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Posts from the ‘Participant’s Story’ Category

Sherry Stern: Making a Difference, One Stitch at a Time

sherrystern3Over fifteen years ago, Sherry Stern’s friend asked if she’d like to volunteer as a House Manager for the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara’s biggest fundraiser of the year: the Holiday Homes Tour. “I had heard of The Wellness Community [as it was called then] but didn’t really know what I was saying yes to,” says Sherry. “Going to the organizing committee meeting, I met a group of wonderful women, with great energy and abilities to get things done.”

Sherry has been an essential part of CscVvsb’s volunteer corps since she first got involved in that Holiday Homes Tour fifteen years ago. She has served as House Manager, House Chair, Boutique Chair, Ticket Chair, and Event Chair. She was also Cashiering Chair for the Design House, another large fundraiser, in 2005. In every one of her volunteer committee positions, Sherry devotes tremendous energy and dedication, working hard to help CscVvsb serve people affected by cancer in our community.

The Knotty Knitters prepare their creations for the Holiday Homes Tour Boutique

The Knotty Knitters prepare their creations for the Holiday Homes Tour Boutique

Through her leadership positions with Holiday Homes Tour, Sherry got to know CscVvsb president Suzanne Drace and discovered that they both love to knit. Suzanne had the idea of starting a knitting circle at CscVvsb and asked Sherry to be the chair – and that’s how the Knotty Knitters came about. “It started in 2004 with me and one participant meeting twice a month and the group has now grown to eight or ten of us meeting every week,” says Sherry. “The ladies are participants, volunteers and survivors and we have had a couple of men who have joined us for awhile. Some know how to knit or crochet and some come to learn.”

As a way of giving back to CscVvsb, the Knotty Knitters sell their creations at the Holiday Homes Tour Boutique and donate the proceeds back to the organization. “Selling our knitted items and raising money for CscVvsb completes a circle for the Knotty Knitters.  Those who have received help from CscVvsb are able to give back and help others,” says Sherry.

A fellow knitter shows some of the whimsical items sold at the Boutique

A fellow knitter shows some of the whimsical items sold at the Boutique

Helping people affected by cancer is a cause close to Sherry’s heart – she lost her mother to ovarian cancer and her grandmother to leukemia. “I know my mother would have benefited from the Cancer Support Community,” says Sherry, who says the best part of volunteering is the people she has gotten to meet. “I feel I have gotten much more from my involvement with CscVvsb than I could possibly give.”

Thank you, Sherry, for taking the time to give back and make a difference! 

To learn more about how you can help CscVvsb, please click here or call 805.379.4777. 

Knotty Knitters is a free group open to cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and family members. Meetings are held Tuesdays at 1pm at CscVvsb, 530 Hampshire Road, Westlake Village. No registration or experience required. Call 805.379.4777 to learn more.


Three Generations of Hope

At the Cancer Support Community, we know that cancer affects the entire family. That’s why we offer programs for patients, survivors, caregivers, partners, and children – so no one has to be alone in this fight.

Sharon Wannberg, her mother, and her daughter represent three generations of Cancer Support Community participants. Sharon has graciously agreed to share her story with us.

ImageI am a single mom who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of tonsil cancer in February of 2012. My mom offered to leave her home and life in Texas and come to California to help my daughter and me though my treatment.

I heard about the Cancer Support Community from my oncology nurse before I started chemo and radiation.  She mentioned that they have really good programs.  I suppose this resonated with me because I found myself researching a little online.  I saw that they had events running during the day that I thought my mom would enjoy, like the knitting circle, quilting and yoga. I was also impressed that they had a program for kids with parents who have cancer, called Kids Circle.  I thought it would be good for my six-year-old daughter.

I honestly didn’t think I needed it for myself but thought more for my daughter and mother. Once I started attending the support group I realized how much I really did need the Cancer Support Community for me.


Sharon is pictured with her fellow group members Paul (L) and Gary (R), both of whom are also survivors of throat/tonsil cancer.

I am a pretty private person and I am not one to share my feelings with just anyone, but the first time I went to group I met two people with the same type of cancer and felt an immediate connection to those people.  In addition there was so much strength and fight within the other members.  It made quite an impression.  There have been emotions and feelings that surfaced in the group that I didn’t even know I had.  I felt so much better once I acknowledged they were there.

The Family and Friends support group helped my mom. She had to leave my dad and her friends in Texas so she could help me and be there to take care of my daughter when I was unable.  I imagine that without emotional support she would feel quite isolated.  The Cancer Support Community gave her an outlet to discuss the issues involved in taking care of someone with cancer – to know that she is not alone.  I noticed that she always seemed more relaxed and a bit happier after her group meetings.


Sharon’s parents, Paul and Lynn, are pictured with Brielle and Kayo Matsumoto, CSCVVSB Intern, who provided one-on-one play therapy to Brielle.

