, she promoted the cancer benefit.

When she's in town, Glass still performs at Pure Platinum. She'd like to quit and open a ranch in Davie for abused animals and kids with cancer -- provided some rich benefactor like Donald Trump, who she says asked her out, or Stern gives her a donation. She'd also like to have a child.

Mostly she just wants to live.

"Am I going to die?" Glass wonders aloud. "I don't know. I used to have nightmares of death. It never leaves your head. You feel these things in your insides, and it's like having an alien in there. I want to be an example for people with cancer."

Contact Julie Kay at her e-mail address:


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