New Beginning With Cancer Diagnosis

by tmckn1 on April 25, 2014 - 10:41pm

“A New Beginning with a Cancer Diagnosis”
Gilda’s Club, named after the legendary comedian Gilda Radner first opened its doors in New York city in 1995 .  The Rochester club opened in 2000 going from 630 visits to over 17,000 in ten years. The main goal of Gilda’s Club is to provide free programming through support groups, educational workshops and other socialization activities for individuals living with a cancer diagnosis their friends, family and members of the communities they live in.  Life with cancer is not the “norm” and is accompanied with the unknown. I was drawn to this organization because I have a friend who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and she is struggling with the new diagnosis and all of the life changes it’s bring.  We are looking for ways to help her learn to live a “normal” life or as some say living life on life’s terms. What is normal when living with cancer? When learning to live with cancer, what does normal behavior look like?  Through socialization with others who have similar experiences, those affected by cancer, directly or indirectly, will discover new beginnings that lead to life after cancer diagnosis, the light at the end of the tunnel rather than the beginning stages of planning their eulogy.
The local Rochester chapter of Gilda’s club is staffed by eight people charged with providing activities, programming and events that will help people touched by cancer transform their lives back to some normalcy. The board of directors, Associate Board of Directors and Advisory Board are comprised of 60 people with a Medical Advisory Councils consisting of 35 medical doctors and social workers.  Members of the various boards are amongst other things responsible for keeping club members and associates abreast of medically cancer related information and best practices for life transformations.  
The club serves as a compliment to the medical treatment and offers information on medical resources across the country, career services, cancer institutes, foundations and groups are available across the nation and the world. Programming provides specialized social workshops and lectures to help members understand how to partner with their medical team, relaxation techniques, understanding how cancer is normal on an individual basis. Support groups that help members better understand the diagnosis and how diagnosis translates to life after cancer for them. Activities for men with prostate cancer and recurring diseases include support groups, discussions on the emotional impact of prostate cancer, weekly dinner is provided on Saturday evenings to give the members another opportunity for socialization.  The website provides a link to personal stories from men as well as a link to resources just for men.   Noogieland, the name chosen for the children’s program that speaks to the humor of Gilda Radner for no other purpose than to infuse laughter and fun to the lives of children who may be experiencing uncertainties in their or their loved ones lives.
Let’s focus on how the club uses Noogieland as a resource for the children.  The name Noogieland is intended to be a funny and goofie name for the purpose of making children laugh,  feel and think in a lighthearted way.  This is unto Goffman’s theory of performance the members are both the actors and the audience using fun activities therapeutically.  Noogieland is their stage and presents the props and costumes used to create an environment of their choice. They are able to choose whatever role their script calls for at that time having to convince none other than themselves and those who are wearing the same shoes.  Their performances at Gilda’s club provides an environment for which members can practice their performances while developing one’s craft of behaving normal to actualizing normal living. 
Goffman uses the term “front” meaning the way an actor normally expresses him/herself during their performance be it intentional or unintentional.  Perhaps, Noogieland serves as a vehicle of change from the unintentional to the intentional role of living a complete and full life with cancer off stage and on.  The scenery or physical layout of the performance is part of the front.  As I see it the physical layout for Gilda’s club members could quite possibly be a doctor’s office, their place of employment, the dinner table or school.  While the settings don’t change the performances will depending on the setting or position of the actor.  When the actor’s positions change so will their titles.  In the doctor’s office the actor is a patient and team player, in the school or at work the actor is a student, friend or co-worker surrounded by others who may already have an idea of how the individual should behave based on past performances.
Providing free programming would be extremely difficult without sponsorship. Gilda’s holds five major annual fundraising events a year.  Gilda’s Guys Bachelor Auction, the annual gala, Jerry Flynn children’s classic Golf Tournament, Surviving in Style Fashion Show, and Gilda’s Gang marathon walk/run preparation to name a few.  Gilda has teamed up with several local sponsors in the community including Zweigles, Crazy Dog T-Shirts, Harro East Ballroom, Matthew C. Nevins FFC Mortgage, Windstream Communication and John Schlia Photography.  These events allow the opportunity for the surrounding communities to socialize with cancer victims their families and friends.  I think this is a great way to engage the two communities that ultimately becomes one at least, while they are together.  The events provide a means of education for one group and a show of support for another.  There’s no distinct difference between those touched or not by cancer.  The goals are the same to collectively have fun in spite of what is going on in the lives of each individual.
Gilda’s club appears to give members opportunity to rehearse their performances and receive safe feedback from people who are or have had similar experiences.  Their theory of change allows rehearsal, observation, learning, discovering, understanding and life with cancer.  The familiarity of the emotions, pain, suffering, uncertainties, shared by the members bind them together and give them new meaning and purpose.  The immersion of regular activities lend themselves to becoming a catalyst for evolving from abnormal life to life with cancer being the norm.  As member participation in activities and events intensifies, the more likely they will begin to feel as though they are normal people living in a community with acceptance.  What they once thought was unacceptable or impossible becomes accepted and the driving force for living life to the fullest.    


This is an amazing project. Often people do not realize how the diagnosis of cancer can affect the patients and close relatives. This support group can be useful for a hand full of people. I never knew these kind of support group even existed, this is truly a great idea and should be talked about a lot more. These type of support groups should be talked about within the hospital. This kind of group could support the patients through their difficult journey, trying to make it a bit better. I’ve been doing research myself about different cancer support groups and ways to make the journey a bit more fun and came across music therapy. This comes into the side affects of chemotherapy, it helps patients cope with nausea. Hopefully this therapy is offered in these support groups.

About the author