A Dream Come True
Although Gilda Radner lost her personal battle with ovarian cancer in May, 1989, her indomitable spirit lives on in what is turning out to be a priceless gift to the cancer community. Gilda's Club, a free, non-residential psychological and social support community for people with cancer, their families and friends, will open in New York City next spring, thanks to a phenomenal outpouring of support from the medical and business communities and friends of Gilda and Gene Wilder.
Gilda, best known for her witty work on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," said that cancer was about the most unfunny thing in the world. In her own search for a renewed sense of control, hope and joy in the face of the despair and isolation which often accompanies cancer, she imagined a place where people with cancer could go for reinforcement. Through many acts of giving, including $500,000 of pro bono construction work and a $1 million pledge of support from Vanity Fair Lingerie, Gilda's dream is finally coming true.
In March, 1988, Gilda said, "I've come to realize that with all the great medical care I was receiving, and all the support from my family and friends, there was still something missing. None of those people had cancer." After Gilda experienced the magic created when people with cancer come together, she wrote in her book It's Always Something, "I started to regain control in my life, to take charge and not be a victim of my situation." Gilda's Club, a four-story brownstone at 195 West Houston Street in Manhattan, will be a gathering place for a unique community.
Gilda, best known for her witty work on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," said that cancer was about the most unfunny thing in the world.
Gilda's Club includes several features aimed at nurturing healing. The Living Room is a place for savoring everyday living. The Workshop is a room for working it out through meditation, art therapy, visualization, exercise, journal writing, biofeedback, and other activities. The It's-Always-Something Room, named after advice from Gilda's "Roseanne Roseannadanna," is a quiet place for renewal.
Tucked away in the basement is Noogieland, a playroom where children and teenagers can hang out, shoot pool, play video games, and hold support groups. The room draws its inspiration from Saturday Night Live's "Lisa (Gilda) and Todd (Bill Murray)," awkward teenagers who demonstrated their affection for one another by giving "noogies."
Gilda's Garden is a secret rooftop place to escape, and The Dance Hall is a community meeting room for pot luck suppers, joke fests, and informational lectures. In The National Training Center, professionals will gather to learn day-to-day operational techniques in preparation for the opening of new facilities in other locales.
Actor Gene Wilder, who married Gilda in 1984, co-founded Gilda's Club with her psychotherapist Joanna Bull after Gilda's death. Gene, his new wife Karen, and Joanna, Executive Director of Gilda's Club, are joined by a stellar team of supporters including People magazine publisher Anne S. Moore, television critic and commentator Joel Siegel, actress Jane Curtin, Anne Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Erma Bombeck, John Candy, Linda Ellerbee, Kathie Lee Gifford, Ivan Lendl, and many more. A distinguished Medical Advisory Board, with doctors from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center among others, also lends its support.
Gilda's Club will celebrate the official opening in the Spring of 1994. An all-day affair is planned including a mayoral declaration of "Gilda's Day," a walk-a-thon, a block party, a Hard Rock Cafe celebrity cocktail party, and an all-star Broadway Benefit followed by a benefit dinner. All of these activities will help raise the $5 million needed to ensure the permanence of Gilda's Club. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is. But when you consider the price of dreams these days, it's really not so bad at all.
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In November 2009, Gilda's Club Worldwide and The Wellness Community began working as a united organization under the name Cancer Support Community. On June 1, 2011, the two organizations were officially merged to become the Cancer Support Community.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 1993.