Breasts and brownies: how a breast cancer survivor runs a successful baking business without two crucial senses – smell and taste
June 30, 2017
When faced with numerous challenges, how can we succeed?
When faced with numerous challenges, how can we succeed?
The past two years have been a struggle for Mollie Adler. A recent divorce had resulted in a house that is now in foreclosure, and she was faced with the new challenges of being a single mother. On top of it all, Mollie was laid off from her job. With no source of concrete income and her family’s wellbeing at stake, she knew she had to act fast.
It was in these moments of uncertainty that Mollie found salvage in her passion for baking brownies. Lacking a sense of taste and smell, Mollie eats and bakes based on presentation and texture, giving her a unique perspective in the culinary world. Deciding to take her love of baking and put her business chops to the test, Mollie set up Miss Mollie’s Brownies, which was established in January, 2016.
Baking and selling brownies to locals in her community via the farmers market and word of mouth, Mollie discovered that her business took off quickly. Each brownie is sold with Mollie’s story, which was written by her 12-year-old daughter. The story of the single mother who began baking to save her home caught the attention of the media, who immediately wanted to know more. With this publicity, Miss Mollie’s Brownies was getting the attention it needed to get off the ground.
Things were going well. It looked like Mollie had found a way to turn her life around through her passion for baking, but things were about to take a turn for the worse. In February, 2016, Mollie was diagnosed with breast cancer and forced to undergo a double mastectomy with no option for reconstructive surgery. A newly single mother nurturing two children and a new business, Mollie was now facing the fight of her life.
After her surgery, she began her next challenge: accepting her new body. She documented her experience and is now campaigning for body positivity for women. Whether their experiences are similar to her own or stem from something different, Mollie’s goal is to make every woman feel beautiful in her own body. With a message to inspire and empower women through her story, Mollie is taking on society’s beauty constructs–one breast at a time.
It was during this time that Mollie unexpectedly lost her mother. The loss meant that once again and hopefully for a final time, Mollie needed to find the strength within herself to continue pushing forward. It hasn’t been an easy two years, but Mollie has proven to herself time and time again that she can fall down seven times and rise up eight.
What made you decide to start Miss Mollie’s Brownies?
I am a single mother of two, and my home is currently in foreclosure as a result of my divorce. In September 2015, I was laid off from my job, and I was left scrambling to pay the bills and to put food on the table. This was my second layoff within a few years, and I was tired of working for others and getting nowhere. I knew there had to be something better out there. I decided that the next thing I do is going to be something that I love, something that I was passionate about, and baking was my best bet.
How “Brownies” came to be? I am a person who thinks outside of the box. I don’t like to be like everyone else. I started researching only to find that there was a shortage of good, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth brownies. How could this be?? I decided that I needed to address this issue. I have found the solution to the problem. My brownies have been long well-received by my family and friends, so it was as simple as that. Brownies was my best bet.
I thought to myself that I would bake my way out of my financial troubles and change the world, one brownie at a time. That’s how Miss Mollie’s Brownies was born.
Baking with little sense of taste or smell must be a challenge! How do you overcome this obstacle?
I have a chronic medical condition that has damaged the nerves associated with the senses of taste and smell. The sense of smell is such a sensual, personal sense that is awful to not have. Not being able to smell a rose, or a warm cup of coffee, or the smell of a crisp fall day. It is disheartening. I am forced to eat by presentation and texture. If it does not present well or feel good in my mouth, I don’t eat it.
Baking for the public is quite an extraordinary challenge and super frustrating at times!! When I am baking, I have a vision in my mind of how it should taste, and I take that vision and translate it into my baking. I can only hope that my vision is transmitting through as I hoped. My kids are my Certified Taste Testers…trust me, there are no complaints there. Every single batch is tasted before it goes out the door!
How was Miss Mollie’s Brownies doing prior to your diagnosis?
