WHEN SYREETA HARRISON LEARNED about the upcoming bake sale at her oldest daughter’s elementary school, her first instinct was to buy some baked goods at the store. But her daughter, Chloe, who is now 25, wanted her mom to make something from scratch.
Though hesitant, Harrison heated up her oven, got out some cake mix—and discovered a newfound passion for baking. Harrison, a social worker employed by the City of Philadelphia, began crafting elaborate cakes for colleagues’ birthdays and special occasions. She soon became the go-to cake maker for her family and friends.
All that kitchen creativity came to a halt when she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in late 2014. Harrison, then 41, was treated with chemotherapy before undergoing surgery to remove both breasts in May 2015.
With her cancer in remission, Harrison prayed about finding ways to give back to people with cancer. Combining her loves of baking and helping others, she decided to whip up and sell cupcakes to raise money to make and deliver care baskets to people being treated for cancer. “It was just a good mesh of bringing [together] two things that I think that I’m really just called to do,” she says.
Syreeta Harrison brings creativity to her cupcake flavors and focuses on practical products when putting together care baskets.
Cupcakes for Cancer Philadelphia is a one-woman operation, with Syreeta Harrison baking all the cupcakes herself. She offers these treats at a fundraiser each October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as well as through the nonprofit’s website. Harrison has a penchant for creative flavors, with one of the most popular being chicken-and-waffle cupcakes, which come topped with a chicken nugget, a piece of Belgian waffle and maple syrup buttercream. Other in-demand flavors include banana pudding and birthday cake.
When packing the chemo care baskets, Harrison selects items that helped her during treatment. In addition to including products designed to relieve treatment side effects, she provides reading material to help patients pass long days at the hospital and comfort items like cozy socks. She completes each basket with a personal note of encouragement.
These baskets address specific treatment-related needs. For example, chemo care baskets include mouthwash to manage dry mouth, moisturizer to soothe dry skin and lemon candies to mask the metallic taste patients often experience during treatment.
In the beginning, Harrison distributed baskets to people with cancer through word of mouth and by connecting with local organizations, including the hospital where she was treated. In May 2022, she expanded her efforts by establishing Cupcakes for Cancer Philadelphia as a nonprofit. Harrison accepts requests for care packages via the organization’s website and has started to ship to other states. “It’s awesome to know that you’re impacting people’s lives in a positive way, especially during such a challenging time,” Harrison says.
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