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Volunteer Spotlight: Thelma Starr

ThelmaStarr-recentIf you have ever been to the Holiday Homes Tour, you know that lively seasonal entertainment is a special part of the experience, adding a dimension of excitement and festivity to the popular event. We thought it was time to recognize the volunteer who works so hard to make sure that the live entertainment is magical, year after year.

For the past seven-plus years, Thelma Starr has served as Entertainment Chair on the Holiday Homes Tour Committee – a volunteer position that involves finding, securing, and organizing more than two-dozen musicians or groups to perform during the two-day event. Her behind the scenes dedication helps ensure that CSC’s largest fundraiser is a memorable and enjoyable experience for all.

“My favorite part of volunteering for the Holiday Homes Tour is knowing that each and every one of us, musicians and volunteers, have helped brighten the spirits of the attendees and participants,” says Thelma. “As Entertainment Chair I get to see the joy that music brings to the event, as thousands of tour goers walk through the beautifully decorated homes filled with holiday music.”

Thelma started volunteering at CSC nearly twenty years ago as a front desk volunteer, answering phones and helping visitors at the front desk. She also volunteered as an Outreach Coordinator, providing the crucial connection between CSC and local doctor’s offices so cancer patients could learn about the programs offered by the Cancer Support Community.

Thelma at the opening of the Health Education Lending Program library

Thelma at the opening of the Health Education Lending Program library

In 1997 CSC (then called The Wellness Community) had a month-long Design House fundraiser and Thelma served as Special Events Chair – a major task that meant creating and planning weekly wine tastings, daily fashion shows, musicians, workshops and a silent auction. She also coordinated many contributions from local restaurants and vendors.

“I enjoy seeing the benefit that a well-planned event brings to people,” says Thelma, who has also enjoyed volunteering with the American Cancer Society (Reach to Recovery and Relay for Life programs) and the Arts Councils of the San Fernando Valley and Calabasas.

As a cancer survivor herself, Thelma has a particular interest in helping the Cancer Support Community. “I have been encouraged and inspired by my personal fight against cancer. I think of the Cancer Support Community as my second home and a place where many people find strength and comfort in their fight against cancer,” says Thelma, who sought as much information as possible when she was first diagnosed. She was so inspired by authors like Dr. O. Carl Simonton, Bernie Siegel, Susan Love and Norman Cousins that she encouraged Kaiser Permanente’s Woodland Hills Medical Center to develop the “Health Education Lending Program.” She established the first HELP Database and created file labels and reports to be used for the library books, video and audiotapes for other patients to use.

By helping the Cancer Support Community ensure the success of its biggest fundraiser, and with her help over many years, Thelma has consistently made a difference in the lives of people affected by cancer in our community. Thank you, Thelma!


Exercise and Stress Management


A cancer diagnosis can be difficult to handle. Cancer affects your physical body as well as your attitudes, thoughts or feelings. You may experience a range of emotions like fear, anger, sadness and helplessness. When these feelings interfere with daily normal functions you may be experiencing anxiety or depression. It is important to talk to your health care team about these feelings so you can discuss ways to cope with these emotions. Some people participate in support groups or individual counseling while others talk with family and friends.

Another beneficial coping strategy people turn to is exercise. Daily exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression, release muscle tension and reduce levels of cortisol,–a stress hormone. When you exercise, chemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain, spinal cord and many other parts of the body. Endorphins can decrease your awareness of pain and trigger positive feelings in the body. Additionally, research shows that physical activity improves the quality of life for people in active cancer treatment.

Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be effective. The following are some examples of ways to stay active. Be sure to talk to your doctor before participating in any form of physical activity. Some simple and effective forms of exercise are:

  • Walking
  • Gardening or cleaning
  • Light jogging
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Dance
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Golf

There are also many other benefits to exercise. Doctors often recommend staying as active as possible. Exercise not only combats depression, but it can also:

  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Strengthen the heart
  • Increase energy levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve muscle tone and strength
  • Strengthen and build bones
  • Help reduce body fat
  • Reduce the risk of cancer recurrence
  • Improve quality of life

The Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara offers a weekly Walking Group on Wednesdays from 9 to 10am. Join us for an opportunity to meet others and increase your physical and mental wellness at the same time. Open to cancer survivors, caregivers and families. Call Jodi Halem at 818.917.7547 for details.

The Cancer Support Community (National) offers resources to help you cope and live healthy with cancer. Click here for more information on emotional health and physical activity.

