Sunday, January 12, 2003

Life is good now for Bake-Off 'veteran'

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A year ago, Cindy Schmuelling was feeling mixed emotions, to say the least. The Independence woman was ecstatic about competing for $1 million in the Pillsbury Bake-Off - the first time she had entered any cooking contest. But she was also understandably worried about undergoing cancer surgery later in the year.

"I was full of fear over the surgery,'' says Ms. Schmuelling, 41. "Especially once I realized it was the only option I had.''

Doctors say the cancer surgery they performed in early April was successful. They removed part of Ms. Schmuelling's lungs, liver and diaphragm. After the surgery, she underwent chemotherapy, and doctors were pleased with the results. Now they're closely watching a spot on her upper left lung. Ms. Schmuelling will have more tests soon to make sure cancer hasn't returned.

"I'm a little concerned about it,'' Ms. Schmuelling says. "But I'm glad they're keeping a close eye on it.''

In December 2001, just a few weeks after learning her recipe for Milk Chocolate Butterscotch CafÈ Cookies had qualified her as one of the 100 finalists in the Bake-Off, Ms. Schmuelling found out her ovarian cancer had returned as a tumor in her liver. At first, her doctor insisted on immediate surgery, which would have meant she couldn't have gone to the cooking contest, one of the most prestigious, held in February in Orlando, Fla. But Ms. Schmuelling convinced him she needed to go, that it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

She was sad when she didn't win in the Bake-Off, but her spirits were lifted when she flew home to find family and friends greeting her at the airport with signs. After the surgery, her sister-in-law made her cookies and brought them to the hospital, where a few nurses recognized her from the newspaper.

"It was fun being a celebrity for a while,'' Ms. Schmuelling says.

Good things have happened since. Her brother, Scott Gateff, and his family moved here from Maryland to be close to her.

And Ms. Schmuelling is feeling much better, and she is considering working part time again as a dental assistant.

She still bakes and cooks at home. Ms. Schmuelling is planning to send recipes to enter the 2004 Pillsbury Bake-Off. (The contest is held every two years.) Now, though, she is an experienced contestant already rethinking her strategy.

"I'm not doing cookies this time,'' she says. "When I researched the Web, I saw they (the Bake-Off judges) haven't given a grand prize to cookies in a long time. It will definitely be in the baking category. But maybe an entree or something savory.''

A year ago, Ms. Schmuelling may not have believed she would have such a chance again.

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