Staci is a corporate communications manager who has earned the title of *Best Food Day Chef* from her co-workers at the South Dakota HQ of her company’s personnel department. A few clicks through her blog and you will soon see why. Delicious brownies and delectably decorated cheesecakes left on the table in the staff room would quickly earn her full bragging rights to the title. This busy Mom of both a son and a daughter not only loves to bring desserts of all kind into the office to share but she very willingly shares her recipes to anyone who asks. While readers of Random Sweetness may not get to personally avail themselves of lunch time desserts from Staci, everything she bakes and posts on her blog comes with the corresponding recipe so if you are tempted, you can re-create her baked goods and other dishes in your own kitchen. I’m very happy that Staci is sharing a recipe and a wonderful story of hope with us today. You can follow her on Twitter @RandomSweets
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
It’s Okay to Be Freaked Out
The call from her OBGYN came at 5:30 p.m. on December 9, 2009. The results of her biopsy proved what she somehow already knew – she had cancer.
My friend, Paulette Tonn Booker, had not had a physical in several years but when she experienced unusually heavy bleeding for a few months, she chalked it up to menopause and didn’t think much of it. Like many of us, she describes herself as being “a coward when it comes to going to the doctor”. However, in the fall of 2009, Paulette experienced severe pains that felt like someone was sticking a needle in her ovaries.
And that’s when the fear of what could be wrong finally sent her to the doctor. She was terrified that it was ovarian cancer because she knew that not many women survive ovarian cancer. The blood test showed a slight elevation in ovarian cancer indicators. Paulette thought her fears of ovarian cancer would soon be confirmed.
“I was expecting to hear confirmation of ovarian cancer but I was way off base because she [the doctor] took biopsies of my uterus,” she said. It was then when Paulette was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
“It’s funny how after 15 months that finally sank in! Even after the surgery, I was expecting to hear that the pathology report showed ovarian cancer. It didn’t.”
Knowing Paulette as I do, I have peace in knowing that she was not alone. She is one of those friends that you just can’t help but thank God that she is in your life. She found strength in her family and friends, especially those who are cancer survivors.
The day after her diagnosis, she emailed her cousins to give them the devastating news but somehow the email had gone to a friend by mistake. She typed in her cousin Carolyn’s name but she soon received an email back from her friend, Carol who, unbeknownst to Paulette, had just finished her second round of chemo for breast cancer. They both knew God had re-directed that message for a reason.
Carol gave her friend some advice. She told Paulette to put herself first. Now, this is the part where I say – oxymoron. Most women I know do not put themselves first. And many who know her would agree with me; I don’t think she even knew how to put herself first. Paulette took her friend’s advice to heart.
“I have faith that God gives us what we need, when we need it. Carol told me to put myself first and to tell people to back off when I needed them to. Those words gave me the freedom to do so without feeling guilty about focusing on me, which is not something I typically do.”
Then Paulette received an email from her cousin Carolyn. She had a lump in her breast which the doctors were watching. She was relieved to have someone to share her story with as well.
After the initial shock of her diagnosis, Paulette was very calm. She knew that there would be a cure: surgery, drugs, or death and she was okay with any of them – at the time.
“I remember sitting in church the next Sunday and thinking it could be my last Christmas on earth. Then I told myself that it very well be my last Christmas anyway, so to just buck up. Then my sister Jayne told me that her 16-year-old son had asked her ‘Is Aunt Paulette going to die?’ It was like someone had kicked me in the stomach, and I knew that I had a responsibility to my family to fight the cancer with everything I had in me, even though, at the time, death seemed like a more peaceful choice than chemo.” (She had never told anyone this until she shared it with me for this post.)
Mark Lindsay, kidney cancer survivor and very close friend to Paulette, has been one of her strongest supporters. He gave her some advice that I love. He told her to get mad as hell and fight with everything she had.
And she did.
When I started working on my Frosting for the Cause project, I knew I wanted Paulette to share some wisdom with women about how to stay positive and depend on God’s strength if they are facing a cancer diagnosis. She never ceases to amaze me with her deep faith and gentle humor.
“It’s okay to be freaked out. It’s a scary disease and treatment. I try to breathe deeply and turn it over to God, but am not always successful in doing so.”
But lots of people were praying for her when she couldn’t do so herself.
I never told Paulette this but I was praying for her when she didn’t know it. You see, we don’t see each other very often (almost never really) but we are what I describe as “soul friends.” I can’t explain how I knew she was dealing with something difficult. I didn’t know she had cancer until recently but there was something “off” with our normal communications with each other. After six months or so, I knew in my heart that something was wrong with my friend and that I just needed to pray for her.
It’s not easy knowing what to say to someone or what to do for someone when they are battling cancer. I asked Paulette what some meaningful things were that people did for her. As you can imagine, there were many.
“There were so many meaningful things: prayers and prayer chains, phone calls, emails, visits, rides to the hospital, hugs…all of them told me how much I am loved.”
She suggests we take our cues from the person. They will tell us what they need. Some people like to be left alone; others, like Paulette, want their friends and family with them. Respect their wishes. And when we don’t know what to say?
“Just hug them every chance you get,” she said.
On January 28, 2010 she had an oophorectomy using robotics surgery. The cancer was contained in her uterus (70% of uterine cancer is “cured” by surgery).
