After Colleen Shaffer was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, she decided she wanted to help others who were on the same uncertain journey she was on — so she hosted a tea party in her backyard where supporters showed up for her and on behalf of cancer patients.
She wanted to bring hope to individuals as her breast cancer worsened and developed into metastatic breast cancer. And, that first tea party set the stage for her to found Circle of Hope, which has grown since 2004 into a nonprofit that offers financial support and a welcoming community for cancer patients in need.
On Saturday, Circle of Hope hosted its 17th annual Tea fundraiser, with live entertainment, a raffle and a silent auction at the Hyatt Regency Valencia. The theme of this year’s tea was Every Day’s a Holiday.
“Tea is a time to get together with friends, neighbors and new friends, and it’s not just for women, as men attend, too,” said Shaffer. “We show up to support patients with cancer.”
Attendees decorated 32 tables in unique décor ranging from holidays to national days celebrating foods, people, books and more.
“Tea is an important event,” Shaffer said. “The first tea we could have had it where it was all one dish, or we could have bought dishes, but each volunteer brought their dishes, which started the tradition of themes for the teas.”
She added there are many nonprofits supporting cancer patients, and to make Circle of Hope stand out was to create a unique, cheerful and imaginative fundraising event. And beyond that, some nonprofits focus on research, whereas Circle of Hope provides free services to assist the whole person – through emotional, educational, financial and supportive services.
“The proceeds support cancer patients in our community,” said Laura Kirchhoff, executive director of the nonprofit. “No one coming into the circle pays a dime. The circle offers financial assistance to those who are unable to afford their cancer treatments such as chemo treatments, radiation cancer surgery, medications, oncology visits, and we will pay for those unable to afford those life-saving measures.”
Funds also benefit their support groups, classes and services. The nonprofit offers more than 36 different wellness therapies at its cancer center.
“Survivors may still come and take advantage of all our services,” Kirchhoff said. “Family members, caregivers, and those that have lost a loved one that need support and services in different ways. We are open to anybody affected with cancer, and by cancer.”
The 17th annual Tea also marks the organization’s 31 days of hope for October, which coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she added.
“Circle of Hope has a tradition of celebrating days of hope, and we hope that there will someday be a cure,” Kirchhoff said. “We bring awareness to the community and we do fundraise throughout the community in October.”
More than 200 people filled the 32 tables of different colors and designs. Tea attendees were community members, longtime supporters of the organization, cancer patients in active treatment, survivors and their loved ones, who all showed up for a day of celebration.
Some attendees even dressed up in attire from their respective tables such as Teri Fox, a sponsor from Teri-Hughes Family Foundation, who dressed in the theme of “Alice in Wonderland.”
“I’m sponsoring a table today, and we’re the Mad Hatter Tea Party,” Fox said. “It’s amazing. I ridiculously over-the-top decorated, and I just can’t wait to see all the other tables.”
She added that it’s been a “hell of a ride” since the pandemic started and it brought her so much joy to see everyone at the tea party supporting cancer patients, especially since she lost her dad to pancreatic cancer, and one of her best friends is fighting her own battle with cancer.
Kelly Cude, a professor at the College of the Canyons, was the keynote speaker. She discussed her 35-year cancer journey, which began with the loss of her grandfather to cancer.
She dedicated her life to cancer research, until one day she realized she had a tumor. Doctors didn’t believe her because she was dealing with a rare cancer that only 1 in 500 million people are diagnosed with.
Eventually, after meeting with a board of doctors, she was given proper treatment. She added that Circle of Hope helped her throughout that difficult journey.
“Fighting cancer is a long process,” Cude said. “It can sometimes feel like being in a dark tunnel with no light. But Circle of Hope provided me with a community of love and support, and it was like seeing the light.”