Cancer sucks.  Times three.  A simple but true statement that I learned far too early and far too often in my 25 years of life.  My mother was diagnosed with liver cancer when I was in second grade and that was my first ever exposure to the disease.  She endured many, many rounds of chemotherapy with horrendous side effects and eventually underwent a liver transplant.  Unfortunately, it was later discovered that the cancer had metastasized and she would not survive.  There are no words that can really describe what an amazing person she was or how strong she stayed throughout her illness, so I won’t even attempt to articulate it.  Maybe she was acting strong so it would be easier on her three children - who knows?  I will never forget her positive attitude even in the face of death.  If I am half as tough as her, I know I could handle pretty much anything.


Mom and I at Outer Banks, NC when I was a little one

Which is good for me, because on April 13, 2001 at the age of 18, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Honestly, this was truly unbelievable to me.  I couldn’t believe it was happening to my family – AGAIN.  After initiating treatment with some wonderful doctors at an awesome children’s hospital I was never too scared and I had confidence that I would make it, but I did worry constantly about the effect of my illness on my dad and brothers having to endure this a second time.  Chemo was of course rough, but things have improved significantly since mom had her treatment.  Thankfully my cancer was caught fairly early and was in remission with just four cycles of chemo.  I have now been in remission for nearly seven years.  I will admit that I worry often about relapsing or getting a secondary cancer from my chemotherapy meds (fairly common with my chemo regimen).  All I know is that every year that passes I am one year farther into remission, and I am thankful I have made it this far.  And one more lesson I learned – after you lose all your hair and grow it back, there is no such thing as a bad hair day.  Just be glad you have hair.


Ben and I a month or two after I completed chemo – my hair was growing back
(Yes, those are NSync pictures plastered on my wall – I was in college ;-) )

And then in 2005, cancer struck my family a third time.  I was coming home for Christmas after my first semester of med school when I got the news that a mass had been found on my Grampa’s pancreas.  I knew immediately that Grampa, my favorite person in the world, had pancreatic cancer.  If you aren’t familiar, pancreatic cancer has the worst prognosis of any cancer, period.  The five year survival rate is less than 5% with most people living 6 months past the diagnosis.  Grampa attempted chemo for a brief period of time but it was too rough on him, and with too little realistic benefit to continue.  We were lucky and he lived almost nine months past diagnosis.  I visited him often and cherished every day I had with him in those last few months.  He was the best grampa of all time and I miss him every day.


My all time favorite picture with my all time favorite guy

Take some time to remember all those in your life who have been affected by cancer.  And, remember to do self-exams and get screened, and encourage your loved ones to get screened for any cancers that have available tests (mammograms, pap smears, colonoscopies, etc.) 

And now, after all that sadness, let’s move on to something more pleasant – the food :-)  These cupcakes are my submission for the “Taste of Yellow” food blogging event, one of the many events supporting LiveSTRONG Day.  This will always be my favorite food blogging event because the message is so hugely important to me.  I brainstormed many yellow foods I could use for this challenge and I decided pineapple was the one I really wanted to incorporate.  I came up with the idea of these “pina colada cupcakes” and did my best to create the pina colada taste, using a coconut cupcake base and a pineapple cream cheese frosting.  I must say, these turned out wonderfully and I think I really achieved the pina colada flavor (minus the rum, of course).  I overbaked my cupcakes a bit because one of them was being stubborn and not baking through, but they still taste fabulous.  I did add a touch of yellow food coloring to the frosting to get the shade of yellow I was going for.  Yay for YUMMY cupcakes!!!

Pina Colada Cupcakes
Ingredients:
For the cupcakes:
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ cup milk, at room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. coconut extract

4 egg whites
½-2/3 cup shredded coconut

For the frosting:
2/3 cup fresh pineapple chunks
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar, sifted 

 

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners. 

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds.  Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.

Reduce the speed to low and fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour, until just blended.  Stir in the vanilla and coconut extract.  Stir in shredded coconut.  Transfer batter to a large mixing bowl and set aside.  Wash and thoroughly dry mixer bowl. 

In the mixer bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Using a rubber spatula, fold ½ cup of the egg whites into the batter until smooth.  Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites until smooth and blended.  Divide the batter among the prepared wells.

 

Bake until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.  Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool on the rack to room temperature.

 

 

To make the frosting, puree the pineapple chunks in food processor or blender until smooth.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Mix in powdered sugar until well combined.  Add pineapple puree to achieve desired pineapple flavor (approximately ½ cup).  If frosting is too runny, refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow to set up a bit.  Frost cupcakes with pineapple frosting, sprinkle with shredded coconut and garnish with fresh pineapple wedges.