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WAVERLY, Iowa  --- Some come for the cookies. Others are drawn by the story.

However people find Susansnaps, an Atlanta-based gourmet gingersnap company, founder Laura Stachler hopes they walk away with satisfied taste buds and elevated spirits.

Stachler, 59, a Waverly native, turned to baking as both catharsis and outreach when her family faced back-to-back health crises.

In 2003, her husband, Ken, began treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Less than a year later, their daughter, Susan, then 22 and a senior at Auburn University, discovered a suspicious lump on her neck.

The diagnosis, Hodgkin's disease, struck a chord of fear for more than one reason.

Susan is named for a beloved aunt --- Stachler's sister --- who died from that same disease at age 28.

With both husband and daughter undergoing chemotherapy treatments, sometimes in adjacent beds, Stachler needed to find a way to keep it together. She set her sights on helping not only her own loved ones but other cancer patients in need of cheering up.

"I had heard in passing that ginger is a stomach soother," Stachler said.

Ken Stachler encouraged the idea.

Nausea is a common problem for chemotherapy patients and he found the cumulative effect to be brutal.

He could tolerate gingersnaps, a gift from a friend.

"It really worked. It was one of the only things I could keep down," he added.

It made sense for Stachler to head for the kitchen. Her parents, Bob and Connie Carver, opened the former Carver's Restaurant in Waverly in the 1950s. The family moved away soon after.

In the course of a single afternoon, Laura Stachler, who owned a small dessert and catering business at the time, perfected her own version of the ideal gingersnap: Not too hard or crunchy, just enough spice, dark molasses, and coated with raw sugar sparkles.

"It's fun. Who doesn't like a good cookie? And maybe, just maybe, I could distract Susan from what she was going through," Stachler told members of the Waverly Rotary Club during a guest speaking appearance on July 26.

Stachler's cookies proved a hit. Before long, the modest baking exercise emerged into a full-fledged family business that can produce 10,000 cookies a day and ships all over the country.

The Stachlers also make special deliveries to hospitals.

The Stachlers coined a catchy name for their special little cookie: Susansnaps --- in memory of the late Susan Carver and in memory of her namesake, Susan, 31, who beat cancer and is a co-owner of Susansnaps.

Stachler challenges gingersnap skeptics to try one of five flavors of lightly spiced cookies: original, cocoa, citrus, peanut butter and coconut.

"We found that people love to have the choices," Stachler said.

Almost a decade later, Susansnaps remains a family business. Susan helps with marketing and promotions and designed the logo and packaging. Ken Stachler, a certified public accountant, offers financial advice and handyman and taste-testing services.

And Stachler and Susan still make regular trips to the Costco warehouse to buy ingredients in bulk.

"We are the old-fashioned soup to nuts," Stachler said.

Others are taking note.

In 2007, Stachler was one of 11 women to receive the Martha Stewart "Dreamers Into Doers" award for turning her passion into a business or philanthropic program.

Broadcasts to feature Susansnaps include CBS Evening News and an upcoming CNN special. Rachael Ray, Oprah and Paula Deen publications also highlighted the product.

Susansnaps gift bags were also delivered to participants in the 39th Annual Daytime Emmys.

"You never know where something is going to lead you and we have tried to make something positive and uplifting out of something that didn't start so great," Stachler said.

A cousin, Barb Bridges of Waverly, isn't surprised that Stachler thrived despite and because of adversity.

"She's just that type of person. She would want to make a difference in the lives of others even though she was going through a difficult time herself," Bridges added.

One gift that comes from facing cancer and defeating it is the sense of fearlessness toward other challenges that would otherwise seem daunting, Stachler said. She admires her daughter's tenacity and determination.

"When challenges come along you are a lot stronger than you think you are," Stachler said.

The Stachlers also started the Susan Carver Foundation, which supports cancer research and patients.


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