• garden

    Painting in the Garden (and other Life Reflections)

    We must cultivate our own garden. – Voltaire

    “Have you thought what you’re going to do with my ashes when you get them back?”

    This was not a question I’d ever imagined being asked, especially by one of my children. So, when Melissa surprised me with that question one beautiful spring day seventeen years ago, it took me a minute to respond even though I had, actually, thought about it. Knowing that my 19-year old daughter would die soon of a cancer that could not be cured, I had thought of many unimaginable things.

    Melissa's Story 13thirty

    “Yes, I have,” I sadly responded. Knowing that she thought cemeteries were lonely places, I suggested that we might spread her ashes over the Grand Canyon where we had recently spent a bittersweet last family vacation.

    “Hmmm, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. Seeing my puzzled look, she continued. “Remember how windy it was the day we were there? It would really be gross if my ashes blew back on all of you.” I still smile remembering how hard we laughed at the thought.

    “Do you have a better idea?” I retorted when we stopped laughing.

    “How about the garden?” my always-wiser-than-I daughter offered.

    It was a perfect plan. She knew we loved to be in the garden but more importantly, I think she knew that tending to and nurturing tender plants and nascent blooms would console my grieving heart when she was gone.

    And she was right. Over the years, Melissa’s garden has grown from the first small bed, where her ashes rest under the arms of a lovely garden angel, to a rich tapestry of color and texture covering our entire side and back yards. This is my sacred place. The place where I seek and find peace. The place where my soul rests alongside hers. A haven from the day’s harried pace and society’s many conflicts. Here, the world makes sense as days pass as predictably as the seasons change.

    As it has through time, spring’s rebirth grows into summer’s glory and eventually yields to the bronze of autumn and the quiet hush of winter’s snowy cover. I take comfort knowing that this universal cycle will always start anew and that the energy within all living things changes form but never dies. Because this is what I believe, my daughter’s ever-present spirit fuels my resolve to carry on and strengthens my confidence that life does happen with purpose.

    Recently, Melissa’s garden became a respite for a small group of other moms whose lives, like mine, were turned upside down when their children were diagnosed with cancer. We came together on a beautiful summer’s night, planted our easels throughout the garden, and with brush in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, absorbed the quiet solitude as paint took shape on canvas. garden

    As evening light started to fade, we stood back and admired our work. The finished pieces were each unique. Different color schemes, brush stroke, perspective, vantage point. But each was inspired by a common bond – the shared experience of motherhood.

    I’ve learned over the years that being a parent and gardening are very similar. Both involve patience, nurturing and the willingness to sometimes overlook pesky, unsightly weeds – or children, in the case of parenting.

    To do both jobs well, one must have the courage to envision and hope for the future.

    Neither happens overnight and shortcuts never work.

    But perhaps the greatest similarity is that both parenting and gardening are difficult, exhausting tasks leaving one bone-weary and often disappointed. It’s physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining gardenwith little respite, especially when parenting a child with cancer.

    The 18th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire once wrote. “We must cultivate our own garden.”   On this magical evening, four moms whose paths would likely never have crossed had it not been for cancer, heeded Voltaire’s advice. Together, they created art inspired by the beauty around them and their individual life experience. In this holy place, they found their own peaceful patch of earth, savored precious moments of solitude and refreshed their weary souls in the company of friends who understand.


    final paintingsThis is the wonder of 13thirty Cancer Connect. We support teens and young adults on their journey through cancer and beyond, as well as being a place for parents to connect with each other and build understanding and encouraging community. If your teen or young adult has endured cancer’s treacherous road and you have a need to “cultivate your own garden”, we invite you to join us! The coffee’s always on!



    About the Author

    lauren-spiker-1Lauren Spiker is our founder, executive director, and chief visionary with a pulse on what’s happening in the world of AYA oncology. Her dreams are big and bold!

  • paradox

    The Paradox of Cancer


    Funny how people find themselves together. Families are tied together by birth. Neighbors become neighbors by virtue of geographic proximity. Business relationships are born of mutual economic gain.

    But sometimes, the vagaries of life conspire and cast together people whose paths may never have crossed otherwise.

    This happens often in my world and when it does, I’m always struck by how the universe works.

    Last night, at the first annual Bald for Bucks Beard-Off, nine handsome men chose to shave their prized beards – and in a few cases, their heads – to show their support for our teens and young adults with cancer. In a very public way, they stood together and railed against cancer in young people.

    The atmosphere at Lovin’ Cup, a very cool bistro and brew pub, was upbeat, rowdy at times. Good food, craft beers, live music and a bit of thought-provoking poetry created a good vibe. One by one, each man took his seat and the crowd cheered as each beard hit the floor.

    Many in attendance were waiting for the final three – Charlie Cote, John Nichols and Josh Symer. As I, along with the rest of the house, shouted in approval, a familiar feeling settled in my heart making me both happy and sad. Had it not been for cancer, I would never have met these three awesome people. Had Charlie’s son, also named Charlie, not died, the poems he read last night would have been much less poignant and touching. There would have been no tears. Charlie wouldn’t even have been there, no less be our current Board President.

    Because John’s son, Quin, had cancer and thankfully survived, John serves on our Board of Directors with a commitment forged in his own family’s experience, ever grateful that his son is alive but always wary of cancer’s spectre. If not for cancer, John, too, would not have been there.

    And of course, if Melissa hadn’t died, the organization wouldn’t even exist. Josh, our new Special Events Coordinator, would never have had the opportunity to organize the Beard-Off and be compelled to shave his own beard and head because of his passionate belief in our cause. Certainly, he would have been somewhere else.

    Therein lies the paradox.

    I am blessed to know Charlie, John and Josh and am grateful beyond words for their support and dedication. But I’d give my life to never have met them if it meant Melissa could still be here enriching the world with her gifts. I guess life is like that. Misfortune brought these three men and me together last night but it is my very, very good fortune to know and work with them.






    Charlie Cote, John Nichols, Josh Symer without their beards. View the whole album to see John without his 43 year old moustache and Josh without his hair!


    About the Author

    LaurenLauren Spiker,  Melissa’s mom and Executive Director of 13thirty Cancer Connect.