As for Brielle, my six-year-old daughter, I noticed that the sicker I got, the more her behavior changed.  It was like she was reverting. I got her into one-on-one counseling at the Cancer Support Community.  There she established a nice bond with her counselor, who met with her for about a month.  The counselor noted that Brielle was fine developmentally, which was a great relief.  Brielle attends Kids Circle and LOVES it.  I think it helps her to talk about having a parent with cancer with other kids that have close connections to cancer.


Sharon’s group at CSCVVSB, left to right: Julie, Paul, Gary, Helen, Beth, Sharon, and Carole

Currently my treatment is over and my last scan shows no detectable signs of cancer. The treatment was difficult and very painful. The recovery has been a much longer and tougher road than I imagined.  I lean heavily on my support group.  The people in my group give me strength, encouragement and fight.  It is a sanctuary I can go to and talk about my cancer with people who truly understand.  I always leave group feeling better and stronger then when I walked in the door. 

In addition to my support group, I recently participated in Cancer Fit, a twelve-week fitness program offered by the Cancer Support Community. Before I got sick I was relatively active.  My treatment left me very weak and tired, to the point where walking up stairs left me breathless.  It was great to have a resource where I could get back into shape in a very controlled and monitored environment.  Robb Bolton, the instructor, is great and very motivating.   He designed a program specific for me starting with stability and moving into strength building.  As a small group we worked out twice a week for twelve weeks. I could feel my energy coming back throughout the process.  I could be so tired before a workout but somehow I found the strength to get through my workout and it left me feeling really great after it was done.  Our cycle for the program ended a few weeks ago and I am continuing to stay active and have started training for a 5K race.  Stairs are no longer an obstacle.  Great thanks to Robb Bolton of Studio 7 Fitness for making this possible!

I am so grateful to have had access to the Cancer Support Community.  It helped me see that I was not helpless or alone in my struggle.

To make a donation or learn more, visit

Celebrating Love in the Garden of Hope – Dennis Stansell’s Story

“Out of the most horrendous thing that has happened to me, also came the most amazing thing.”

Read more

A Light Among Us

Meet Helen, an inspirational participant at the Cancer Support Community. 

After 16 years of fighting cancer, Helen Gateka-Anderson focuses only on her blessings.  “Cancer is a life-changing experience,” says Helen.  “It helps you grow and treasure each and every day.  I feel God is so good to me and I cannot thank him enough for his countless blessings.”

Just a few years after losing her husband to lung cancer, Helen was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  She attended a support group at the Cancer Support Community for several years, “graduated” from the group after her recovery, and thirteen years later married her husband Richard, who had lost his wife to breast cancer.

One year after marrying Richard, Helen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and started going to The Cancer Support Community again.  Two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radiation. For the past seven years she has been a source of inspiration and hope to her fellow support group members. “The Cancer Support Community has been a vibrant source of strength and encouragement.  The people in my support group are all tremendous survivors.  They are such a ray of hope,” says Helen.

CSCVVSB is not the only organization to benefit from Helen’s inspirational outlook.  Thirty-eight years ago Helen founded Bethany Christian School in Thousand Oaks and is a past principal and preschool director.  With Helen’s leadership and dedication the school grew from three preschool classes to a full elementary school with 300 students and 42 staff members.  She remains a beloved part of the school community, attending Chapel Time, Back to School Nights, and other events.  “I never looked at it as ‘going to work,’” says Helen.  “I looked at it as being able to share Jesus’ love with the children, the teachers, and the families.”

“Helen is an exceptional, one-of-a-kind spiritual leader and friend,” says Shirley Hackleman, former principal of Bethany Christian School.  “The proof of her amazing impact is seen in the hundreds of students and parents who keep in touch with her from the earliest days of the school.”

In addition to her friends at Bethany Christian School and CSCVVSB, Helen stays busy spending time with her husband Richard playing golf every Friday. Together they host a weekly Bible study.  She also visits the school every Tuesday for the Families in Prayer meetings, takes yoga at CSCVVSB, loves to garden, read, visits friends at the hospital, and swims.  “I take the names of my support group members and pray for them during each lap that I swim,” says Helen.

Now finishing her second round of chemotherapy, Helen is constantly encouraged by the support of her family and friends.  “I have so many people praying for me, and I thank God continually for his blessings.  I feel God is using me every single day.”

We recently asked the members of Helen’s CSCVVSB group to share a few words about her, and here is what they had to say:

“Helen is soft like a warm, cozy pillow. There is a gentleness and tenderness about her;  with a hopeful positive outlook on life- she is an inspiration- her wisdom and genuineness give us all hope.  We love her!”  

“Helen made me feel welcome and loved when first meeting her.  She is positive and always has something nice to say.  I love her genuine nature and great attitude about life.” 

“Helen is a great and lovely lady.  She is a light with a heart of gold among us.  Her passion and love is, to all of us, admirable.” 

Helen is full of life and makes everyone else feel the hope she has.  She loves the Lord with all her heart and is such a strong witness. She cares so much for everyone and has a heart for calling and visiting, which is an art.  She is a wonderful role model for all.” 

“Helen always is in a good mood and always follows the condition of all of us. She calls us often to find out how we feel and shows interest in how we all feel.”