We call our stories Mission Moments
I know that once a week I’m going to be with a compassionate group, an informed group, a group of other people who have cancer as well, and everyone is going to have a chance to say a bit about what’s happening with them. To ask any questions they need to ask — and I mean any questions — that people are going to truly listen. And this relieves my wife and my family of some of the tension and anxiety that having cancer stimulates. It isn’t therapy, it’s something more. It’s the sense of liberation that comes from being able to expose yourself at your most vulnerable.
2018 was a momentous year for me. My dad passed away in May of 2018 at 100 years of age, and then three months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
And that was a shock. I had to sell my dad’s house and I was getting ready to move and started chemotherapy in September of that year.
To be honest, I can’t quite remember a time where I didn’t have that source of support from Gilda’s Club Chicago — you know, it’s always been either a recurring part of my life or a major part of my life.
I keep registering for all these classes. I get so excited about them — doing the yoga, doing the art therapy, doing the journaling.
Gilda’s Club has had a really positive impact on my life, knowing that they employ people who go to all lengths to make you feel included and not so alone in this big world.
I started going to Gilda’s Club when I was about six because my mom had cancer. There was one day where there was a pottery class for kids at Gilda’s Club, so then she said “We’re gonna go to a place with a red door.” and I was like “All right” because I get to make pottery. Then I went and I loved it, and I’ve loved Gilda’s ever since.
While we are creating in whatever way we want to, we’re also talking, sharing, developing community, and that’s one of the things I think is a big part of my experience with Gilda’s Club. That not only are you involved in the event, not only are you doing yoga, not only are you drawing or painting or sewing — you’re in a community and you are receiving support from the instructors and the other women and men who are involved.
Gilda’s Club has helped me a lot over the past few years. It helped me a lot when I went to their bereavement group after my dad died. Before I went to the bereavement group, there was a lot of stress balled up in me not wanting to tell anybody. I got to do a lot of activities that helped calm me down. I got to express my sadness about my dad’s death. I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I used to think to myself why it had to happen to me that my dad died. Since I went to the group, I felt so much better that I was not alone.
Also, they have a really fun summer camp. It’s my favorite. I got to do so many fun things that helped me forget about the bad things in my mind. Every year, we got to go to “Pump It Up”. I got to do rock climbing and jump in bouncy houses. They have a time called “sparkle time”, which is when I can write whatever I want in a journal, and then draw a picture of it, if I would like. That has helped me a ton by letting me forget all my troubles and just to have fun! They also encourage me to express my feelings, so they know what is wrong, and I feel a lot better to just let it all out.
They also have holiday parties, such as a Halloween Party and a Christmas Party. All the parties are very fun with all sorts of different activities, such as decorating cookies, or making fun and creative hats! Sometimes it’s just some fun activities down in their basement, which is called “noogie-land”. I love to go to Gilda’s Club.
— Loyan | member since 2011
Our group meetings can be uplifting, sometimes the last thing we want to do is talk about cancer. We talk about current events, movies, politics and other things. Many times we sit and laugh for a while, which is great medicine. Robin attends the weekly family support group. She added, “I know my group members’ stories, their triumphs and their setbacks, sometimes better than their own family and friends do. The bonds I’ve formed here are some of the strongest I have ever known.”
— Dan | member since 2012
I first learned of Gilda’s Club Chicago (GCC) in January 2015, after my second cancer diagnosis. I was on six weeks of medical leave while recovering from a complicated surgery and at Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center for yet another appointment when I saw a calendar of programs offered by Gilda’s Club Chicago.
I was in pain, I was frustrated by my long recovery, and I was longing to connect with others outside the cancer center. So I took a tour of the Clubhouse at 537 N. Wells and knew immediately that I found something special: a place of support, a place of refuge, a place of community. I attended educational programs, art classes, gentle yoga, cooking demonstrations, and knitting. I met people who understood what I was going through and could connect with without feeling their pity or without having to put on a brave face; I found a place where I didn’t feel like I had to hide my scars. I witnessed the impact this organization had on people of all ages and backgrounds and experienced what GCC did for me and my recovery physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. A few months later, I started volunteering for Gilda’s Club Chicago at various outreach events across the city and spent a year serving on their Associate Board. In 2016, I became a member of the GCC’s Red Door Society. Gilda’s Club Chicago has been a vital part of my transition to 2xs Cancer Survivor and I want to do my small part to make sure it continues to be there for those who need it.
— Courtney | member since 2015
Hello, my name is Karen and I am a Breast Cancer Survivor. My Breast Cancer journey started in December 2005 when I was diagnosed with Stage 0 Breast Cancer.
