By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 31, 2007
The smell of gingerbread envelops visitors to the Stachler family’s home like a warm hug from the oven.
In a commercial kitchen separate from the main house, Laura Stachler and her daughter, Susan, 25, are baking, putting the finishing touches on their famous gingersnaps.
But these are more than just cookies. Born from the experience of their family’s emotions and struggles—heartache and loss, grief and hope—these sweet treats are this mother-daughter team’s way of giving back.
The Stachlers are a family touched by cancer. Susan Stachler, 25, never met her Aunt Sue, her mother’s sister, for whom she is named. But despite that, she is connected to her, by more than just a name, forever.
“She was my older sister and my best friend,” Laura Stachler says of Sue. “She was terrific and so full of life. She was so focused on everyone else.”
Sue Carver was just 14 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Despite her illness, she graduated from college, married and taught grammar school for several years. She fought her illness bravely but died in 1977 at the youthful age of 28.
Laura Stachler grew up in California, where her parents owned a pie and burger shop. She quickly developed a love for food and for creating it. She met her husband Ken when they were both students at the University of Southern California, and together they shared the sadness of the loss of her beloved sister.
The couple married and had four children, including Susan. After moving to Georgia, the Stachler children attended St. Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs and St. Pius X High School in Atlanta.
Laura’s love for baking, especially her unique gingersnap recipe, led her to create Laura’s Divine Desserts, based on the pies and cakes sold in her parents’ California shop. But all that changed when cancer again struck Laura’s life in 2003—this time when her husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As he was enduring months of grueling chemotherapy treatments, the next, ultimate blow happened in 2004.
Susan, 22, about to graduate from Auburn University, had found a lump in her neck. She was diagnosed with the same cancer that had killed her aunt.
“We were numb,” Laura said. “I couldn’t believe this was happening again.”
Susan began treatment on the anniversary of her Aunt Sue’s death. But she remained hopeful. She often would receive treatment side-by-side with her father with their family supporting them nearby.
“I’ve seen Susan at her very worst. Those treatments were brutal. But even then, she always brought an uplifting air to everyone around her,” Laura said of her daughter.
Susan also would often bring her mother’s famous gingersnap cookies to share.
“I would take the gingersnaps around. I honestly think they would make people feel better. Everyone likes cookies,” Susan said.
Susan went through four months of chemo and several months of radiation and was given a clean bill of health. The gingersnaps began selling so well that Laura and Susan decided to focus all their energy on the cookies and renamed them “Susansnaps.”
Ginger is widely considered to be a natural remedy for nausea, and thus, gingersnaps provide a perfect treat for those suffering the side effects of chemotherapy.
“Gingersnaps are almost like saltine crackers are for pregnant women,” Laura said. “They’re easy to eat.”
“My sister would love this. She would just think this was the greatest thing ever,” she said, and added, looking at her daughter, “and of course, if not for Susan, there wouldn’t be Susansnaps.”
The Stachlers bake about 5,000 sugar crystal-covered gingersnap cookies a day. Susan, who holds a communications and marketing degree from Auburn, created all the packaging, which features inviting, whimsical designs. Susansnap purchasers can choose the packaging depending on the snaps’ recipient. Each package is decorated with a special “lady,” such as “Pregnant Polly,” “Sally Sailor” or “Nurse Ginger,” who is dressed according to the occasion.
Laura and Susan are involved in every aspect of the business, from the baking, to the Web site, to the packaging and mailing.
But to the Stachlers, this is not just about selling cookies and building a business. They have formed the Susan Carver Foundation, and they dedicate 10 percent of all proceeds from Susansnaps’ sales to cancer research.
“I could not go through treatment and sit at a desk somewhere without a purpose. I just couldn’t,” Susan said. “I’ve always wanted to give back. Now I have that opportunity.”
Laura said her daughter is a reminder of the hope beyond a cancer diagnosis.
“Susan is a great message of what cancer should look like. You see this vivacious, bright, glowing, healthy girl. Everyone should get that chance,” she said.
Sister Sally White, GNSH, a chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta, has known the Stachlers for several years and calls them a family of “tremendous grace.”
“They have an incredible spirit. They were able to take all the ‘crosses’ that they were given, and they turned them around into something beautiful,” she said. “That’s the Spirit working overtime.”
For more information or to order Susansnaps, visit the Web site atwww.susansnaps.com.