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Volunteer Spotlight – Audrey Brown and Laurie Peterson


Each year the Gala is brought to life by a team of dedicated volunteers and this year was no exception! Led by co-chairs Audrey Brown and Laurie Peterson, the Leave it to Laughter Gala was one of Cancer Support Community’s most successful events in our 25 years of existence. Our co-chairs discuss why they volunteer for CSCVVSB and their experience with the Gala this year.

Audrey Brown…

How long have you been volunteering with CSC and in what capacity? I am a recent volunteer with CSC when I had inquired with the previous CEO of any volunteer opportunities within the organization.  He suggested that I sit in on a Holiday Home Tour Committee and I was hooked.  Although the Home Tour did not come together that year, I volunteered at the Boutique and then had the pleasure of Co-Chairing this year’s Gala.

Why do you volunteer in general and why did you pick CSC in particular? I learned about volunteering as a child when I was involved early on as a girl scout.  I feel I am blessed in many ways with a wonderful family, friends and rewarding career.  Volunteering provides me the opportunity to give back and work with those in the community that have a need much greater than I.  I selected CSC since I have a close family member who has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Since he lives out of state, I really wanted to get involved in a local organization that assists those and family members that have been touched by the disease.

What was your favorite part of the Gala? I really enjoyed working with the volunteers that made the event such as success.  It was a dynamic group of people that came together for a sole purpose of raising funds for a worthwhile organization.

What do you think made it successful? Success can be measured in some many different ways, but knowing that those attended were willing to support CSC financially, those that volunteered were able to give of their time and talents, and those that were part of the program were there to entertain, made the event a genuine success.

Laurie Peterson…

How long have you been volunteering with CSC and in what capacity?  6 years – 4 as co-chair and 2 as committee chair

Why do you volunteer in general and why did you pick CSC in particular?  I volunteer because I want to give back and there are so many people who need help.  I believe it is a gift to me as much as to the organization.  I chose CSC because one of my best friends was a participant 15 years ago and she would tell me how important CSC was to her state-of-mind and positive attitude.  I told her that once my kids were grown I would give back in her honor.

What was your favorite part of the Gala?  My favorite part was all the money we raised!  But also loved the 11 piece band and seeing everyone dance, as well as the comedians who kept us all laughing.  It was a great party for a great cause!!!

What do you think made it successful?  All the hard work of the CSC staff and the team of volunteers working together to make it fun and different with a few surprises thrown in.  Our auction items were unique and interesting which brought in a lot of much-needed money for CSC.  The Four Seasons Hotel did a beautiful job making sure every guest enjoyed themselves!



The Simplest Way to De-Stress by Dr. Kathy Gruver

Kathy Gruver

We know stress is bad for us. Right now it’s attributed to 60-90% of our doctor’s visits. Stress depletes the immune system, ups our heart and respiratory rate and tends to exacerbate symptoms and pain from disease. Meditation is one of the best ways to destress, but the thought of it often causes anxiety in many people. When you hear the word meditation you probably picture someone sitting on a pillow with their eyes closed, hands in their lap, om-ing gently. Or maybe you think, “Oh crap, I can’t do that. I’m terrible at it.”

Well I was one of those people. I’m very type A, I’m go go go, I walk fast, talk fast, and I do hip-hop dancing and trapeze for health and relaxation. Don’t tell me to sit on a pillow, still my body and quiet my brain. It just doesn’t work. So, when I found myself in a meditation class at the Benson Henry Institute for mind-body medicine at Harvard. I thought, “Oh here we go, something I’m not very good at.”

But then they explained that we were going to learn mini meditation and there were only two rules. One: concentrate on something repetitive and two: when thoughts float through your head just dismiss them without judgment.

That was it?

So, here it is, how to do a mini meditation, my absolutely favorite stress-buster. Begin inhaling, concentrating on the rise and fall of the chest. You’re not trying to change it, or slow down or make it faster. You’re just observing what it’s doing. And that will be our focus. On the next inhale think “I am” and do that on all subsequent inhales. On the next exhale think “at peace”. And all subsequent exhales think “at peace”. It’s that simple.

