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Cancer patient finds comfort in carving

Dick Moskun carves a comfort bird in his back patio workshop at his home in Burbank. Moskun, who was diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer, carves comfort birds as a form of therapy for cancer patients.

Dick Moskun carves a comfort bird in his back patio workshop at his home in Burbank. Moskun, who was diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer, carves comfort birds as a form of therapy for cancer patients.

(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

They are no more than little wooden birds carved out of mahogany, bass, walnut or purple heart. However, for some people the smooth ornaments are more than just decorations.

For the past five years, Burbank resident Dick Moskun has been sculpting comfort birds and giving them to family members and friends who have been diagnosed with cancer. He also donates them to patients at Faith and Hope Hospice in Burbank.

While Moskun, 69, a Marine veteran, has given dozens of comfort birds away to those he knows and to Faith and Hope patients, carving the sculptures doubles as a form of therapy for him.

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In 2012, Moskun was diagnosed with a pancreatic cancer and is enrolled in the Faith and Hope Hospice program. He was treated with high-dose chemotherapy when he was first diagnosed, and doctors have told him that there is no further treatment that can be done for him.

“I wasn’t to last a couple of weeks, but it’s been a couple of years now, so I feel pretty good about that,” he said. “I’m going to be 70 in August and I fully intend to live to 71 next August. I remain in good spirits.”

Dick Moskun says the time and care it takes to carve his comfort birds is therapeutic.

Dick Moskun says the time and care it takes to carve his comfort birds is therapeutic.

(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

Moskun said that carving the comfort birds is not a project of instant gratification, which is fine with him. He finds comfort in smelling, carving and sanding the wood and taking his time to shape each ornament to his own liking.

“It’s all part of relaxing and enjoying life as it comes,” he said. “That’s definitely therapeutic.”

Moskun picked up carving about 10 years ago, after he retired from Lockheed Martin. Scrolling through a carving magazine one day, he learned about comfort birds and how the avian sculpture is not used as an art piece, but as a relaxation mechanism for those who are sick.

With help from his carving guild, the Smoky Hollow Carvers, Moskun takes a block of wood and starts chiseling and sanding the wood until it takes shape. Taking his time, Moskun said that he can carve a comfort bird in about eight weeks.

“For someone with anxiety or someone who is nervous about something, holding something like the comfort bird helps to relieve their anxiety,” he said.

Joan Baca, a colleague and friend of Moskun’s, is one of the recipients of his comfort birds. Baca, who worked with Moskun when she was principal at George Washington Elementary School in Burbank, was also diagnosed with cancer four years ago.

“His gift of carving, and his love is derived by giving hope to those of us who do not know what tomorrow will bring,” she said. “Seeing that little bird wherever we have it in our house, really adds to our lives, in a way of serenity, inspiration and peacefulness. I’m lucky to have one of these little birds.”

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Anthony Clark Carpio, anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

Twitter: @acocarpio


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