I custom made this cake to honor and raise awareness of some thing my husband and I have been dealing with for the past year. This month marks the year anniversary that we found out about my husband’s terminal cancer, Pancreatic NET’s or Pancreatic Neuroendochrine Tumor Cancer. Of course, I can remember like it was yesterday being told he had Pancreatic cancer, and literally I couldn’t process anything beyond that because all I could think of is that he’d be gone in 6-9 months because that is all I knew of Pancreatic Cancers from a childhood friend’s older brother who I remembered had died in less than a year of finding out about his cancer and anything attached to Pancreatic Cancer to that point was basically a quick and awful death. Finally when I was able to process above my tears and crying to hear what the hospital therapist was telling me that he was gonna get the best care and it was slow growing and not the one I was thinking of…it felt like an alternate reality that was crushing my world. My likes to tell people it is the Pancreatic Cancer that Steve Job’s had, not the one Patrick Swayze had.
What I know now compared to then is immense, and I don’t think you can gain a true understanding the first time you are told these kind of world turning news. There’s a whole life to find new footing, then shift to new gears, and figure out the new “norm”, all while mourning the things you hoped for that would change, and the changes along the way you don’t expect. It is a fine balance because you also need to remember to not get consumed by it, keep your own awareness of it because everything will now be measured and done with a respect of the new limitations. I speak of this as the spouse, the caretaker of the one who has this cancer. I cannot for a moment say I know what he goes through. I get an insight here and there…
The ribbons that inspired this custom cake are: 1) Purple Ribbon for Pancreatic Cancer, 2) Zebra-print Ribbon for NET’s or Neuroendocrine Tumor Cancer, and 3) Lavender Ribbon for Caretakers. There are many origins for NET’s, and my husband’s happened to be in his Pancreas, which is shut down and he is insulin dependent for the rest of his life and takes 4 shots a day of both long acting and short acting insulin–just the experience we have had adjusting to that gives me so much empathy for those suffering with diabetes, childhood and adult, and that alone is not fun. The Zebra-print Ribbon brings awareness to rare diseases and the awareness month is February, but I felt it was more appropriate for our personal journey to share it in our year anniversary of the beginning of this journey. The lavender was to honor all those who have cared for me and David, specifically at the hospital as this is where we got to share this cake today; but also to raise awareness of the toll that a caregiver goes through and that the caregiver also needs support.
I’ve never been keen on the color lavender, but now it holds a special place in my heart. Granted, I admit I didn’t go as true lavender with the frosting as I could have, but now this color is very personal to me. If you are a caregiver, or ever have been a caregiver no matter the capacity, it truly is very difficult. I could not do this in a professional capacity, so my thanks goes out to all who dedicate their lives to the well being of others. This color is so personal to me because of journey as a caretaker through this. You get not just the whole spectrum of emotions, but a whole depth and breadth you didn’t even conceive before the new “norm” you constantly have to adjust to.
There is so much you do not know when cancer enters your intimate life, and combine that with unconsious expectations you may have from treatments, or thinking life will go back to the way it was after a “treatment”, or not understanding the reality of “chemo-brain”, or the toll it takes on yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. I remember the results from the first round of chemo lasting from March-August 2018. Nothing had changed. NOTHING HAD CHANGED? We went through 6 months of torture for NOTHING TO CHANGE?!!?!!!? What took me a while to digest and understand, what that this was a good result. The cancer had NOT gone aggressive, which is a possibility starting treatments. AND what I didn’t grasp from the beginning is that this treatment was not to eradicate the cancer, like I was expecting, but to manage it and see how it reacts. What I didn’t understand is that this was terminal in that there is NO KNOWN TREATMENT to eliminate this cancer from my husband’s body. There was only treatments to manage the tumors, and keep them from interfering with LIFE DEPENDENT PROCESSES. Oh, wow. Ok, so now I had to throw out the word REMISSION, and come to terms with and redefine my understanding of TERMINAL cancer.
