Cooking With Myra: When life gives you lemons, make cake

By Myra Starkey
Oct. 8, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One cannot miss seeing the color pink in all sorts of places during October.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation was probably as instrumental as any entity in reminding women of the importance of getting mammograms and in encouraging donations for breast cancer research as well as the color pink.

The nurses and staff in most health care facilities are wearing the color. Even some professional sports teams are wearing pink shoes and socks to honor those who have had breast cancer.

It has been 13 years since my diagnosis, and I thank God every day for giving me life. I have had many opportunities to share my story with groups. More frequently, I am given the chance to minister one on one to a newly diagnosed woman so that I can give her advice and encouragement.

Many Septembers ago, I awoke from anesthesia in the hospital to Dr. Wagner, my surgeon, telling me I had breast cancer. The routine biopsy he had performed to make sure everything was OK was not OK. His pronouncement of cancer was almost impossible for me to comprehend.

I was a very healthy 39-year-old woman with a husband and three small children. I did not drink or smoke. I took a multitude of vitamins and exercised faithfully several times per week. I had little body fat and a healthy diet of meat and vegetables. I was trim with a weight of about 130 pounds (oh to see 130 again) and had no history of breast cancer in my family.

Despite the lack of all the usual risk factors, I was staring into the doctor's face, and I knew he was serious. One look at Taylor told me he had already been informed. His eyes were rimmed in red. I could imagine my physician/husband hearing the news and asking the surgeon to check the pathology again because it was surely a mistake. It was not.

A month before, I had found a lump in my right breast. Nothing large, just a pea-sized hard place that I had found one morning doing a breast exam. I wasn't worried because I had no risk factors, so I put off a mammogram until I saw my radiologist one evening and told him about finding a lump. He asked me to come in the following day.

The image did not overly concern him, but he wanted it checked out with a surgeon, so off I went that morning to the surgeon's office. No worry there either - except that he suggested a biopsy that we all thought would show the lump to be benign (not cancer) because most biopsies are normal. Then I would go home and continue to live my life just as I had before. I scheduled the day surgery, and my fears came true.

All women worry about having cancer in some form or another. We worry about other things, too, such as those we love getting hurt or dying, about injustice to our children, about jobs, about happiness, about getting old, about our parents getting old, about most anything we cannot control.

In fact, I worried about a lot of things before my diagnosis. I felt that I could control or at least manage most situations my life, and it took me having breast cancer to reveal the truth.

After waking from the anesthesia, my husband went into warp speed to find a breast cancer specialist to take care of me. We still did not have the lymph node biopsy or other tests to see if the cancer had spread. This was in 2000, and the first opinion we got from a local oncologist, who was older and perhaps "burned out," was that breast cancer could only be controlled for a while but not cured. We were not willing to accept that.

Taylor searched Texas for the best breast oncologist. We traveled to Austin and then Houston, meeting with doctors who specialized in breast cancer. One doctor's name continued to pop up: Dr. Kent Osborne.

I knew the minute I met him that I wanted him to take care of me. He is a gentle man, confident, reassuring and very experienced. He had moved to Houston from San Antonio to be a part of a new team at Baylor College of Medicine. He was well-known in his field doing research, so Baylor had put together a team of breast oncologists, breast pathologists, breast radiologists and breast surgeons and called the group Baylor Breast Care.

Our first meeting with Dr. O went on for an hour or so. He stayed late to answer all of our questions, not rushing us - rather doing his best to help us know that my chances were good. He laid out the treatment plan, and we committed to the prescribed treatments.

Another surgery revealed that I had seven positive lymph nodes of 12 taken, so a regimen of chemotherapy in Houston followed by radiation in Victoria and then oral medication for 10 years was prescribed to conquer the cancer. And I am still here and, as far as I know, cancer-free.

There are many good physicians in this area. I am not suggesting that all cancer victims could or would want to go to the big city. We have lots of great doctors here, and most of the medical care that I have gotten over the years has been in Victoria.

Looking back, I can remember so much from those early days. Fear of dying and leaving my family plagued me until one day I experienced a peace that washed over me, leaving me in a state of mind that God was in control. This happened shortly after my biopsy and has comforted me all these years. Whatever happens will happen. Some good can come from all things.

I remember many of my trips to Houston over these last 13 years. My friend, Janet, has been with me every time since the first chemotherapy treatment. I am sure Janet was terrified by the sight of all the hairless women who had the red liquid chemo entering their bodies through the ports in their chests and arms. But she never showed it.

I insisted on driving to and from every treatment, so she would inquire why I needed her. I would laugh and tell her that she might need to grab the wheel in case I lost consciousness or something. But nothing ever happened on those trips except two friends growing closer over an illness and its uncertainty.

No one knows what tomorrow brings. There may be sadness or joy, but just being alive to experience them is a blessing. My most important lesson from cancer is that I need to live one day at a time and be grateful for that day.

When life dishes out lemons, make cake. I have had two requests this week for a lemon cake recipe I printed two years ago from my friend, Susan, who got it from her friend, Jeri.

The lemons are almost ripe on the trees. Use only fresh-squeezed juice for the cake.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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