Colleen Shaffer was hit with a breast cancer diagnosis in 1999. In 2001, her cancer reached the metastatic level and she was told she only had six months to live. It has been 21 years since that diagnosis and not only is Shaffer still here, but here with a reason to live – Circle of Hope.
Circle of Hope was founded in 2004 by Shaffer as a platform to help those struggling with cancer, both financially and mentally, and spread hope to those facing these life-altering diagnoses. It stands today as a nonprofit organization with the means to supply financial aid, services and overall support to any cancer patients in need.
“We pay for surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, oncology appointments, everything that is needed to get them through their diagnosis, we pay for,” said Executive Director Laura Kirchhoff. “No one pays a dime at Circle of Hope.”
Shaffer’s financial struggles with her own cancer journey is what inspired her to create a platform where others will not have to face the same experience.
“I understood the fear of not having financial aid. There was no one at that time that had financial aid,” said Shaffer. “I wanted to give back, so anyone who lives, works, or receives treatment in this valley, can get financial aid.”
On Saturday, Circle of Hope hosted its 18th Annual Tea fundraiser, an event that only keeps growing in size every year and one that Shaffer could only ever see become this size in her wildest dreams.
The very first Circle of Hope Tea was hosted out of Shaffer’s backyard. It started as a two-day event, with eight tables and approximately 200 people in attendance over the course of those two days.
As a brand-new organization, money was sparse. Shaffer was unable to pay for a decorating team. Instead, members of Circle of Hope brought dishes, silverware and whatever they had to decorate the tables. Thus began an annual tradition that catches the curiosity of attendees – having whoever wishes to do so, decorate a table according to their interpretation of the annual theme.
“It’s one of my favorite things to see how creative everyone gets,” said attendee Whitney Labrie.
This year there were 25 tables extravagantly decorated to the decorator’s interpretation of, “A Walk Through the Secret Garden.” The theme was inspired by Shaffer’s love for gardening, as she feels it represents her cancer journey.
“Wintertime we are baren, leaves are down, but spring is eternal hope,” said Shaffer. “What we go through, radiation, chemo, the works, you will never be a saint every year and it’s gonna be a little bit different. That’s what the general public does not understand.”
Participants say the real beauty of the event is not the elaborate decorations, it is having men and women alike gather into one space, to show their support for their community’s cancer journeys.
“This is beautiful, but the support group is what really helps women as they’re going through their journey,” said attendee of 13 years, Janice Smith, a 16-year breast cancer survivor.
Unlike many other events, the Circle of Hope Tea is one designed to end some day.
“We are continuing this and we will continue this event every year to support those with cancer, honor the survivors and their caregivers,” said Kirchhoff. “Until the day there’s a cure, we will be having our tea.”