A glimpse into Gilda’s Club

| March 16, 2011
Karen Morrison

Karen Morrison

Gilda’s Club Louisville is the benefiting charity for The Voice-Tribune’s Brunch with Betsey Johnson presented by Chambord.

We sat down with Karen Morrison, president and CEO of Gilda’s Club Louisville, to discuss the club’s mission and how it benefits our community.

Tell us what Gilda’s Club is all about?
Gilda’s Club is a cancer support community for men, women and children living with cancer – both those with a diagnosis, as well as friends and family members.

Who can we thank for bringing Gilda’s Club to Louisville?
Gilda’s Club Louisville was founded by six local cancer survivors. They supported each other through their respective cancer diagnoses but asked the question: “We have each other, but what do other people do?” Out of personal adversity, they created a community to help others and they were determined from the start to “Do it big; Do it right; and Do it with class.”

The original founders were Dale Boden, Jenny Cottingham, Earl Dorsey, Susan Moremen, Sharon Receveur, and Lindy Street.
I sense people have a true passion for Gilda’s Club. Do you find that to be true?

Those who participate in the community that is Gilda’s Club get as much out of it as they put into it. They have become members of a club no one asks to join: the cancer club. We don’t offer a service but rather facilitate a process in which the,  members serve as the experts at living with cancer, and – as such – share their cancer journeys and support each other. The people who utilize Gilda’s Club ARE Gilda’s Club. Their collective wisdom and compassion create this unique community of hope, education and support.

Has Gilda’s Club been affected by the slow economy?
As a young nonprofit (only 3-and-a-half-years-old), the only reality we know is fundraising in difficult times. It is, of course, a challenge, but we focus on finding individuals, corporate partners and trustees of local foundations who believe in the mission and choose to generously support that mission. So far, we have been successful with meeting our goals..

When you sense things are not going well for someone, how do you cope personally?
No matter when a cancer journey occurs – no matter what portion of one’s life, at an early or advanced age or somewhere in the middle; no matter the length of the journey or even its outcome, it is always a difficult,  portion of anyone’s life. Supporting individuals and families who face uncertain or poor outcomes is indeed challenging, but it is also a privilege; we help people during one of the most difficult times in their lives. When one of our members dies, it deeply saddens all of us. However, the dignity and grace that many face their greatest fears with is inspirational.

What is the connection with Gilda Radner?
Gilda Rader said, cancer was “the most unfunny thing she had ever experienced,” but, she added, “sometimes laughter beats the alternative.” Laughter is not only sometimes the best medicine but perhaps the only one without any negative side effects. Gilda’s sense of humor and spirit is a part of our culture and affects the way we approach cancer. Even our signs are crooked (on purpose).

Gilda visited a cancer support community not unlike our own Gilda’s Club when she was living with cancer. It was her hope that such places would exist everywhere so that “no one would have to go through cancer alone.” Following her death, her therapist, Joanna Bull, her husband, Gene Wilder, and two friends helped to start the first Gilda’s Club in New York. Gilda’s Club Louisville is the 22nd, and there are currently more than 55 such places in the U.S., Canada and the Philippines.

How many families have benefited from Gilda’s Club programs?
While it is impossible to measure our impact, we have some impressive numbers. More than 50,000 people have been through the red doors since they opened in 2007. We have more than 1,300 active members today and our clubhouse visits average about 400 per week!

What, is the most valuable lesson people take away from their experience at Gilda’s Club?
People get out of the clubhouse as much as they put into it. Facing a cancer journey takes courage and strength. Sharing that journey can be a gift to another who is on a similar journey. Caring, compassion, hope, support and information (far above and beyond what any one can get from an oncology office) and a lot of laughter are just some of the things one can take away from Gilda’s Club. When you come to Gilda’s Club, you learn first that you are not alone and often that there are others who are facing even tougher challenges. No matter how you come, you usually leave a little stronger and wiser and – perhaps – happier than you came.

How can someone get involved?
We have eight full-time and four part-time paid staff, and we have about 50 volunteers for each one of us. Volunteers are a critical and integral part of what we do on a daily basis. So volunteering is one way to get involved. Another is to help spread the word. When you know of a family living with cancer, tell them about Gilda’s Club, or bring them to Gilda’s Club. Finally, we have an average of 100 program offerings a month – everything from yoga and qi gong to cooking classes, support groups, physician lectures, comedy nights, youth lock-ins and day camps. They are all free to the participants because of the generous support of our community. So providing financial support, too, is an incredibly important way to ensure Gilda’s Club continues to be there for those living with cancer.

What is your favorite Gilda Radner skit?
Gilda’s comic timing was impeccable, but of all the creative contributions from her life, my favorite has to be Gilda’s Club.

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Category: Brunch with Betsey

About the Author (Author Profile)

Lori Kommor

Lori Kommor, Columnist/Event Chair

Lori wears many hats: writing two weekly columns, chairing The
Voice-Tribune’s events and keeping the staff fed with a stash of snacks
Willy Wonka would envy. She’s a fervent high school soccer fan (go
Collegiate!) and has the raspy voice to prove it after game days.

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