When the surgeon told me, I thought she must have the wrong room/person, I didn’t see that coming at all. I was busy with my career, traveling, taking classes at the church, family responsibilities, and searching for my soul mate. I didn’t have time for cancer.
A breast cancer nurse told me something I’ll never forget, “This is your life, not the doctor’s. Educate yourself about the disease and don’t stop asking questions until you’re able to make the best treatment decision.”
Right then and there, I decided I was going to beat this disease, no matter what the diagnosis. I started by loving myself unconditionally and I stayed positive and upbeat even during the challenging times. I became my own advocate, all the while affirming “I WILL LIVE.”
I tried joining a support group but thought, “I’m not like them,” not knowing that statement would come back to bite me.
I celebrated my five-year anniversary by participating in the Susan G. Komen Walk for a Cure. Cancer was no longer at the forefront of my life, and I thought “Life is great!”
Three years later, in November 2013, I felt a small bump on the same side as the mastectomy. I was diagnosed with a reoccurrence and I heard myself screaming on the inside, “WHAT? Not this again!”
You would think since this was the second time around it would be a breeze. No, the entire treatment plan was so different and my life was turned upside down. This time I looked for as much help and support as possible. I bonded with a group of ladies from Mercy BC support group. Two of them, Pat and Irene, went to Gilda’s Club Chicago downtown. Pat was so excited about Gilda’s Club; she insisted I meet her at the Clubhouse at Advocate Christ Medical Center.
I became a member in September 2014, and the first time I walked through the Red Door, it felt like home. Everyone who comes through the Red Door is my family because we all have something in common – cancer. It’s a calm, safe place for the entire family as well as a private/confidential space when you are just told some bad news and you need to get it together before you go home to face your family.
As a member and volunteer, I’ve participated in many activities like networking groups, yoga, art, jewelry making, knitting, cooking demo, games and special seminars.
Would I change my journey? NO, this journey literally transformed my life and Gilda’s Club Chicago was part of that transformation.
— Karen | member since 2014
I heard about Gilda‘s Club from my brother-in-law who is really involved in Gilda‘s Club Metro Detroit. He lost his mother to breast cancer. Which is what I was diagnosed with in 2007. At first, I didn’t want to come. I thought I was too much of an emotional mess to talk to others.
And I thought they would think I was too young to be there. I was wrong. No one has ever made me feel unwelcome. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. When they say you can “come as you are” they really mean it. If you’re sad, it’s fine. If you’re scared or tired, it’s fine. Chances are pretty good all that will change by the time you leave the Club. Like when I come here for yoga. For me, it’s group therapy with stretching.
At Gilda’s Club, you can say what’s on your mind without anyone getting freaked out. I think that cancer, “blows chunks sideways,” but I also believe that you get a choice in how you want to deal with it. Sure, I’m still scared by cancer, I have a right to be. But being able to talk and laugh and cry with others makes all the difference.
— Jessica | member since 2007
When I was diagnosed with lymphoma back in 2006, I had no idea what I was in for. Then, the cancer spread to my kidney and throat, and that was a blow. But I figured, I was a veteran — a grown-up — I can take this. This is nothing.
It was my daughter I was worried about. She was seven years old at the time, and she didn’t understand what was going on about her daddy being sick. She came with me to Gilda’s Club and participated in Noogie Nights and parties and saw a lot of other people with cancer, including kids. She found out it’s not that bad.
For me, I learn more from the people here than I do at the hospital. They speak ”doctor language“ and show me medical records, but here they speak ”people language“ and can tell me exactly what I‘m about to go through. I‘ve made a lot of good friends that will be friends for a long time. Thank you for making that happen for my family and me.
— Chris | member since 2006
I was still under anesthesia from what I thought was appendicitis when the doctor said “You have cancer.” I was stunned. I was the youngest of eight. No one in my family had cancer. Plus I was a different kind of cancer patient — a-beer-and-a-shot kind of guy with tattoos who likes drag racing and motorcycles.
I had aggressive chemo. As I got sicker, my friends faded away, and I didn’t really want them to see me so sick. That’s when a co-worker mentioned Gilda’s Club. He said, “There’s gotta be people going through what you’re going through” and he even offered to take me there and stay with me. When I got my cancer diagnosis, everything was very serious at home. One night Gilda’s Club called with tickets to the Chicago Bulls. They were courtside seats. I can’t explain how a two-hour game can change your outlook so much. My wife and I had fun again together. A friend saw me at the game on ESPN highlights and called to say he could see “that part of the old ‘Daddio’ is back!” The fact that someone gave this experience to us made us feel …well, it was priceless. What they did for us — the whole experience at Gilda’s Club is priceless. My biggest mistake with cancer is that I didn’t come to Gilda’s Club earlier.