There are many different versions of this meditation, but this is the one that works for me. What it does is keep you in present time. You can’t be thinking negative thoughts or projecting into the future while you’re thinking, “I am…at peace.” It’s estimated that we have about 60,000 thoughts and 50,000 are negative. We can’t necessarily STOP thinking things, but we can replace them with this type of mantra.

It also cancels out that classic stress response, that fight or flight reaction that we have when we are feeling threatened. Since today’s stress is constant and unyielding unlike old stress, which was dynamic and short-lived, we are almost always in the stress response. This meditation invokes the relaxation response (opposite of the stress response), a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson.

It calms the nervous system, readies the brain for higher functioning, slows the heart and respiratory rate, and lowers blood pressure. It can also slow the genetic effects of aging. Just a few short minutes a day can have huge health benefits for you.

You can do these mini meditations at anytime and anyplace. There’s no need to close your eyes, especially if you’re driving. And, for me, this technique has allowed me to learn to formally meditate. I can now ‘sit on the pillow’ and quiet my mind. The benefits have been spectacular!

Since all of our external stress is out of our control, and we usually manufacture internal stress by dwelling on the past or projecting into the future, this is the perfect way to control our reaction to that stress. And when faced with a serious illness or watching a family member deal with a serious illness, this is something that can give you a momentary vacation. Just a few moments a day for less stress and better health.

Learn about the mini meditation and more including mindfulness, affirmations and visualization at Dr. Gruver’s workshop here at CSC, 530 Hampshire Road, Westlake Village on June 30th.


My name is Giulia Meloni and I am a member here at Cancer Support Community.  I have been attending Kids Circle, a group where kids and teens with a parent, sibling, and or grandparent with cancer can openly share what is happening in their families or ask questions to further understand there situation. We do awesome crafts, we’ve had visitors who knit, make pizza and do karaoke with us. I have been a part of this group for roughly five years now and I have created friendships with other kids who understand my new every day. My friends at school and church try to understand what is happening but they have no clue how it affects people. I have actually had a good friend of mine tell me to get over it one day because I was missing my dad. Most people really don’t understand what facing cancer is like and let me tell you I’ve had a front row seat.

When I was 10, my mom told me my dad had to get surgery and I honestly didn’t think much of it. I just thought he had pneumonia and maybe they needed to fix something. I didn’t know what cancer was or how it could tear a family apart. I didn’t know it was cancer until my Mom sent my sisters and I to Kids circle here back in 2010. She told us he had Kidney Cancer and that he would be getting a lot of surgeries and we wouldn’t be able to do the things we were used to. Like biking, or the zoo, little things we didn’t think much about. He continued his various treatments because it was a rare form a cancer they didn’t know how to treat. This continued and we continued to go to kids circle every Tuesday, and I felt better going. I knew these other kids knew exactly what i was going through. Until 2012 when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like my heart was going to fall out when my parents told me.

Two, both of my parents, why mine? Why no one else? These type of questions spun in my head and I didn’t know why it was only happening to us. I would ask my friends and their parents but the only person who had a genuine answer for me was Joyce at kids circle. She told me this isn’t the end of the world, things will get better, and this is training me for something important later in life. These words most people would believe are empty, kept me going. I had a strong faith in the future and that both my parents would fully recover. Luckily my Mom did and she’s stronger than ever, my dad wasn’t so fortunate. August of 2014 he was in UCLA hospital for months and I got to visit him almost every week, I know what it’s like to be in a hospital on a regular basis to know what food they have certain days, funny stuff like that. He came home in November in time for Thanksgiving even though he wasn’t able to sit at the head of the table like usual he was home and I felt safe. But by December of 2014 it was my dad’s time, and he left us peacefully in our home on hospice.