If you have questions or would like more information you can call CSC’s toll free Cancer Support Helpline® at 1-888-793-9355 to speak with a call counselor who can answer any question you may have.

(This piece was originally published in the Cancer Support Community blog.) 

Survivor Story: Madison Jones

At an age when most people are just starting out on the path to adulthood, Madison was dealing with a stunning diagnosis: Chordoma, an extremely rare type of bone cancer. We want to thank Madison for sharing her story, and we hope it inspires you as much as it did us!

MadisonJonesIn August of 2013, I started college and I also landed my first job at a restaurant. That same month, I had emergency surgery to repair two compression fractures in my neck and to remove the tumor that had caused them. Initially, the doctors believed that the tumor was benign, but further analysis from a few different hospitals proved that this invader was malignant. On September 11, 2013, I was diagnosed with Chordoma, a rare type of bone cancer. I was 18 years old. The next few months were a whirlwind for my family and I. The prevalence of Chordoma is one in a million, with three hundred cases diagnosed annually. Only a few hospitals in the country are specialized to treat this form of cancer, so we decided to head to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. This last year consisted of eight rounds of chemotherapy, thirty-nine rounds of proton radiation, and three highly invasive surgeries for me.

MadisonJones2This Christmas, I received the all clear! There are no new tumors and no evidence of regrowth. I’m missing a few more bones, as well as a full head of hair, but I am blessed to have my life.

My dad found out about the Cancer Support Community. I was very hesitant to go. Hesitant is probably  an understatement. My dad had to practically drag me there and I’m glad he did. I joined the Young Adult’s group and my dad attends a men’s caregiver group.

The Cancer Support Community gave me a safe place to share my experience with a group who would understand. They provided me with tools to manage the stress and the uncertainty and I also believe they led me to acceptance. I am part of a great group of people. We laugh, we cry, and we are there for one another, which is so valuable since cancer can be a lonely experience.

It took me a few months before I went to group. I did not want to think about cancer more than I already had to. With that said, I suffered in silence for longer than I should have. Sometimes, the only thing you have control over is your perspective. I guarantee my journey would have been a lot more difficult if it were not for the Cancer Support Community. They offer a wide range of emotional resources. I encourage anyone dealing with cancer to utilize this wonderful resource. You won’t know if attending group is your “thing” unless you try.

In my free time I volunteer at a ranch that rescues horses and provides equine therapy to various groups. I love to read and I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I also like watching documentaries and listening to music.

The Young Adult Support Group is provided free of charge to people with cancer age 18-40. The group meets on the first and third Monday of each month at 7:00pm in Westlake Village. Please call 805.379.4777 prior to attending. This is one of many free support groups provided by the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara (

More Than Cancer: Small Acts of Kindness Add Up to Make a Big Difference

The holidays were approaching, and things were weighing heavily on the members of the Cancer Support Community’s Young Adult support group. “The holidays, the reality of having cancer, the statistics, surgeries, treatments – every member was deeply affected,” says Tricia Lethcoe, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist who facilitates the group.

One thing that came up in group discussion was how having cancer seemed to overshadow everything else that made up each member’s identity. Tricia thought it would be great to give each person an external reminder that they are so much more than a cancer diagnosis. When the idea of Origami Owl’s customizable jewelry came up, it seemed like the perfect fit. Tricia got in touch with Jamie Vargas, an Origami Owl distributor based in Chico.

Jamie was happy to help and went to work finding “sponsors” for each group member – fellow Origami Owl distributors who could cover a portion of the cost of the necklaces. Within just a few days, Jamie had found enough sponsors for every group member, with Origami Owl distributors Julie (Juliana) Herrera, Elizabeth and Patricia Schwind, and Carmen Gallegos all joining Jamie in donating necklaces. Each participant was able to pick charms that represented who they are, what they love, and what is meaningful to them.

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“I was able to easily choose very meaningful charms, and then carry them with me through some of the toughest moments of my cancer journey,” says group member Erin. “The symbolism reminds us that we are SO much more – mothers, animal lovers, artists, travellers, etc. I am so sincerely grateful to our Origami Owl sponsors for helping us to celebrate ourselves and remember why we fight so hard against adversity.”

“Origami Owl is all about using jewelry to tell your story,” says Jamie. “From now on, the group members will have something they can literally hold onto and know, ‘this is who I am.’ It was really nice to see how it all came together. I would not have been able to do it by myself – the people on my team really lived up to Origami Owl’s mission of being a force for good.”

