11 December 2012

A Tribute to Sheila...

Four years ago today, I was in Houston for my mastectomy that removed that nasty Breast Cancer from my body. As far as I know, I am still cancer free & I should be celebrating this CANCERVERSARY but my heart is not in it. I just found out that my friend Sheila passed away yesterday from this @%&*#@! disease. She lived in Illinois, and we only met once for dinner in San Antonio, but we drew close because of an online friendship at the Her2 Support Forum. Sheila was one of those special people who puts others needs before her own. Even though she was dealing with terrible burdens herself, she always lifted up and encouraged those on the forum that were dealing with much less.


In January 2009, just before starting my own chemotherapy, I spent one evening on the HER2 Forum. Most everyone that posts has a "signature" - a description of their unique cancer story and I was searching for others with a similar diagnosis to mine...how were they doing...will my future be similar to theirs? That's what you do when you learn you have joined the Cancer Club - you look for a crystal ball. Immediately, Sheila's signature caught my attention. She was diagnosed in 2002, and seemed to be one of the "lucky ones". Her cancer was caught early in her left breast by mammogram ...Stage 1...0.7 cm (barely 1/4 of an inch)...no lymph nodes were involved. Okay I thought, my tumor was 2 cm with no lymph node involvement, found the same way and in the same breast. Sheila had a mastectomy and that should have been the end of it. I also had a mastectomy, BUT WAIT...SHE RECURRED 16 MONTHS LATER?? What happened?? No Herceptin?? Checking the dates, and doing a bit of research, I learned that in 2002, you had to be Stage 4 to get Herceptin. It wouldn't be until 2008 (wow, just months before I was diagnosed), and only after many clinical trials later that the FDA would approve Herceptin for Neo-Adjuvant treatment - meaning it was available for early stage patients to prevent recurrence rather than treat it!! Approved for people like me...

That night in 2009, I had been dreading my chemo and feeling sorry for myself. Reading the rest of Sheila's signature (I have copied it below, with her prior permission), I couldn't believe all that she had been through. I realized that because the fate that my cancer was diagnosed 6 1/2 years later than hers, my life might just have a different outcome...and I cried for Sheila. It was a shock and my attitude did a 180. Friends have told me they couldn't believe how well I handled my cancer. What they didn't know was that Sheila was my secret weapon.  From that day forward, I felt a special connection with her and we became friends. I consider it a blessing that I was able to meet her in person at a dinner in San Antonio when she was there for the Breast Cancer Symposium. I sat next to her and we had a great evening filled with laughter and great stories. I was able to tell her how much she meant to me and how she unknowingly helped me endure my treatment.

For 2 months I have known this day was coming. Sheila's body could not tolerate any more punishment and she entered into hospice in early October. That didn't stop me from hoping for a miracle though. This has been a very hard year. Sheila has joined Brenda and Courtney, among other HER2 angels this year. These women leave a legacy behind to be admired. I have a 10% chance that my cancer will recur. This statistic equals what I was told before my original biopsy...I had a 10% chance that the microcalcifications would be cancerous. I do not know if I will recur, but if I do, these women will once again be my mentors by the way they lived their lives. I only hope that I will be as strong as they were. 

Brenda and Sheila

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet
is fighting some kind of battle." 
(Sheila's favorite quote)

Hugs & Blessings,
Diagnosed at age 49.99999 2/21/2002 via Mammography (Calcifications) 
Core Biopsy 2/22/02
Left Mastectomy 2/25/2002
Stage 1, 0.7cm IDC, Node Neg from 19 nodes Her2+++ ER PR Neg
6/2003 Reconstruction W/ Tissue Expander, Silicone Implant 
9/2003 Stage IV with Mets to Supraclavicular nodes
9/2003 Began Herceptin every 3 weeks
3/2006 Xeloda 2500mg/Herceptin for recurrence to neck nodes
3/2007 Added back the Xeloda with Herceptin for continued mets to nodes
5/2007 Taken Off Xeloda, no longer working
6/14/07 Taxol/Herceptin/Avastin
3/26 - 5/28/08 Taxol Holiday Whopeeeeeeeee
5/29/08 Back on Taxol w Herceptin q 2 weeks
4/2009 Progression on Taxol & Paralyzed L Vocal Cord from Nodes Pressing on Nerve
5/2009 Begin Rx with Navelbine/Herceptin 
11/09 Progression on Navelbine
Fought for and started Tykerb/Herceptin...nodes are melting!!!!!
2/2010 Back to Avastin/Herceptin
5/2010 Switched to Metronomic Chemo with Herceptin...Cytoxan and Methotrexate
Pericardial Window Surgery to Drain Pericardial Effusion
7/2010 Back to walking a mile a day...YEAH!!!!
9/2010 Nodes are back with a vengence in neck
Qualified for TDM-1 EAP
10/6/10 Begin my miracle drug, TDM-1
Mixed response, shrinking internal nodes, progression skin mets after 3 treatments
12/6/10 Started Halaven (Eribulen) /Herceptin excellent results in 2 treatments 
2/2011 I CELEBRATE my 9 YEAR MARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7/5/11 begin Gemzar /Herceptin for node progression 
2/8/2012 Gemzar stopped, Continue Herceptin
2/20/2012 Begin Tomo Radiation to Neck Nodes
2/21/2012 I CELEBRATE 10 YEARS
5/12/2012 BeganTaxotere/ Herceptin is my next miracle for new node progression
6/28/12 Stopped Taxotere due to pregression, Started Perjeta/Herceptin