I started my business on January 3, 2016. My first wonderful customer turned out to be a lawyer. He loved the brownies so much that he and his wife gave me the gift of incorporation, and I was incorporated January 12, 2016. I then began selling my brownies in the local farmers market, which quickly drew a lot of weekly repeat customers. Each brownie package has “My Story,” written and illustrated by my 12-year-old daughter Melanie.
The local paper got wind of my story and decided to run an article about me. Soon thereafter, I ended up being mentioned in a two-minute segment on the local radio station. I was riding an amazing high, one like I have never known. I was so amazed at the craze for MY brownies!! Brownies that I cannot even taste. Things were heading in such an amazing direction. Then BOOM…February 12, 2016…YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER!
When you found out you had breast cancer, what was your initial reaction?
During my biopsy I had a spooky feeling that I had breast cancer. Before I was even told, I broke down and I cried for a few minutes. This is not supposed to happen to me. I am too young to die. I have two young kids who depend on me for everything. I have not done everything that I was meant to do…I have more life to live!! Then, in a split second, I reached deep down inside and decided that this was bullshit. The next day, February 12, I walked into the Breast Center and sat with the doctor and my best friend. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “you have breast cancer.”
My initial reaction was: “Really? I do not have time for this nonsense right now.” I proceeded to say with a smile, “Ok…now what? What do I have to do to get rid of the cancer?” From that point on, I have always faced my breast cancer with a smile and treated it as just a mere blip in my plans.
What sorts of challenges were you facing physically and emotionally when you underwent your double mastectomy?
Wow…That is tough to put into words…Just surviving the words “You have cancer” is an extraordinary task in itself.
Here are some random thoughts & emotions that went through my mind, some that I am still dealing with and trying to figure out.
One of the biggest challenges was being a single mom diagnosed with breast cancer. How was I going to financially support and care for my children; how was I going to do this alone; how will this impact my children? After a double mastectomy, will I need chemo, radiation or Tamoxifen? Breast cancer just sucks! I was left with choices that I did not want to make.
Going through a double mastectomy is pain like no other. You have no shame. I could not do anything for myself; I needed help with everything. The simple things: getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, eating, brushing my teeth, sponge bathing…you have no pride. Making the decision to have a double mastectomy was gut-wrenching. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. The important thing is once the decision is made…stick to it and have no regrets!
Learning to accept my new body…Life without boobs. Grieving the loss of my breasts. There are days I am fine, and then I have days where I go…Oh. My. God. I had cancer! I have no breasts. Then there was the timing of my mastectomy, right before the summer and how that impacted the art of bathing suit shopping. For me, there was no way to prepare for this. I am not going to lie, it was an awful experience. It’s hard enough to bathing suit shop as it is, doing that after you have lost your breasts?… So… difficult. I ended up crying in the middle of the department store.
Discovering that I was not a candidate for new perky boobs was a tough pill to swallow. No reconstruction. Due to my other chronic health conditions, I was told by several doctors that should I develop an infection from the implants, it would be catastrophic for me. So… that meant a double mastectomy without reconstruction, …otherwise known as living life flat.
To wear prosthetics or not? I think that prosthetics are a wonderful option for those women who want to have breasts without having to go through reconstructive surgery. I just personally found that wearing prosthetics is not for me, not who I am. I have to stay true to myself. I have learned to love my body, accept my scars just as they are.
Living life without boobs and bras…So freeing!!
Dating after Double Mastectomy…that is tough. Once you start dating…when do you have the conversation about not having breasts???
Emotionally, sometimes I do feel guilty that I caught it early. I feel guilty that all I had to do was remove my breasts. There are many women…brave, beautiful trail blazers who were not as lucky, who have lost their courageous fight with this awful disease. I feel these women are the true warriors…true heroes.
You also needed to stop working during your recovery. Can you tell us a little bit about what things were like from the perspective of your business?
