On this special episode, Kelly from Gilda’s Club and Vidi from Cancer Support Community joined us on the podcast to share the story of Gilda Radner, the vision of Dr. Harold Benjamin, the history behind Gilda’s Club and The Wellness Center, as well as the merge between the two organization to create what is now Cancer Support Community. They discussed the supports and services provided free of charge to those impacted by cancer. They also shared ways to donate or volunteer.
Kelly Hendershot from Gilda’s Club Quad City in Davenport, Iowa and Vidi Zendejas from Cancer Support Community in Phoenix, Arizona joined us on the podcast to share about the supports and services offered through both organizations.
Gilda was a famous comedian married to Gene Wilder. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died in 1989. She had experienced many miscarriages due to the ovarian cancer. Gilda was very private about her experience with cancer but wrote an autobiography- It’s Always Something. Gilda was a reluctant participant in groups. Her oncologist recommended that she meet with a therapist- Joanna Bull. Joanna welcomed Gilda into the group at The Wellness Center and Gilda was very excited that it was a space where she wasn’t a famous comedian and wasn’t a cancer patient; she was simply Gilda.
When Gilda passed away, Gene Wilder and Joanna Bull founded Gilda’s Club in her honor. The Quad City location became the 7th affiliate to open in 1999.
The Wellness Center, where Gilda attended group, was founded in 1987 by Dr. Harold Benjamin who wanted to create a space for cancer survivors that felt more like home.
In 2009, Gilda’s Club and The Wellness Center merged and became Cancer Support Community. Some of the affiliates have maintained the name of Gilda’s Club while others are now Cancer Support Community.
Cancer Support Community is a global organization with 47 main affiliates in 160 locations. Some are stand alone affiliates and some are partnerships within the hospital setting. The mission of the Cancer Community is for it to be like a home like environment, regardless of the location. It is like stepping into a living room or someone’s house.
The supports and services provided through Cancer Support Community are for all individuals impacted by cancer including survivors, caregivers, family, friends, etc. All services are available for free. Participants attend a mandatory orientation meeting to learn about the 5 pillars of services and to tour the facility. It provides individuals an opportunity to emerge themselves into the services.
The 5 Pillars of Supports and Services include:
Support- support groups for those diagnosed, support groups for family and friends, cancer specific support groups
Social- social events for participants
Healthy Lifestyle- educational presentations, exercise and wellness classes, nutrition classes
Resources and Referrals- through this pillar, the Cancer Support Community helps individuals locate needed resources within the community
Each individual affiliate has the freedom to tailor their supports and services to the community they will serve. In Phoenix, the Cancer Support Community provides a lot of support to Latino families and can tailor services to that specific population. The organization also provides age-appropriate services for children.
There are barriers that may prevent individuals from being able to participate in services. The Cancer Support Community is doing more with technology to bring information to those that cannot participate in person. In addition, the My Life Line app allows patients to keep loved ones up to date on their journey.
Each individual affiliate has a Wish List available on their website for specific needs such as lotion, toilet paper, tissues, gift cards, and hand sanitizer. Updated wish list items can be obtained by contacting the affiliate directly.
Donations and volunteer opportunities can be found on the Cancer Support Community website. All affiliates have their own 501(c)3, which allows for all monies to remain within that community.Volunteers are always needed to work with the kids, to tidy up the facility, and to complete clerical work such as data entry and mailings.
More information can be found at cancersupportcommunity.org