I want to come back for a moment to “chemo-brain.” Your loved one’s body is being ravaged by poison when going through chemo, and so many horrible side-effects…it literally messes with their brain! Not just memory, because there is legit memory loss, but personality. I never saw such anger, rage, callousness in my husband as I did during that first chemo. It got to the point I didn’t think we would last, and that I was just there to help him through this–that is how bad it was.
It wasn’t until I spoke with my mom who had been taking care of my brother and his cancer for 10 years, that she helped me to understand the reality of this phenomena. IN fact, she had attended support groups as she was going through the roughest times caring for my brother. The impact “chemo brain” can have on a patient is pretty dramatic, and it isn’t the imagination of the caretaker. It truly is difficulty on all accounts and on all involved. It takes a lot of patience, understanding, and compassion, because empathy is nigh impossible is you aren’t the one going through the treatments…and vice versa for the caregiver.
My not understanding this “chemo brain” definitely played a toll on my relationship with my brother at the time I wanted to be closest to him knowing about his terminal cancer, and he was the most caustic and mean to the point we stopped talking for years. I wish for all family and friends’ of loved ones who go through this to gain an awareness of “chemo brain,” the toll caregivers go through, and the support they also need. My heart goes out to any and all impacted by a terminal cancer, or any cancer and treatment that goes with it.
Time to change gears and talk FLAVORS!!! In my brainstorming phase of this cake, I first thought of blueberry because that is a flavor my husband has been especially keen on. Later, I found out the colors of the ribbons associated with the message of awareness I wanted to promote revealed the purple and lavender that was perfectly aligned with the blueberry I was planning. Also, I had recently made Key Lime Cheesecake Sugar Cookies in the shapes of shamrocks for fun March themes of St. Patrick’s Day. Blueberry and key lime are ridiculously good together and so it just seemed to work out as if it was meant to be! I am OBSESSED with how GORGEOUS the pale lime goes with the purples, and how you see the natural fruit which just adds to the design and elegance IMO. The sprinkles pop on the pale green key lime frosting. I only used a drop of green coloring for the lime filling to flavor and color the frosting. The blueberry did all the work coloring the dark lush fruit filling and lavender frosting. I used the key lime frosting from the cookies, and then mixed the blueberry filling (recipe below) I made with my Perfect Ratio Dreamy Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe at the bottom), some fun sprinkles, and voila the masterpiece to voice my message of Pancreatic NET’s and Caregiver Awareness was born! It was also a perfect way to say thank you for all the people who have cared for my husband this past year at the hospital. And it was a hit! 2nd and 3rd helpings…meanwhile these red velvet cupcakes sat sadly overlooked that someone had brought. I’m sorry, but not all cake is created, or made, equal! Proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the first bite! It is sooo delicious!!! I wish there was such a thing as smell-o-vision or taste-o-vision! The scent of the key lime and blueberry is so divine! No sickeningly sweet tasteless cake here!
Blueberry Key Lime Cake
Would you imagine for a moment, a cake so moist, so flavorful, there is no way you thought it came from a box? This cake sure is, BUT it will surprise to find out this recipe uses a box cake mix. The thing is, the BOX cake mixes are so nice to get on sale, AND they already deliver the dry ingredients you need in the perfect ratios saving time and potentially money…now it is just a mater of CUSTOMIZING that box cake mix to a cake that will rival the best bakery out there. After making this cake, with the blueberry and key lime fruit fillings, along with the Perfect Ratio Dreamy Cream Cheese frosting, you will have a flavor masterpiece that will blow the minds of everyone who has a taste…and I dare anyone to just have “a bite”!
1 white box cake mix
1 1/2 packages white chocolate instant pudding
1 c sour cream
1 c milk
1/2 c melted butter
1 to 1 1/2 c white chocolate chips, optional
3/4 to 1 c Blueberry Fruit Filling, recipe follows
1) Pre-heat the over to 365 degrees F if above 3000 ft elevation, or 350 degrees F if lower than 3000 ft elevation.
