Piece of Cake
Not one to "mope around and feel sorry" for herself, Central Point resident Tiffany Myers Carroll still flashes a big smile some two years into aggressive, and experimental, cancer treatment.
The odds are daunting given the rare sarcoma she's fighting, and the nausea from daily doses of chemotherapy isn't any fun. But somehow she has managed to find a silver lining.
A while back Myers Carroll started baking as a method of stress relief, and her efforts have turned into an unlikely business venture called Chemo Cakes.
"Until a year ago, I had never made a cheesecake in my life, and baking was how I helped myself to de-stress," said the mother of two.
"I wanted something challenging, so I decided to find a cheesecake recipe and change it up a little to make it my own. I made a pineapple upside-down cheesecake for my mom, because that's her favorite, and it turned out so good that I decided to make some for friends and family."
Myers Carroll was diagnosed in January 2015 after she noticed what she thought was a muscle tear in her right biceps while pregnant with now 1-year-old son, Owen.
Instead, a softball-sized lump in her arm turned out to be cancer. Doctors immediately removed the lump, but Myers Carroll decided to delay chemotherapy until her youngest son was born. By the time he arrived five months later, the cancer had spread to her lungs.
Now part of a clinical trial for a drug called Votrient, Myers Carroll said the cheesecakes, available in two-dozen flavors, are a nice distraction and provide extra cash for her commutes to Portland for treatment.
The baking venture started in earnest in September with an impromptu announcement on Facebook. She told friends and family that if they bought the ingredients, she'd bake them a cheesecake. Within weeks the venture had "taken on a life of its own" and she was baking up to six cakes per day.
"I kept getting asked to make more and more. People kept saying to make a Facebook page and, since I was open to making whatever flavors they wanted, we kept coming up with really cool flavor combinations," she said, including triple chocolate, Reese's, lemon and Boston cream.
"One of the first cakes I posted a picture of was shared to the West Medford Residents Facebook page, and I ended up getting 200 orders in two days. It took us three months to fill the orders."
With a table covered in cheesecakes Thursday, Myers Carroll said most of her neighbors know about her cancer and the Chemo Cakes.
"We had a new neighbor move in, so I took them a cheesecake and explained about the traffic," she noted, "and basically said, 'Just so you know, I'm not a drug dealer.' "
In terms of the addictions she's fostered, however, some of her customers aren't convinced.
Four-year-old son Everett has as much trouble as his mother choosing a preferred flavor.
"I like that one, and that one, and that one, and that one ... and that one!" he decided.
Central Point resident Mechelle McGlaughlin, a Chemo Cakes regular, said she marvels at the quality of Myers Carroll's cakes — and with the cake-baker's outlook.
"My family and I have been hooked since the first bite. Anytime there's a get-together, birthday or holiday, her cakes are a must-have," McGlaughlin said.
"When you order one, not only do you get to enjoy an absolutely delicious cheesecake, you also get to be a part of a great cause in helping Tiffany. To deal with what she is going through, and to face it head on with positivity, bravery and the outlook she has on it all, is so inspiring."
Her initial cheesecake benefactor, her mother, Sheri Myers, said community response to the cheesecakes has been inspiring.
"I think she gets a lot of satisfaction from people just really enjoying them," Myers said. "She's still nauseated a lot, but ... most of the time you wouldn't know she feels bad, because she always tries to keep smiling."
"I can't sit around and mope," said Myers Carroll. "It would drive me crazy. I went and saw my primary doctor yesterday for a checkup and he asked me, 'This smile you have? Is it for real or are you hiding how you're feeling?'
"I said, 'No, I'm fine. I'm happy to see you, happy to be here. I'm OK!' "
Myers Carroll smiles when she thinks about the long-term.
"If I ever get to a point where I'm in remission, and I can go about my life and not think about cancer, I would love to have a little cheesecake shop. I would love that so much."
Myers Carroll and her mom plan to participate in two upcoming cancer walks and will host a summer yard sale. For information about donating, or to order a cheesecake, see www.gofundme.com/jjhq2c or www.facebook.com/chemocakes/
— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.