01 February 2012

American Beauty Cake - Project Pastry Queen

It is my turn again to be the host for this week's Project Pastry Queen. Looking through the remaining recipes, I chose the American Beauty Cake. Since Valentine's Day is just around the corner. The cake can be made ahead and kept frozen for up to 3 weeks. (At this point in my life, I need all the "do-ahead" recipes I can find!)

It's also similar to another cake I've made that my family LOVES, Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (TCMC) from America's Test Kitchen, and I wanted to see how it compared. They both start with a flourless cake that is very dense, but oh so delicious. The top layer for this cake is a light and airy milk chocolate mousse. The middle layer of the TCMC is a little denser and it also has a third layer that is a very light, white chocolate mousse.

Since my TCMC recipe called for using a 9" spring form pan, I decided to use that for this one as well - instead of the 9" cake pan the recipe called for. I'm glad I did because the sides of my spring form pan are taller and I only had about 1/8" to spare once both layers were in there. It was also much easier removing the cake in order to glaze it. There was no need to invert it onto a plate and invert it again to my serving plate.

  Before and After Glazing

I was pleased with how the first layer turned out. With the TCMC cake, it always pulls away from the sides of the pan no matter what I do. The instructions for this cake called for baking it in a water bath, so perhaps that was the difference. One other big difference is this cake is served frozen, where the Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake only needs to be refrigerated.

Cooking Notes:
  • Your prepared pan will need to fit into a larger roaster or baking pan that will be filled with water.
  • Melt the milk chocolate over simmering water NOT BOILING, or it will seize up on you. You must watch it constantly, and even then mine seemed a bit thick but it was fine once I stirred in the egg yolk mixture.
  • You need to plan ahead because the cake must be frozen for at least 6 hours before you can glaze it.
  • When removing the cake to glaze, first run a knife around the outer edge to free it from the sides. Dip the bottom of the spring form pan into hot water to loosen. THEN release the spring on the side of the pan and the cake should come free.
I'm sure this cake is delicious because of the sampling I did before cleaning my pans. The true test will come on Valentine's Day . . . if I can wait that long!!

Be sure and check out the other members' version of the cake here:

I melted white chocolate and piped the swirls onto some
parchment paper. They were easy to remove and place on the cake.

AMERICAN BEAUTY CAKE: (yields 14 to 16 servings)
Adapted from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
12 ounces premium-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum, such as Myers's or the liqueur of your choice, such as Kahlua or Grand Marnier (optional)

Milk Chocolate Mousse:

1/4 cup unsalted butter
10 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate
3 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Dark Chocolate Glaze:

4 ounces premium-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


TO MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the bottom of a 9" spring form cake pan with a parchment paper round and coat evenly with cooking spray. Melt the butter and chocolate in a metal bowl set over a medium saucepan with 2 inches of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove the bowl from over the saucepan. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a separate large bowl. Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until well combined. Stir in the vanilla and rum.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and place it in a larger roasting or baking pan. Fill the larger pan with enough hot water to come about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The cake is done when it is firm to the touch. It will rise while baking and settle down to its original size when removed from the oven. Cool the cake COMPLETELY in the pan on a rack.

TO MAKE THE MOUSSE: Melt the butter and milk chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Set the chocolate mixture aside to cool. Using a mixer or whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar until smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Combine the egg yolk mixture with the chocolate mixture. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until shiny, stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, one-third at a time, using a large rubber spatula. Using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the cream on high speed just until soft peaks start to form. If you beat the cream more, the mousse will get lumpy. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.

Spread the mousse over the cooled cake, filling the pan to the top. Wrap with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and freeze at least 6 hours and preferable overnight.

At this point the cake can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 weeks.

TO MAKE THE GLAZE: Place the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl. Combine the corn syrup, cream, and vanilla in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Immediately pour the cream mixture over the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Keep the glaze at room temperature to ensure that it will pour. If the glaze is too thick, add more cream.

To assemble the dessert, remove the cake from the freezer. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Dip the bottom of the pan in hot water to loosen, then release the side. (If using a regular cake pan, invert the cake onto a plate, then invert again onto a serving plate so that the mousse is on top). Pour the glaze over the mousse, making sure it covers the sides. Let the glaze set at least 1 hour. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve. The dessert is best when removed from the freezer just a few minutes before cutting. if left at room temperature, it will begin to melt.

TIP: It is easiest to separate eggs when they are cold, but egg whites whip up best when beaten at room temperature. separate the eggs as soon as they come out of the refrigerator, then let the whites sit on the counter until they reach room temperature, abut 10 to 15 minutes. NOTE: the very young, the elderly, and anyone immuno-compromised should avoid eating raw eggs.