Each of the women who lead the various departments that make up Circle of Hope and their Hope’s Haven Cancer Wellness Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting those fighting cancer in Santa Clarita, are passionate about what they do and have personally been touched by cancer in some way or another.
Many are cancer survivors themselves, and were first clients before they joined the staff, including support group facilitator Wendy Thrush.
“There’s something about being with someone that has been through what you’ve been through — there’s a relatability,” Thrush said. “I’ve been through cancer three times now … So the reliability is sincere and authentic. I have a passion to do what I do.”
Thrush has seen the benefits of the group, and said the blend of people with different cancers at different stages can help each other in unique ways.
“I think the way people handle life is the way they handle their illness — their personality doesn’t change,” Thrush added. “Cancer doesn’t define you.”
Each week of the support group is different — sometimes Thrush will discuss an experience she’s had or share something she has learned that would help the group, but most times, topics vary depending on what participants are dealing with that week.
“I think the beauty of what I do is it’s all about them, so when they come, you never know what the needs are that you are going to address or meet,” Thrush said. “I just try to do my best to really get them to open up, to acknowledge what they have, what they’re dealing with.”
The support group used to meet in Thrush’s living room, which inspired the center to create a “living room” of their own to make clients feel more comfortable and is now where the support group meets every other Tuesday.
Jill Bondy, director of client services, came to know about Circle of Hope during her mother’s battle with breast cancer after seeing an article for their annual Afternoon Tea.
“I’ve only missed one since the first tea was given in (founder Colleen Shaffer’s) backyard,” Bondy said. “So, my heart is here.”
Bondy helps to explain the financial aspect to clients, going over which bills Circle of Hope can assist in covering, such as co-pays, insurance premiums and deductibles, among other things.
“I kind of hand-hold them through that part of what’s going on, which can give them great relief on the financial end,” Bondy said.
Lori Carpenter, office administrator and cancer survivor, also came to Circle of Hope as a client first.
“Like most cancer patients when they’re newly diagnosed, I was like, ‘Wwhat am I going to do?’ — I felt like I was going to wipe out my entire family, and I was scared,” Carpenter said.
After finishing treatment, she joined the staff, and with her background in insurance, she began to help Bondy in looking at a client’s insurance to ensure they are getting every coverage available to them.
“I know things that people don’t even think to ask their insurance companies,” Carpenter added. “I tell (the insurance companies) every dollar saved for this patient can go towards another patient that we can help.”
Though Carpenter is able to “work magic” with insurance, according to Bondy, she also spends a lot of her time comforting clients who come in to the office.
“I’ve seen so many different scenarios,” Carpenter said. “From people that come in and they basically don’t even want to fight the cancer, they’re just looking for a place that will support them in their decision. Then you get other people who are scared to death and they want you to help them find any way to fight it.”
And Carpenter said she agrees with Thrush in that most clients find comfort in the fact that they can relate as fellow cancer survivors.
“They just want to hear your story,” she added. “People like to see that — especially if I’m having a good day and cheerful — that is what the end result could look like.”
Circle of Hope offers more than just a support group and financial support. Through Hope’s Haven, they actually have 18 different programs and therapies — all of which are free to the cancer community — including yoga, pilates, dance, journaling, jewelry making, drum circle, and many more.
“(These programs) are trying to find a way to relieve the stress and take time out for themselves, do some self-care, because that’s needed and not having to worry about having to pay for it,” said Marguerite Berg, program director at Hope’s Haven. “And everything is designed for people who are either survivors or currently in treatment.”
Each one rotates to various days and times of the week to give clients who may have scheduling conflicts the opportunity to attend.
“When you’re going through radiation or chemotherapy, you’ve got to really keep your muscles worked,” Executive Director Laura Kirchhoff said.
They also offer Swedish massage, oncology massage, acupuncture and reiki with practitioners who specialize in those therapies. And because cancer treatments can weaken bones, among other things, patients in each of the therapies receive specialized oncology treatments designed to be safe, yet effective, according to Kirchhoff.
“(The clients) have definitely been the testimonials on the workshops and classes,” Berg said. “It has, for them, brought some peace, and some joy, and some relief from stress on them. It’s a place where they can go and just find some joy in their day and on their journey.”
Circle of Hope is located at 23033 Lyons Ave., Suite 3, in Newhall. For more information about Circle of Hope and the classes offered through Hope’s Haven, visit circleofhopeinc.org.