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LAVA HOT SPRINGS, Idaho — An Idaho woman battling cancer has found peace during the holiday season in an unexpected way.
Almost seven years ago, Geri Hansen was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. By the time doctors discovered it, she had a tumor in her saliva gland, and the cancer was in most of her lymph nodes, spleen, skin and bones. Hansen has undergone eight surgeries in the past seven years.
"They can knock it back," she explained. "They can't cure it."
Hansen, who moved from Utah to Lava Hot Springs, was told she had cancer after her first year of participating in the town's gingerbread house-making contest in 2014. Despite going through chemotherapy and facing other trials, such as losing over 10 family members in roughly two years, she's continued to make gingerbread houses for local businesses to display in their shops.
"When it's gingerbread season, it brings me to life," Hansen told EastIdahoNews.com. "It's fun for me to do those. It gives me something to do and a reason to get up."
She's made a total of 27 detailed houses since she first started, with different themes such as Candyland, Santa's workshop, the Disney castle, first responders and Harry Potter.
This year, Hansen started working on her handmade and elaborate gingerbread houses for the upcoming holiday season during the summer. She used 55 pounds of powdered sugar and 124 eggs to build 10 houses for businesses that have requested her work. Each house took 25 hours to complete, according to Hansen.
"I got on Pinterest and found different recipes. A lot of things have been me experimenting. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't," Hansen said. "I try to come up with fun and over-the-top type buildings rather than using the storebought kits."
While baking is something she doesn't necessarily love to do, Hansen views making gingerbread houses differently.
"I'm more of an artist, and it's like it's another art form," she mentioned.
Hansen admits she often finds herself preparing ideas for the next year after having delivered the current year's gingerbread houses to businesses. She said if she plans ahead it gives her a year to hunt for specialty candies.
"When we're out on a trip, and I go in a gas station, I'll go look at the candy to see if there's anything odd … that I can put in it," Hansen said.
As a resort town, Hansen explained Lava Hot Springs tries to offer family-oriented activities around the holidays. She loves watching people's reactions to her designs, and she encourages locals and those from out-of-state to stop by and check out the houses.
"We want to have gingerbread houses that are impressive enough that people that have come up from Salt Lake want to take the time to go look at them," she added.
Hansen said the gingerbread houses will be on display starting Nov. 26 until Jan. 1. Hansen's gingerbread houses will be in the following Lava Hot Springs locations:
- Sweet Stuff
- Purple Moon
- Dempsey Creek Trading
- The Suites of Lava Hot Springs
- Cliff View Liquor Store
- Mountain Mayhem Adventure Rentals
- Ireland Bank
- Chuck Wagon Restaurant
All of Hansen's gingerbread houses feature two trademarks, so people know she made them. The two features are candy cane striped ribbon and miniature Santas.