The worst part about cancer isn’t what it does to the person who has it but to the people around them who they love. This is a quote from American Horror Story I have really connected with, “when a child dies its immortality a parent feels but when a parent dies it is mortality a child feels.” It’s true my life now seems like it won’t last forever but that’s okay because I now have people that I love at kids circle who support me through every and any struggle I have. We laugh together and know what to say and when to say it especially thanks to Danny and Emily’s talking stick. I don’t know what I would do without them. Thank you so much Joyce for everything you’ve helped me through I wouldn’t have been able to get through all of this without you. I love this community and I love my family. Thank you.



ASK THE EXPERT: Jaime Richardson, RN, BSN, OCN, CCRP

Jamie Richardson


I’m sure most of you are familiar with t.v. commercials for new drugs-sun-bathed images of people enjoying everyday life and spending time with loved ones, while the narrator rattles off every potential side effect one could imagine. I recently saw a commercial for a new cancer immunotherapy drug, which seemed to fit the cliché at first, until it concluded with a message thanking both the doctors and patients who participated in the clinical trials that led to its approval. I ended up playing the commercial back several times, because I was so pleasantly surprised that it made that connection for the public–that the use of this new therapy, in effect this new hope for patients with a certain type of cancer, was possible because of clinical trial participation.

Every treatment we have today to fight cancer was once part of a clinical trial. While a trial may not be the right option for every patient, and each person has the right to choose the direction of their care, I would always wish for patients to be aware that clinical trials may be an option for them. That way, when they do choose the treatment that suits them best, all cards are on the table. I have had several patients tell me that they didn’t know trials were available for those with newly diagnosed cancer, or for those who still have standard treatment options left to try. While “last resort” trials do exist, those trials are typically early Phase studies, to find a safe dose of a new medication. Later phase trials, such as Phase 3, are the pivotal trials aiming to improve the current gold standard for treatment, or provide a new alternative. These studies may be an up-front option for people diagnosed with cancer for the first time, or for those who have tried other therapies previously.

For patients who are interested in contributing to cancer research, but are less inclined to participate in drug treatment trials, there are other kinds of studies available. In addition to surgery and radiation trials, there are studies looking at the impact of diet and exercise on cancer, as well as some looking to improve the frequency or severity of side effects from cancer or its treatment. There are trials which examine issues such as pain and fatigue, and I’ve even seen trials studying the effect of humor and meditation on quality of life-the opportunities are broad!

Most importantly, and speaking as a former research nurse, I would like to add that the doctors and nurses who work on clinical trials truly value the time and dedication of trial participants. When a clinical trial is conducted, we are able to get answers to important questions, even though not every new and promising treatment leads to an FDA approval. For the drug in the commercial I mentioned above, its FDA approval was based on the ability of the drug to extend survival in certain patients-not because it cured the disease. Nonetheless, it was a significant step, and will directly impact how we approach the management of that particular cancer.

We are learning about the behavior of cancer on a much more granular level and at a far greater pace than ever before, which has challenged us to keep up with these discoveries by finding new treatments which address them. If history is any indication, the answers most likely will be found through the conduct of clinical trials, and I sincerely would like to thank all past, present and future trial participants for paving the way.

Jaime Richardson, RN, BSN, OCN, CCRP
Clinical Trial Navigator, Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute




On May 15, 2016, Diego Villegas will be the keynote speaker for our 4th annual “Dear Cancer…It’s Me” high school essay awards ceremony.

Diego Villegas is an only child of two immigrant parents from Peru, who at the age of 13 lost his father to pancreatic cancer and almost lost his mother to breast cancer. Due to the adversities in his life, he had to mature faster, become stronger, and learned to value and treasure life because it could be taken away at any second.

He is now 19-years-old and attends Santa Monica College to later transfer to a 4-year institution and hopes to one day attend medical school to become an oncologist. He is also a past winner of the “Dear Cancer…It’s Me” essay contest which has changed his perspective in life for the better. He was able to express his emotions through writing and has found a lot of help and tremendous support from Cancer Support Community Valley/ Ventura/ Santa Barbara.

To learn more about the high school essay contest or to become a sponsor, please call Kaley Moore at 805-379-4777 x236.