A local nonprofit with the mission of helping teens and young adults battling cancer celebrated a huge milestone Monday.
When 13Thirty Cancer Connect started decades ago, the first pancake breakfast took place in founder Lauren Spiker’s kitchen.
“They smell wonderful, they speak to home and to family, and comfort and warmth, and that’s what 13Thirty Cancer is all about,” Spiker said.
Spiker started the organization to honor her daughter Melissa, who died of leukemia at only 19.
“The hole in our heart never disappears, but when I see other kids like Melissa survive and thrive, to me it helps reconcile her life,” Spiker said.
Fast forward 20 years, and the group has grown to include office space in Rochester and Syracuse, and now even sports a new logo to celebrate the milestone.
“In 20 years, I have been so privileged to know and love literally hundreds of kids, who become part of my family over all these years,” Spiker said.
It’s a second home for many teens and young adults battling the disease, like 22-year-old Serena Dennis.
“Being able to come here and speak to people who have gone through what you’ve gone through, it makes you feel like you’re not alone in the situation,” Dennis said.
Board member Brittany McNair says 13Thirty is like a second family.
“Step away from the hospital, and have people you can be yourself around," McNair said. "They’re not going to stare at you if you’re bald or have scars all over, they understand, they’ve been there and know what it’s like.”
That includes McNair. She was at one of the group’s first pancake breakfasts as a teen fighting cancer herself.
“To have people that understood and knew what I was going through was a game changer, and I’ve been involved every step of the way since,” McNair said.
While each passing year is a reminder of Spiker’s loss, she says everything they’ve accomplished is worth celebrating.
“I reflect on not only my daughter’s life, but I reflect on all that we’ve achieved and feel so grateful towards everyone who has helped us in our first 20 years, and I look forward to what the next 20 years will bring,” Spiker said.