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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lessons Learned

Early in the spring, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  To say it came as a shock would be an understatement of epic proportions.  I had no lump, no history of breast cancer in my family, and absolutely no idea of what was cooking inside me.  Thankfully, I am diligent about mammograms and my doctors caught it very early.

While cancer isn't something I ever want to experience again, and I'm all for experiencing, some good did come from it.  Yup.  I learned a few things that have changed me... for the better.

I have learned that true kindness exists.

Kindness isn't something we talk a lot about.  Sure, we all try to be kind and, for the most part, we probably are.  As parents, we strive to teach our kids to be kind.  It's one of those character traits that we all automatically think we possess, just by virtue of the fact that we endeavor to be good people.  Being nice isn't the same as being kind.

Let me just tell you that I knew nothing about what it is to be kind, truly kind, until I had cancer.

My family and friends have been wonderful.  They have been there with encouraging visits, phone calls, letters, and the like.  They have all offered their own particular brand of irreverence, which I have truly appreciated.  Everyone has tried to say the right things to be comforting and reassuring.  And, by and large, they have been.  Truthfully, I expected nothing less.  These are all people who are important to me, and I to them.  We are all in a relationship together.

But it was the kindness of strangers; the doctors, the nurses, and my radiation "buddies", that affected me the most profoundly.  I can say, without qualification, that I have never been treated more kindly or with more compassion and empathy in all my life.  There just are no words.

I have also learned that sometimes one sentence is enough.

I haven't, until now, told very many people that I had cancer.  I don't know why.  Maybe I thought if I didn't talk about it, it would go away.  Or maybe it was because of my fear of the second sentence.

The second sentence is where the trouble starts.  It's where everyone tries to make that very meaningful, this is the thing that's going to carry you through your awful ordeal, statement.  It goes something like this:

Me:  "I have breast cancer."
Them:  "Oh my God...  I'm so sorry."

So far so good.  Unfortunately, this is also where it starts to get dicey.  Instead of stopping there, many people feel the need to go on with something like this:

Them:  "I know how you feel."
Me:  "Have you had breast cancer?"
Them:  "Me?  No, thank God.  But my (friend, cousin, neighbor, vet) had it.  I probably shouldn't tell you this but she's since had (ovarian, lung, throat, etc.) cancer and a ton of chemo.  But you're going to be fine."

Number One:  If you feel the need to say something like "I probably shouldn't tell you this", you probably shouldn't.

Number Two:  Don't assume you know how someone else feels, even if you've been through something similar, and especially if you have not.  Everyone's experiences are different and what might have been awful  for one person might be very manageable for someone else.  Or vise versa. 

Number Three:  Really?  Did you need to tell me that she was fine, but then she wasn't?

I know.  I know.   People are just trying to be helpful.  I know this, but just for future reference, it's better to stop with the "I'm so sorry".  If you feel the need to add something else, offer your help, but only if you mean it.  While the offer of help is nice, we Cancer People realize that life goes on.

And I guess that's the biggest and best lesson I've learned.  Life goes on.  When faced with probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me, I have learned, really learned, that life goes on.  I got through the treatment and have still managed to come out the other side with my sense of humor intact.  I have tried hard to maintain my sense of perspective.  Cancer has been a big thing for me.  But it hasn't been the center of the universe for everyone else, even my own family.  And that's fine.  In fact, that's how I wanted it.

Because, after all, life goes on.  And isn't that the point?

 As a little thank you to the doctors and nurses in the radiology department, I put together this little "best of" basket.  Included along with the recipes below, were also Kate's Favorite Brownie Bites (which are brownies baked in a mini-brownie pan -- use your favorite recipe).  Here are some pictures and the recipes below. 

Recipe:  Banana Mocha Muffins
(Baking for Friends, Kathleen King, 2012)


2 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. instant coffee (or 1 1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder)
1 Tbsp. boiling water
1 1/3 C mashed fully ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 1/4 C sugar
2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 C semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I did 350 degrees); grease a muffin tin tray.

Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add the egg, mix again then set aside.   In another bowl add the coffee to the hot water; stir to dissolve.  Stir the mashed bananas into the coffee.  Add to the butter/sugar mixture and stir until incorporated; set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  By hand, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Divide the batter evenly into the prepared muffin tin tray.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, remove from pan then cool completely on a wire rack.

Recipe:  Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins
(Baking for Friends, Kathleen King, 2012)


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbs poppy seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
8 Tbs (1 stick) butter
zest of two lemons
juice of two lemons
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup full fat sour cream or greek yogurt


Preheat oven to 400F. Spray down your muffins tin or line with cupcake liners.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Remove from heat as soon as it is melted. Whisk in the zest and juice. Slowly drizzle in the eggs, whisking constantly until well combined. Add the sour cream or yogurt and whisk until smooth.  Pour over the dry ingredients and fold with a wooden spoon or spatula just until combined, be careful not to over-mix. Divide the batter among muffin cups and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar.

Bake 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.   Remove and cool on a rack.

Recipe:  Frank's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)


2 1/8 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
12 tbl. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus one egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups chips (chocolate, Mini M & M's -- whatever you like)
3/4 cup toasted walnuts (optional)


Preheat the oven to 325. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Mix the melted butter and the sugars until blended. (I do this by hand.) Mix in the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chips and nuts, if using.

Using a small scoop, (about 1 1/2 inches) scoop the dough on to the prepared cookie sheets. I usually put 9 cookies on each sheet.

Bake, reversing the cookie sheets' positions halfway through the baking, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges, about 15-18 minutes. Cook on the cookie sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to wire racks.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Recipe:  Cranberry Almond Granola Bars
Loosely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman


1 cup dried cranberries
1-1/4 cups rolled oats
3 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/4 tsp. almond extract


Preheat the oven to 350.  Line an 8×8 baking dish in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing side. Repeat in the opposite direction (this makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece).

In a large bowl, stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, stirring together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly into the bottom, edges, and corners.

Bake the bars for 20-25 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll still seem a bit soft if you press the center (they will set as they cool).

Place the pan over a cooling rack, or in the fridge. If cooling at room temp, you can remove the bars from the pan after about 20-30 minutes, using the pachment “sling” and set them on the rack to cool completely. Once completley cooled, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. (If the bars seem too crumbly to cut, chill them further in the fridge, and then cut them cold.)

Bars can be stored in an airtight container, in the fridge, or frozen.

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