GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Local baker Melissa Miller was busy at work this week, creating tasty treats for a child with cancer in conjunction with the nonprofit Cakes Against Cancer.
Cakes Against Cancer’s mission is “to provide children who are currently going through cancer treatments a ‘designer’ quality cake once a year for their birthday,” according to their website.
The nonprofit pairs bakers across the country with nearby families who have children with cancer, at which point the baker and family communicate about the child’s wishes.
“We want to help these kids just be kids at least one day a year and experience the magic of childhood during their brave battle with this insidious disease,” the website says.
Miller became involved with Cakes Against Cancer about two weeks ago, when the organization reached out and told her about Lilyanne Case, a 2-year-old from Silt who was diagnosed with stage 2 neuroblastoma cancer earlier this year.
“They put me in touch with the mother, and she sent me a picture of a cake they saw online, so I’m making something similar,” Miller explained. “I donate the cake and my time, and then I’ll be delivering it to the family.”
Lily’s birthday, which is today, will be celebrated with several dozen cupcakes, each decorated with either owls or ladybugs. Miller is also baking a three-tiered cake with an owl on top.
“We call her Lily Bug, so we decided on ladybugs,” said Jessie Case, Lily’s mother. “Throughout this process, ladybugs have been landing on us, and we take it as a sign of good luck.”
Jessie added that Lily is also a big fan of owls, so she and her husband, Canyon, decided to incorporate those two animals into the decorations.
“It is all kinds of colors, and it’s very girly,” Miller said of the baked goods. “All of it is chocolate cake, because her mother said she loves chocolate, and then I’ll be doing a combination of strawberry and raspberry filling.”
Canyon and Jessie began worrying about Lily in April, when she started experiencing issues with her digestive system. Several doctors told them it was nothing to worry about, but their concern led them to a specialist in Denver.
During the examination, the doctor noticed Lily’s liver was enlarged, which prompted him to do an ultrasound of the area.
“They took the ultrasound and found a mass, and then they biopsied the mass,” Jessie explained. “It was May 23 when they told us she had cancer.”
Lily is now in her fourth cycle of chemotherapy, with each cycle lasting 22 days. She has already undergone one surgery to remove part of the tumor, and Jessie hopes another surgery in the near future will remove the rest of it.
“This is definitely a learning experience for all of us, and we just hope Lily comes out of it well,” Jessie said. “It’s a great thing they’re doing [at Cakes Against Cancer]. Some kids with cancer feel different or out of place or just sick, but this allows them to be special on their birthday.”
Outside of her love of baking, Miller said her decision to get involved with Cakes Against Cancer was a personal one.
“My dad was diagnosed with cancer in February, and he passed away in April, so it’s a cause that’s near and dear to me,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to give back, and it just makes you feel good.”
Miller grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and graduated from Basalt High School, going on to attend the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. She then began working in public relations for a celebrity chef in Arizona, where she was also employed part-time at a small, family-owned bakery.
Miller returned to Colorado in 2000, at which point her love of baking flourished.
“I was baking for friends and family, and then word started to spread and I was baking for friends of friends and friends of family,” she said with a laugh.
With the passing of the Colorado Cottage Foods Act in 2012, Melissa was able to create her own business, Killer Cakes, out of her own kitchen. The act allows for certain small-scale food producers to work out of their homes without a commercial facility.
Miller also sells her cupcakes at Sweet Adventures in downtown Glenwood Springs, where she rotates through different flavors throughout the week.