My birthday comes around in August. Each year. More than the candles and cake it sets me thinking. This year it was all about my hair, which makes sense because I’m a Leo, and have all the vanity, roar, and hair obsession of that sign.
Before I had cancer, each birthday brought an increasing awareness of my youth disappearing in the rear view mirror. My identity felt less defined. And although time still seemed to stretch out ahead of me, the numbers were making me realize there was going to be less of it. I’m not crazy about saying ‘cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me’ because it wasn’t. There are many things I’d put ahead of a trip to the chemo suite.
But it turned out to be an incredibly transformative experience, polishing away bit by bit the sense of purposelessness and malaise that had been eating away at me before it came into my life. It gradually shook me out of what I now understand as mourning for a lost self. Cancer wiped my slate clean.
You’re Never Too Old
There’s no epiphany in this story, only a gradual realization that, as my mother had told me years earlier. ‘You’re never too old and it’s never too late.’ Although I didn’t know it then, the transformation process began when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2001. From one day to the next I was thrust from rolling merrily along with my life into being confronted with my own mortality. I was terrified. I was lucky to have a strong meditation practice, which allowed me to see the fear was generated by my mind making up facts about a future I couldn’t know. I made a pact with myself to stay in the present regardless.
It’s a great thing to realize that although death is certain, as I’m sitting here writing, it’s not for today. And if it were, how would I know? Not worth the anguish of worrying about.
The kidney cancer only required surgery, and it was easy enough to jump back into my old life after I’d recovered. A Triple Negative Breast Cancer diagnosis changed all that. My treatment protocol was aggressive and brought my professional life to an abrupt halt forcing me to step back from my work and take time off to deal with my cancer treatment. Which brings me to my hair.
After the second chemo infusion I was taking a shower when my hair started to come out in huge handfuls. Although I’d cut it short and bought caps and wigs to be ready for this eventuality, I wasn’t prepared for the waves of emotion that washed over me. After the initial misery, I found myself hysterically laughing through the tears at the thought of all the money I’d spent at the hairdressers over the years literally being washed down the drain. I quickly shaved off what was left and moved on into my new reality. However I’d thought about my looks, ageing and my general perception of myself before, losing my hair helped me to see myself in the raw as it were.
It may seem shallow to be talking about ageing, hair and one’s perception of self, but it’s not. Being able to throw away old concepts of oneself and forging something new is a wonderful thing. Change can be difficult without a catalyst. Cancer was mine. Losing my hair and being catapulted into seeing myself so differently was a real gift. Forced on me, yes, but a gift nonetheless. I stopped judging my current self against my old self as I’d done before. I was made new.
The other gift donated by my circumstances was time. I had to take over a year away from the job to focus on my treatment and my recovery. This gift of time gave me the chance to see my life in a new perspective, and with my newly found self, set me up to create something different and worthwhile for myself and for others – Cook for Your Life. Nowadays, I don’t think too much about age except when I creak, but I’m still a Leo and love my hairdresser.
I celebrate my birthdays to the full, with dinners, parties, wine, and of course, cake.
I celebrate not only the fact that I’m still here, but also the fact that just when I’d been thinking my life was winding down, cancer inadvertently wound it back up, giving me a new life, a new appreciation of simply living, and a new ability to cease worrying about things I can’t control. Mum had it right.
You’re never too old and it’s never too late… to eat cake.
Flourless Chocoholic Cake
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
My friend Jane Fordyce first gave me this Flourless Chocoholic Cake recipe. It is so easy to make, and results in a rich, spectacular dessert. Remember. Eat all sweet, sugary treats in moderation. A little bit of sweetness can make you feel good, but don’t overdo it!
- 7 ounces Valrohna, Caillebault, or other good quality bittersweet chocolate, broken into chunks
- 7 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler until smooth (see Ann’s Tip). Add the softened butter and stir in until smooth.
- While the chocolate is melting, in a medium bowl beat ½ cup of the sugar to the egg yolks and beat until pale yellow. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar and beat until they are stiff and shiny. Set aside.
- Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg yolks, beating constantly, until they are well blended. Take a spoonful of the egg whites and fold them into the chocolate mix to break the mixture up. Pile the rest of the egg whites onto the chocolate and gently fold them into the chocolate until you have a streaky batter.
- Pour into a well-buttered 8-inch spring-form pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a rack. The cake will be very puffy when it comes out of the oven, but will subside and flatten as it cools. Unmold, and sprinkle with a little confectioners sugar before serving.
Ann’s Tips and Tricks
Make your own double boiler with a sturdy saucepan and a metal bowl that fits nicely on top. Just add a little water to the bottom of the saucepan, bring it to a simmer, and place the metal bowl over it. The water should not touch bowl.
High calorie desserts are best as an occasional treat, never a habit.