During a routine physical in the spring Liz's physician noticed the tissue in her left breast seemed to be a little too dense, a little thick. There was no lump, no giant alarm bells went off. Just a simple, "hmm... this seems unusual - let's get you double-checked." Liz, being a nurse herself and very careful of her health, followed her doctor's advice and scheduled a mammogram. The mammogram led to a biopsy. Liz had shared this information with a few close friends and when I spoke to her we both kept the conversation light and upbeat with a, "let's not panic until we need to" sort of attitude. We marveled at the funny, but genius, technique the surgeons use of implanting a small metal "pink ribbon" in the biopsy site to leave as a marker for future mammograms. I knew Liz would text me in a couple of days to say, "all clear! False alarm!" And we would go back to our usual routine of a weekly trip to the playground with her son, coffee at Starbucks, and a walk around downtown Boston.
But a couple days later I didn't receive a text - I received a phone call. Before even picking up I knew.
My breath escaped me and a I deflated like a balloon. As we discussed the diagnosis and the next steps Liz needed to take she was her usual, cheerful, upbeat self. I was happy, but cautious, that Liz was taking it all so well. I asked her, "Liz, you seem really good. Are you, in fact, really good?" And she said, "you know, I think it will hit me eventually, but for right now, yes, I'm good." "OK," I responded, "then I have to go now so I can cry like a little girl." I didn't want to break down in front of her, I didn't want her to feel like she had to take care of me, but those tears, man, they were coming and there was no stopping them.
We hung up and I wept uncontrollably. Not because I thought this was a death sentence but because, quite simply, she's my friend and I love her. I don't want her to have to suffer anything ever - but especially not the physical pain of surgery or the emotional pain of uncertainty. I called my husband at work - crying so hysterically he couldn't understand what I was saying at first. He was so calm. So infuriatingly calm. I started to get angry with him when all he would say was, "calm down, honey, she'll be fine." I shouted back at him, "how do you know that?! You don't know that!" Very calmly he said, "sweetheart, it's Liz. She's going to be fine because she has to be fine."
Thom was right, in the end. This world was no more ready to part with Liz than I was and she was fine, all things considered. She was also incredibly lucky to have her cancer diagnosed at an early stage and an unbelievable trooper during an aggressive course of treatment which included a double mastectomy. While Liz faced a scary ordeal with grace and humor, I did what I know how to do - make her favorite macaroons by Ina Garten - because really, when in doubt, keep calm and make cookies.
That's not to say it was all smooth sailing and without rough moments. But throughout all of it Liz was quietly focused on recovery and keeping life as normal as possible for herself and her family. Support came from all quarters for Liz, who is very easy to love. Not only was Liz and her family inundated with gifts of flowers and food, but many came forward to share their stories - including a gentleman who had breast cancer in his teens - because this disease, while it skews towards women, does not discriminate. Liz's story helped encourage another woman I know who has a family history of the disease to get herself checked out. I'm happy to say this lady was perfectly fine. Sometimes women don't do self-exams or go to the doctor because they don't want to know - the "ignorance is bliss" mantra. I rather think ignorance is simply ignorance and learning you are absolutely fine can be a weight lifted that ignorance will never match.
When I first mentioned the idea for this post to Liz she said, "make me marshmallows!" We laughed and I said, "take your time and think about it. Let me know if you're okay with telling your story." She didn't hesitate at all, she just said, "go for it."
- All women over the age of 20 should be conducting breast self-exams.
- While a cancer diagnosis is often the luck of the draw there are some steps you can take to reduce your risks. Here is a list from the Mayo Clinic.
- What to do if you find a lump - #1: don't panic!
- Take the Breast Cancer Challenge to help provide mammograms to low-income women. It's just a click!
- Donate to the National Breast Cancer Foundation
- Participate in an event to run, golf, or just raise awareness.
Think Pink Marshmallows ~ for Liz
.75 oz unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
2T d'Arbo raspberry syrup - optional
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 egg whites, whipped til stiff peaks form
food coloring - optional
Notes before you start: You may use either a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a large bowl and a trusty hand mixer with a whisk attachment. I used a hand mixer. If you have both, use a stand mixer - it's stronger and will save you time and energy. You can also use either powdered gelatin or gelatin sheets. I used gelatin sheets. The important thing is to weigh it so you have a precise amount. No, you cannot substitute flavored Jell-O. I tried, thinking it would save me the step of adding flavoring. It makes marshmallow cream which never sets. Stay tuned - I may be making marshmallow filled chocolates to use up all the marshmallow cream I now have in the house! However, this means you can flavor these with any flavor you like; vanilla or peppermint are popular choices. Keep in mind that since extracts are highly concentrated (as compared to d'Arbo syrup) start with just a 1/2 teaspoon of flavoring and increase to taste.
Lightly oil a 9x13" pan with canola oil. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and dust the whole with sifted confectioners sugar. Set aside.
Pour 1/2 a cup of water into your mixing bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow to dissolve while you prepare the sugar syrup.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and the other 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until all sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil without stirring. Let cook until a candy thermometer tells you the syrup has reached 240º F, or if you're like me and don't own a candy thermometer, until the syrup has reached the soft-ball stage.
OK, let's get back to the marshmallows: while you're waiting for the sugar to reach soft-ball stage beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside. With your beaters on low slowly begin to pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin. Once all the sugar is poured in increase the speed to high. Continue beating until the mix has about tripled in volume. Continue beating until it has the consistency of a thick marshmallow cream. Add the food coloring and flavoring of your choice.
Enjoy plain or in hot chocolate for a decadent raspberry-cocoa treat. Package them and give them to friends to remember to "Think Pink!" and remain on top of their health.
* According to the American Cancer Society, depending on the type and stage of breast cancer, women whose cancer is detected early have a 74-93% 5-year survival rate.