Daily Archives: August 22, 2011

Cancer Don’t Know Jack

My friend shared this comic on Twitter yesterday and I thought it did a good job of describing of my perceptions of cancer pre and post diagnosis.

I mean, it’s all hunky dory to have a “curable cancer,” until you learn the chances that it will be cured. Even if it is cured, you live your life in fear that it will return. Because let’s face it, a lot of the time when cancer comes back, it’s with a vengeance.

It’s with these thoughts that I, along with the rest of Canada, digest the news of the passing of Jack Layton. For those foreign readers who don’t follow Canadian politics in their spare time, he was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party. He was one of the “good guys” of politics. He and his party have always been the underdogs, but still led them to become Parliament’s official opposition in the face of the mighty Conservatives.

Layton was one of those people who practiced what he preached, meant even more by the importance of what he was preaching. He was incredibly energetic, persistent, and hopeful until the end. A vibrant personality, who until yesterday, I thought was vibrant enough to keep away from the final clutches of cancer.

When he stepped down as leader of the NDP last month because he was struck with cancer for a second time, I was devastated. Having just been discharged from the hospital, I knew all too well the look of a person being overcome by cancer. Even though I’ve never met Layton, it hit me hard. I lived in his riding in Toronto, saw him out at events, and was continually inspired by his dedication to other people. Why does cancer always go after the good guys?

For those like me, who find themselves particularly affected by his passing, I think it says a lot about cancer as a disease itself. It reminds me, as a cancer patient, that the disease does not discriminate. That it doesn’t matter how hard you want to live, and how much good you want to do, it can still cut your intentions short. It reminds those who’ve lost loved ones of a scenario they know all too well.

It is really hard to stay positive when I hear of people dying of cancer every day. I am always certain I will come out on the other side, but the “what ifs” start to litter my head when I hear of other patients passing.

If there is one thing I want to use this post to say, it’s that no one “loses their battle with cancer.” That implies that someone dying from the disease wasn’t a good enough fighter to win. And if there’s one thing I know, Jack Layton was a man who fought and fought hard. He didn’t lose anything to cancer, because he lived his life despite it.

I know it is imperative to keep my own hope and optimism as I travel this road, because being dragged down by the “what ifs” are far too much. If anything, I am happy to still have a road to walk on, and will do it with as much vigour as those, like Jack, who walked it before me.

Lemon Cake for Three

My mother, in her infinite wisdom, has always said that people will come and go in your life in times when you need them most.

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If you really think about who your friends were during certain stages of your life, it’s true. For whatever reason, the universe sends them your way for a period of time, and even if you’re not the best of friends forever and ever, you still appreciate them being there for at least a little while.

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Then there’s friends who were always there, but life suddenly makes them even more important. Things like having babies or going through break-ups really allow these people to step up to the plate for you. You appreciate the universe more than ever for sending them your way.

Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve had a lot of friends like that. Real life friends who are by my side when I need some girly hang outs. The kind of friends who are more like family and know me well beyond my diagnosis. Then there’s online friends. Yes, online friends! The ones who I can e-mail or text about anything at any time of day and I know they’ve got my back somewhere on this big continent of ours.

There’s also new “cancer friends” I am making through the magic of the internet. Those who have been or are going through the trenches with me. Who send an e-mail saying “yeah, the side effects from that drug are awful,” and they just get it.

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And then there is a friend like Kayla, who I’ve been connected to for years now, and suddenly find myself connecting with now on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. We no longer live in the same city, but she was the first one I told about my cancer diagnosis.

You see, I knew she’d understand.

When Kayla went through cancer and chemotherapy three years ago, I was horrified. For so many reasons. She had been trying for a baby, but instead ended up on chemo. I wrote about her experience, which you can read here.

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It’s clear to me now why Kayla is still in my life. The universe knew I’d need to keep her around.

So what does this have to do with cake?

Well, when she came to visit me over the weekend, I had to make her something! Kayla is a Newfoundlander with an, ahem, “picky” sense of taste. But she is a girl who knows what she likes, and lemon cake with white frosting is what she has every year for her birthday. Lucky for me, her birthday is next week, so I got to bake her a cake!

The base of the cake is this Martha Stewart recipe. When it comes to things like cakes, I know I can never go wrong with Martha.

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I made a few slight changes. I didn’t include a layer of frosting in the middle because I was too lazy to cut my cake in half. Next time though, I would include it!! My palate is a little off from chemo and I’m quite sensitive to sour and citrus flavours. I found the syrup that I soaked the cake in was a little strong, but everyone else who tried it said it’s what brought out a natural lemon flavour to the cake. The cake itself is dense like a pound cake, but soft and sticky because of the syrup soaked throughout.

Really though, the icing is the most important part here.

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I made boiled icing!

I mentioned boiled icing in a previous post and was surprised by how many people commented they’d never heard of it. I’m sure there are variations of it you’ve probably tried, but perhaps my idea of traditional boiled icing is a regional thing?

I used this recipe from Zesty Cook because he’s a Maritimer, and if it is indeed a Maritime tradition then he’d know how to do it best.

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Boiled icing is just made by reducing water, sugar, and corn syrup on the stove and mixing it with beaten egg whites. It results in a sweet, sticky, and incredibly fluffy icing that tastes just like marshmallow fluff. The Martha Stewart recipe recommended adding lemon juice to the icing, but I thought it made the whole thing too tart. Instead I stuck to the classic sweet version, and it offset the sourness in the cake wonderfully.

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As for Kayla and I, we had a great visit on Saturday, including an outing for lunch. There is no doubt she is a cancer superhero after her ordeal, but even more amazing is that she produced one healthy, super-smart baby boy shortly after treatment. And get this – is now pregnant with twins!

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The universe certainly works in mysterious ways, and I’m happy Kayla now has an excuse to eat cake for three.

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