Tricia presented the lockets to the group members in December – special tokens of their individuality just in time for what many people find to be the most stressful time of year, even under the best circumstances.

“As a patient, it is easy to get caught up in the shuffle of appointments, tests, and treatments,” says Madison, another group member. “That’s why the Origami Owl jewelry donation was so special. We chose charms that each represented something to us. The necklaces are so beautiful because they are a tangible reminder of who we are outside of cancer. The donors’ gift is bigger than a necklace. For me, it is a powerful affirmation of who I am, and I will be forever grateful for their generosity.

Agi, another group member, added, “Cancer for anyone, but maybe especially young adults, can be such a lonely experience, and it is very reassuring to know that there are caring people out there who want to help and cheer us on. Donating the jewelry and charms was incredibly thoughtful of them. It is easy to allow cancer to take over one’s identity and it can be such a struggle to accept and become comfortable with a ‘new normal’ after a cancer diagnosis. The exercise of choosing the charms allowed me to remember and focus on all the other precious parts of my life before and outside of cancer.

Facilitator Tricia Lethcoe is thrilled that all the stars aligned to make this donation possible. “I wanted to give them something that they could touch and share with others. Something that reminds us all that they are so much more than someone with a cancer diagnosis. The lockets were a perfect way to do this.“

“It is so typical of Tricia to go miles above and beyond the call of duty to help and support us,” says Agi. “She is such a fantastic part of the Young Adult group and I feel so thankful for her.”


The Young Adult Support Group is provided free of charge to people with cancer age 18-40. The group meets on the first and third Monday of each month at 7:00pm in Westlake Village. Please call 805.379.4777 prior to attending. This is one of many free support groups provided by the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara (

Ask the Expert: Focus on New Year’s Resolutions and Self-Care

Many thanks to Licensed Psychologist Lori Chortkoff Hops, Ph.D. for being our Guest Blogger in January!


LoriHops-promo-051013Have you heard this type of complaint before?

It’s the New Year, and I try to set goals to improve my life for New Year’s Resolutions. I start out OK, but before long, I skip a few days, and then I stop altogether. It seems I feel worse about myself because I tried and failed. Is there anything I can do to keep the goals going well past January?

Fret not!  You are not alone.  Many people face this same situation when setting goals for themselves throughout the year. We generally are more aware of goal setting when focused on New Year’s Resolutions.  The New Year offers the promise of a new beginning. We have confidence that this year will be different, and we will be focused on success!  But what happens when we face obstacles, or lack of motivation? Often we give up too quickly, and grow cross with ourselves. What’s a well-intentioned person to do?

Number One: Know Your Goal

The first step in solving a problem is to understand it. Rather than being overwhelmed by a challenge and then giving up, look at the problem one piece at a time.  Most New Year’s Resolutions are about self-improvement.  Since most people come up with similar goals (e.g. nutritional changes, exercise, enjoying life), you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  One website that can help is Popular New Year’s Resolutions.  You can click on a link that offers advice and resources on the goal of your choice.


Number Two: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart!

Many people stop short of their goals because they take on too much at once, and have unrealistic expectations.  Instead, set a small achievable goal that does not ask for much change.  After a few days of success, gradually increase your goals.  By the end of several days, you are on your way to starting a new habit, and because it is gradual, it feels easy and simple.


Number Three:  Reward Good Behavior

Starting a new goal is not the time to launch into self-criticism and self-doubt. Instead, treat yourself gently, and with positive rewards.  It may feel silly at first, but it will pay off in no time.  Find a small reward or fun activity you like, and give it to yourself every time you work on your goal. Change the reward to keep it fresh.


Number Four: Don’t Go it Alone

Find someone with the same goal as yourself, and make it a team effort.  Choose a family member or friend, or you can look online.  The web site offers FREE community support for goals, or you can pay a fee for coaching from experts.


If you still want more tips on self-care, consider attending one or both of the upcoming Self-Care workshops at the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara in Westlake Village, CA.  Fill Your Mind, Body and Spirit:  A Self-Care Series, is designed to take your self-care goals to the next level.  The first class (January 22) will highlight your self-care profile, working around obstacles, and offering on the spot tips to help turn it around. The second class (January 29) will focus on a variety of mind/body/spirit based approaches designed to create a better you. Both of these classes are free for cancer survivors and their loved ones and caregivers.

Lori Chortkoff Hops, Ph.D. (PSY 14335) is a Licensed Psychologist in private practice in Westlake Village. She can be found at