2) Prepare your layer cake pans AND bunt cake with my Quick-Release Cake Prep Mix(recipe at the bottom of the post) mix or grease your pan with lard (or butter) and dust with flour, and a parchment liner on the bottom(optional but i do not risk all my efforts to possibly having the cake stick to the pan). **Even if you have a non-stick pan, it is worth greasing your pans with lard/butter and dusting with flour, or just having a batch of the Quick-Release Cake Prep Mix (see recipe in post).
3) Mix all the ingredients except the white chocolate chips and fruit filling in a stand mixer, or a large bowl and hand mixer until smooth. It will be thick. Do not over mix.
4) Stir in the white chocolate chips and mix by hand with a spatula or spoon.
5) Divide your batter between your prepared cake pans. If you want to marble your cake with the fruit filling: A) use half the batter, B) dollop 2-4 T of fruit filling in 3-5 spoonful drops, C) use a butter knife to swirl, but not fully mix the fruit filling, D) add the remaining batter and repeat dollops of fruit filling and swirls with a butter knife half way down, and E) level your batter in the pan (knock the cake pan on the counter top to get rid of air bubbles) before baking.
*For a 3″ layer in a 6″ round pan, use 3 cups of batter, and bake for 35-40 min.
*For a 2″ layer in a 6″ round pan, use 2 1/4 cups batter, and bake for 28-36 min.
*For a 3″ layer in a 8″ round pan, use 5 cups of batter, and bake for 35-40 min.
*For a 2″ layer in a 8″ round pan, use 4 cups batter, and bake for 28-36 min.
*For a bunt cake, use the number of cups your bunt cake pan is sized by. If you overfill your bunt cake pan, it will overflow in the oven and create a huge mess to clean up…and ani’t no one got time for that! Don’t forget to grease and flour your bunt cake pan.
NOTE: The picture below left shows my dollops of Razzleberry Fruit Filling before I take a butter knife and swirl to get the marble effect with the cake layers I used in this cake. The pic below right shows what my marbled batter looks like before I put it in the oven. I actually used a layered method for this cake to get the fruit stripes, however, I did not get pictures of it. To get a layered look, spread out the fruit filling instead of marbeling the dollops as pictured below; then layer more batter, spread it out, more filling, and repeat until you get the desired amount of batter/fruit-filling in the pan before baking.
Blueberry Fruit Filling
3 c fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 c lemon juice
1 c sugar
4 T corn starch, mixed in 1 c cold water
1) Add all the ingredients except the corn starch & water mix in a sauce pan on med heat.
2) Mash all the blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice with a potato masher. As the mix heats up and starts to boil, the berries will give off more of their juices and the sugar will dissolve.
3) After the mix has had a chance to heat through, the berries give off their juices, and the sugar is dissolved, pour the mix into a blender. Blend until smooth and even.
4) Pour back into the sauce pan, and bring to a boil on medium heat.
5) Add the corn starch and water mix, and let boil stirring constantly until thickened.
6) Let the fruit filling cool before adding to an airtight dish to chill in the refrigerator. DO not use to fill cakes or to add to frostings until completely chilled.
7) To fill a cake: frost the bottom layer with an even coating of frosting, pipe a frosting “dam” around the boarder of the frosted cake, then dollop a general tablespoon or two depending on the layer size, and spread evenly to the dam before topping with another layer of cake; and repeat until the top layer.
Quick-Release Cake Prep Mix
In a 1:1:1 ratio, mix flour, lard or shortening, and vegetable oil. Mix until evenly incorporated, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. For example, I use 1 cup of each ingredient to mix up and have on hand to prepare all my cake pans before adding batter, and then baking. Cakes will come out clean and easily, with no sticking. I coat my pans with this mix using a silicone baster brush. I also add a cut parchment paper to the bottom of any flat bottomed cake pan I use.