Her favorite look featured a wig of long brown hair with bangs, which she combined with tight jeans and glittery eye-shadow. She got high on crystal meth and learned where to go for black market hormones. The estrogen injections made her face smoother, her chest fuller, her hips curvier.
"I thought, 'This is finally who you're meant to be,'" she said.
She did not suspect she was ill until a lump appeared on her neck. Doctors at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center delivered the news: Without treatment, she had about six months to live.
After surgery and a year of chemotherapy covered by Medi-Cal, she thought she had beaten the lymphoma. Then her back started to hurt. One day, she woke up in a Hollywood hotel room and couldn't walk. Terrified and alone, she dialed 911.
At first, Leane didn't know what to make of the diminutive woman who burst into her hospital room and chatted merrily in a thick Irish accent.
She thought nuns dressed in religious habits. But Sister Margaret showed up at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank in jeans and a sweater, her hair in a bob. Hospital staff members had called Covenant House for help: Leane was homeless, and the hospital couldn't discharge her to the streets.
Leane weighed less than 100 pounds, she could barely walk and her hair was falling out in clumps.
"I couldn't even look at myself. I was just disgusted," she said. "And when the drugs and the money are gone, who is there? Nobody."
Sister Margaret was there. She brought Leane fresh clothes, distracted her with gossip magazines and indulged her cravings for Toaster Strudel.
"She didn't judge me," Leane said. "That was how my mom was supposed to be, how she was supposed to treat me. But she never did."
After another round of surgery and more chemotherapy at County-USC, Leane's doctors told her there was nothing more they could do. Leane wouldn't give up. She was referred to City of Hope, where doctors recommended more aggressive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
A social worker sat down with Leane and Sister Margaret to prepare them. Leane would need a room of her own to avoid infections and someone to take her to appointments and support her through the pain, nausea and vomiting.
"I was thinking, "Oh, my God … and she lives in a homeless shelter,'" Sister Margaret said.
Together, they prepared Leane's final directives.
"In my last hour, I asked for someone to please hold my hand," Leane said. "And if some godly music was available, I would like some godly prayer music to be played."
Leane was desperate to see her mother. Sister Margaret got ahold of her stepfather by phone and explained the gravity of the situation. He told her Leane's mother wasn't interested.
"It was so tragic," Sister Margaret said. "She's a human being. It doesn't matter what she is or isn't. That's why I took her on as my project."
Leane has shelves full of wigs, makeup and fancy shoes. But since the stem cell transplant in December, she rarely bothers with them. They are relics of a life she is determined to put behind her. These days she'd rather be in sweat pants and sneakers, with perhaps a pair of stud earrings to add a little sparkle.
"I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin," she says. "I know that I'm a woman in my heart and in my mind. So it doesn't really matter how I dress."
Leane returns to City of Hope regularly for tests and has been hospitalized several times with infections and other complications.
When she doesn't have medical appointments, she likes to accompany Sister Margaret on her rounds to collect donations for Covenant House and go with her to church on Sundays. She recently moved from Covenant House into an apartment subsidized by the shelter and is planning to study for the high school equivalency exam. She thinks she might become a nurse.
"I'd like to help other people who are sick," she says. "Because I know how much it means to me and how it makes me feel to know that you have someone taking care of you."
In the van, Leane's face brightens as they pull into City of Hope. She feels at home here, she says. Sister Margaret points out the flower beds, which are bursting with color.
"Remember, we sat in the gardens sometimes," she says.
"And read our gossip magazines," Leane adds.
Inside, her oncologist, Dr. Joseph Alvarnas, checks the lumps on her neck.
"These feel like salivary glands to me. These don't feel like lymph nodes," he tells her. Together, they go over her latest scans.
"We don't see any big tumor masses that we would worry about," Alvarnas says. "I'm very happy."
Leane and Sister Margaret exchange high fives.
"We did a great job, girl," Leane says.
"Yes, girl!" Sister Margaret replies.
Audio slideshow: An unlikely friendship