Her siblings and their spouses were there for the surgery in Minneapolis. But they didn’t let her get too sappy about it. They congregated in the waiting room while she registered. When she walked in, her family and friends all sat there with a picture of Paulette at two years old plastered to their foreheads. The funny prank, courtesy of Anne, her sister-of-the-heart and best friend, wasn’t the only one. There was one more thing Anne did to make her friend laugh before going into surgery – she gave Paulette a gift to open with the instructions to give it to the (all female) surgical team. It was a Cootie game.
Paulette confessed to me that there is a possibility the medical staff thought they were nuts. I am happy to hear that they were able to share their sense of humor with her on such a scary day.
“I don’t remember any particular message that was given to me; it was more a sense of peace about the outcome. I try to hand it over to God whenever I’m faced with life’s struggles. Just before I was taken away to surgery, I asked my brother David to lead the family in a prayer. The sense of peace was even more powerful as we held hands and prayed together.”
Everyone gave her high fives as she was wheeled into the operating room. They supported each other and were there for Paulette’s husband, Jim, when the procedure took longer than anticipated.
For those of you in the medical field, Paulette extends appreciation to her GYN-oncologist and her staff as well. She said her doctor spent as much time with her as she needed to explain what was going on and what would happen. Her nurse, Nancy, had a terrific sense of humor so she fit right in.
“When Nancy was going through the pre-surgery paperwork with Jim and me, she said, ‘And now the really bad news. The state of Minnesota requires that I tell you that a hysterectomy is not reversible!’ Jim looked at her with a straight face and said that his 47-year-old son was going to be devastated to hear that he wouldn’t be having a baby brother or sister in the future.”
The surgery was successful and Paulette did not have to endure radiation or chemo treatments. As of today, she is cancer free. Her gyn-oncologist said there is a five percent chance of something showing up so she will continue to have check-ups every four months for a two-year period.
My message to Paulette about doing this post came at a time when she needed to once again express her fears as she is waiting for the results of a CT scan. She has a fibroid cyst on one of her kidneys; the doctors are not concerned about it but she told me she is still freaked out. She will get the results on 2 March – the day after her birthday. Her friend Mark, who has reached his sixth year and has been declared cancer free, told her that each checkup gets better in terms of the level of anxiety.
When January 28, 2012 arrives without any sign of cancer, Paulette will be declared cancer free.
She will be a survivor.
A survivor who will tell you in your own battle with cancer, that it’s okay to be freaked out. To put yourself first and tell people to back off if you need them to. She will tell you that a cancer diagnosis isn’t necessarily a death sentence. She will remind you to take heart and hope where you find it. Find the positives in whatever God gives you. And she will tell you to get mad as hell and fight with everything you have.
And you will.
Paulette has been married to her husband, Jim for 20 years. He is a very kind man, a great husband and, I must add, he is an amazing gardener! She loves to travel, read, music, sing and spend time with friends and family. Along with many, many friends in her life, Paulette has two step-sons; two step-grandsons; step-father; sisters/brothers and their spouses; nieces/nephews and a large extended family. She is the manager of human resources at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN and is the music director and chair of the worship committee in her church.
As if she has any free time, Paulette also shares her beautiful, God-given voice as a member of the Minnesota Valley Chorale and is a strong supporter of her local United Way efforts. This summer, Paulette will join other Chorale members as they jet off to Salzburg, Germany to participate in the internal Mozart festival. (I am so happy that Germany gets to hear my friend’s beautiful voice, too!)
Her cancer diagnosis gave her the boost she needed to spend more quality time with her family and friends. She takes Friday afternoons off every now and then to spend with her family. She wants them to know how much they mean to her – even more so now than before. For Christmas 2010, she promised her family the gift of her time throughout the year and gave her shopping money to the Theresa House, a local organization that provides shelter for single women and families.
Her favorite sweet foods are ice cream and chocolate. (I hear Germany has delicious chocolate…) The song that inspires her most is Jesus Loves Me.
She truly has the heart of an angel.
I love receiving her Christmas letters because she takes a lot of road trips throughout the year and her
letters are when I get to hear about many of them. She is planning a cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska in the next couple of years; and would like to go back to New Zealand some day. I have faith that she will.
I am donating my cupcakes and $25 to my local Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign staff. The funds collected from the sale of the T-shirts in October are donated to the Brookings Health System to be used for local cancer programs and research.
Chocolate Mint Mascarpone Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Food Network
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup water
6 Tablespoons mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
¼ cup peppermint crème liqueur (or if substituting peppermint extract, reduce to 2 Tablespoons extract)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (6 ounces) mini semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon peppermint crème liqueur OR peppermint extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325°. Grease 2 regular muffin tins or line with cupcake papers. (makes 24 regular cupcakes)
Combine the unsweetened chocolate and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Insert chocolate_in_water
Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted. Cool for 2 minutes.
Whisk in the room temperature mascarpone cheese until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.
Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, peppermint liqueur and vanilla in a large bowl for 30 seconds. Stir in the mascarpone mixture. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and chocolate chips in a medium bowl.
Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture; stirring just until blended.
Divide the cupcake batter among the 24 grease or paper-lined cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tester inserted into the center comes out clean. (When I baked these in my dark stoneware, I increased my baking time to 27 minutes.)
Cool the cupcakes completely before dipping.
Make the ganache:
Place the chocolate chips in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream and vanilla. Cook over medium-low heat until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips. Gently stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the peppermint liqueur. Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the ganache and transfer to a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the refrigerator until the cupcakes are set, about 30 minutes. Serve cupcakes at room temperature.