I have not worked since April. I was not able to use my upper body, and could not lift anything heavy for about three months, so baking was out of the question. To be honest, it has been truly scary. Not knowing where the money will come from to put a meal on the table is not a good feeling. I worked the farmers market up until a week before my surgery on April 18. Since then, I have been living without any income, as I did not qualify for disability.
You have documented your journey with cancer to help inspire women to feel confident with or without their breasts. You had a photographer with you along the way, and you’ve also started a blog. Can you tell us a little bit about this experience?
Photographing my journey has been a raw, real, humbling experience. My hope is to help inspire and empower women who are faced with the same decisions as I was faced with, and any woman who has any type of body issues. I want my message to be of hope, to teach women that they will still be beautiful even without their breasts. I want women to feel confident in their choice, and in their bodies…to love their beauty. I want all women to love their bodies no matter what and to feel sexy! I want to convey the message that Boobs Don’t Define You! All the beauty that you need is already inside of you. You can read about my journey at
What is your overall goal with this venture?
If I can inspire and empower just one woman to love her body…love her beauty!!… Then it would make all the pain and struggle I endured worth every second! That would make me very happy.
We see that you’re also back to work with Miss Mollie’s Brownies! Congratulations. How is it going so far?
Thank you. It is going very slowly as the past four months have been brutal for me physically and emotionally. Not only did I survive the words “you have cancer,” but I also had to deal with the double mastectomy without any reconstruction. Just when I got my strength back both physically and emotionally, my mom tragically and unexpectedly passed away.
Somewhere in between grieving the loss of my breasts and the loss of my mom, I have once again found solitude in baking. I have no doubt that the fall farmers markets will bring new opportunities for me and that my business will soon explode. I truly believe that Miss Mollie’s Brownies will become a household name.
Does Miss Mollie’s Brownies play a part in your campaign for body positivity, or would you consider these to be separate ventures?
Absolutely! I am currently working a new brownie for breast cancer. This will have my breast cancer journey attached to it with the link to my Facebook Page that I have created to empower & inspire women. Part of the proceeds from this brownie will be donated to the group who help those battling cancer, who have gone above and beyond to help me and my children during this very difficult time. My goal, when my company is large enough, is…to have a foundation set up to help single moms and women with breast cancer.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I cannot stress enough the importance of mammograms…they really do save lives. There is a huge misconception about breast cancer. Most people believe that it goes something like this: you find a lump, you get a mammogram, you have surgery and get new perky breasts, better than your own…Ummm..not so much.
I had DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in-situ), cancer of the milk ducts. I did not have a lump. I went for my routine mammogram. It turns out that my cancer was small like grains of sand scattered throughout my entire right breast. I never would have known I had cancer had I not gone for my routine mammogram. If I had postponed my mammogram, even for a few weeks, I would not have caught it as soon as I did. I was very lucky. THE MAMMOGRAM SAVED MY LIFE!
My cancer entered my life like a tornado without warning, leaving a HUGE wake of destruction. Breast cancer may have taken a part of my physical womanhood, but it certainly did not make me any less of a woman. My boobs don’t define me…they never have. I define me. My scars are a gift, a sign of strength, courage, resilience and hope. Scars give the warrior the strength she needs to become stronger. I am proud of my scars…they tell my story of courage, and courage gives all of us hope!
I have learned that most people are very quick to give up on themselves when things get hard. It’s so easy to be happy and positive when, things are going well, when you have your health, and happy relationships… It’s easy to see your future then. The real challenge is when you get knocked down, do you have the strength to get back up? It takes courage to start over again, to fight through the pain, to see through the river of tears that you have cried. Never give into your fear. My father told me when he was dying, “Don’t look back; keep going forward.” That has always resonated with me.
I believe fear is defined in two ways:
FEAR – Forget Everything And Run
FEAR – Face Everything And Rise
You have a choice!
I am Brave.
I am Strong.
I am Beautiful.