Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another sort of cancer survivor...

As soon as I saw a post mentioning the LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow event hosted by Barb at winosandfoodies, I knew that I wanted to participate.  I'm not a cancer survivor myself, and unfortunately this isn't the story of someone close to me who is.  Instead, I'm one of those who had to find a way to survive after having my life ripped apart when someone close to me died of cancer.  

In early 1992, I was a junior in college.  That spring, my fiance, Nate, was diagnosed with ocular melanoma--a rare malignant tumor in his eye--shortly before his 20th birthday.  He went through various treatments to kill the tumor.  We graduated the following spring, got married two weeks later, and moved to Seattle where Nate was going to grad school.  (I ran screaming away from more school at that point and got a job, but that's another story.)  Everything seemed fine; Nate went in for checkups every 6 months.  Then, in the early fall of 1995, before he was due for his next doctor appointment, he noticed that something seemed wrong.  He went in for various tests, and it was quickly discovered that the cancer had returned, and had spread throughout his liver.  He went through chemo, but what we didn't realize at the time, especially being in the middle of everything, was that the prognosis was very poor.  Nate died on January 22, 1996, at the age of 23.  I was about a month away from my 25th birthday.  

Cancer sucks no matter how old you are.  So why all the emphasis on our ages?  With everything that Nate and I went through, it was apparent that no one knew what to do with us. There's plenty of attention given to pediatric cancer and cancer in older adults, but not much to cancer in young adults.  Fortunately that's changed somewhat in the past 12 years, thanks to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  Lance was 25 when he was diagnosed with cancer.  His story has definitely increased awareness for young adults with cancer.  You can find out more about the LAF Young Adult Alliance here.

As for me, I would definitely call myself a survivor.  Today I have a wonderful (second) husband and two beautiful children.  Sure, there are times when I can't help but think that I wouldn't have my current life if Nate had lived.  And as time passes, I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who remembers Nate--it's not exactly the sort of thing you can bring up in casual conversation.  So I'm glad to have the opportunity to tell a bit of his story here so others will know.  

For my taste of yellow, I chose some lovely lemon cookies from Dorie Greenspan and decorated them with yellow sugar.  Yellow makes me think of spring, and thus of hope and rebirth.  "To love is to risk losing.  To lose is to risk finding something new.  The cycle of the heart: birth, death, rebirth.  Therefore, before my heart turns to stone, I will re-enter the cycle, and make up my mind again to risk living." (From Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving Hold Fast and Let Go by Molly Fumia.)

Lemon Sabl├ęs
(from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1 ounce) confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature (mine were still pretty cold, didn't seem to be a problem)
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
yellow decorating sugar

Working in a small bowl, using your fingers, rub the lemon zest into the granulated sugar until the sugar is moist and very aromatic.  Set aside.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy.  Add the lemon sugar, confectioners' sugar and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute.  The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogenous.

Turn off the mixer.  Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each pulse.  Take a peek--if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel.  Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist.  (If most of the flour is incorporated but you've still got some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough.)  The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it come together in a ball--and it shouldn't.  You want to work the dough as little as possible.  What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy (rather than smooth) dough.  Pinch it, and it will feel a little like Play-doh.  

Scrape the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long; it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log.  Wrap the logs well and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours, preferably longer.  (Chill the log inside the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels to keep it round.)

Getting ready to bake:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  

Remove a log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Sprinkle the entire surface of the log with decorating sugar and press it into the dough so it adheres.

Trim the ends of the roll if they're ragged, and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.  (You can make these as thick at 1/2 inch or as this as--but no thinner than--1/4 inch.)  (I used a serrated knife to cut the dough, rotating the log after each cut to keep it round.) Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between them.

Bake the cookies for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the midway point. (Oops, I always forget to do that.) When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that's fine.  Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.  

Repeat with the remaining log of dough, making sure the baking sheet is cool before you bake the second batch.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing Nate's story Di. How very sad to face such a journey at such a young age.

    Thankyou for supporting LiveSTRONG With A Taste OF Yellow.

  2. Very beautiful, touching post. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thank you, Di. Even tho this didn't turn out the way you wanted, it has made you a stronger and more compassionate individual.

    Cancer is always something that happens to other people, other families. When it happens to you it blows you away and you wonder if anything will ever be good again. But, as Kayte said, Hope Floats. I'm holding her to that.