All photos courtesy of Lyndsay Sung
On Oct. 8, readers at baking-centric blog Coco Cake Land were treated to a pair of cakes unlike the whimsical, chocolate-draped creations usually featured on the site. Shaped like a set of breasts, the pink-hued cakes were accompanied by a post explaining blogger Lyndsay Sung’s recent breast cancer diagnosis and the ensuing treatment that had thrown her life for a loop. As she put it, “My happy, pretty-pictures, cake-filled life screeched to a weird halt.”
Sung pulled no punches. In full detail, she described her diagnosis, the exhaustive treatments that followed, and the whirlwind of emotions that accompanied each painful step. “So that’s where I’m at now,” Sung concluded at the end of the post. “An eight-month blur of mind f*ckery, body changes, depression, anxiety, and happy days, too. I’ve slogged through a lot this year so far. But I’m still here.”
Sung’s breast cancer cakes.
Cancer had derailed Sung’s career as a baking blogger of significant note. A fourth-generation Chinese Canadian, Sung grew up with a mish-mash of Chinese and North American culinary influences. Cooking and eating always played a huge role in her life, but it wasn’t until adulthood that she began baking.
“Baking became my thing I guess around 2007,” Sung told Yahoo Food. “I got a KitchenAid stand mixer as a wedding present, [although] it sat there for quite a while because I was quite intimidated by it. I was making cookies with a wooden spoon, and my husband was like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ But when I turned it on for the first time, I was like, ‘Oooh.’”
By her own admission, Sung’s first creations were “pretty gross.” A batch of “healthy” muffins turned rock-hard in the oven, and early attempts at cake decorating fell flat. But Sung was determined, turning to YouTube baking tutorials and cookbooks like Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for inspiration. Soon she was tackling difficult dishes like French macarons — and succeeding.
“I made those before I got intimidated by the thought of them,” Sung said with a laugh. “And they turned out pretty awesome.”
After a year of experimenting with her stand mixer, Sung’s abilities improved dramatically. She even baked cupcakes for a friend’s wedding, which turned out to be a pivotal moment. “I was like, ‘Hm maybe I want to do this for a career,’” she said.
It was 2008. At the time, Sung had recently graduated from art school and spent the few months prior touring in a “post-punk synth band,” for which she played keyboard, bass, a bit of percussion, and sang. Sung resolved to put that aside and kickstart a business selling cakes and cookies. To publicize her enterprise, she started the blog Coco Cake Land.
About a year into blogging, one of Sung’s cakes went viral: a cupcake version of the Very Hungry Caterpillar, inspired by the famous children’s book by Eric Carle. It pushed Sung to get more serious about the blog, and she invested in a serious camera and began writing more regularly. The work paid off — advertisers began knocking down her door to work with her and Sung’s social media following exploded to more than 50,000 people across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. She was even approached by a publisher to write a cookbook.
And then, in January of 2015, Sung’s trajectory came to a halt. “I felt a thickening of flesh where my breast meets my rib cage, and I was like, ‘Huh. That could just be my rib?’ [But] it turned out that there were two tumors in there.”
Sung’s doctors were amazed that she’d even noticed them in the first place. But Sung’s grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1980s, and as a result she’d always been vigilant about giving herself exams and getting checked out at the doctor every year. The one silver lining? “It was caught early,” Sung said. “I had this sickening experience when my surgeon first felt the area. And she just told me, ‘I can’t believe you found this. If you had waited until it was something more prominent, it would be a completely different story.’”
Everything was put on hold in the months that followed. The cookbook was delayed indefinitely, and blog posts on Coco Cake Land slowed down. Wracked with nausea, Sung rarely baked. But when she did, it felt like a victory. “My energy was really bad,” she said. “It was a big deal to make something. I [felt like] I accomplished something on a small level.”
Sung is nearly finished with her treatments, and her prognosis is good. Her hair is slowly growing back — it’s now a tiny pixie cut — and her energy is returning bit by bit. Still, Sung still has a long road ahead, and sometimes she has dark moments. But the readers on Coco Cake Land always uplift her, especially those moved by Sung’s cancer cake post back in October.
“I’m happy with how it turned out,” Sung said. “And just the response I’ve gotten from people … I get emails from other breast cancer patients or survivors, and they just start telling me their story. It’s incredible … I very freely will talk about my cancer and the treatments. I think it helps normalize it.”
As for the future? Sung can’t wait to get cracking on the cookbook and jump back into blogging.
“I was a total hermit for the majority of my treatment, because I couldn’t bear to be around people. Physically, I didn’t look and feel like myself,” Sung said. “[But] I’m generally a pretty positive person. I’m continuing on with everything.”
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