by Joe DeGweck

Just a few nights ago I was diligently downloading research information off the internet in order to prepare for the interview which would be the foundation for this article. I had hoped that it would enrich me with a true sense of purpose, and inspire me to a new level of creativity as I wrote. And it did! Within the mission statement of this vibrant and munificent club there resides a hopeful tone for all families “living with cancer.” It provides “social and emotional support as an integral part of cancer treatment. Its foresight was visionary and allows its membership to serve as a beacon for the provision of health care services dealing with the sudden reality of being diagnosed with cancer.” I was ready, well-prepared for the dialogue which would take place tomorrow. Or so I thought! For when I met the members of this prestigious and esteemed organization; the energy within this home and the vitality held within the spirit of its family members imparted a new fervor for life. There was an embodiment of soul that was self-sustaining and one which I had never experienced before. I was overcome with a sense of empowerment that imparted the vivaciousness of life’s purpose. That was; to enjoy the moments we have together. To support one another within a kinship enriched with caring and concern. It was on this day, at this moment, that I was blessed with having the honor, the pleasure of meeting the members of Gilda’s Club.
I had never expected to experience what occurred that day in Buffalo, New York as I entered through the rear entrance at 1140 Delaware Avenue. For that reason, I feel, that it can only be through the words of the members of Gilda’s Club that a true understanding of its mission and vision can accurately be understood. The purpose of this foundation, still in its infancy in our Western New York community, is guided by three core components. They are: support & networking groups, workshops & lectures, and social activities. But the accomplishments and the activities are guided by the fortitude of its membership. This article is an acknowledgment of just a few; and a testimonial for all those who continue to give and receive in a resilient and courageous spirit to one another. It is the story of a diverse family that procreates concord within an environment of peace. It is the story of Gilda’s progeny told in their own words. Listen!!!

  Denise Hanlon
Denise was the first to share with me her experience as a cancer survivor and as a member of Gilda’s Club. She was sitting comfortably across from me in the living room of this twenty-room, four-story house which she often referred to as a “haven.” Her voice delivered her message with a candor and an elegance suitable only to those who share in the camaraderie found within these walls. “I became involved because I needed a haven to go to. Someplace where I could relate to other people in a similar situation as mine; but not necessarily always having the disease as the elephant sitting the room.” She continued, unwavering and steadfast: “I tried lots of the offerings that Gilda’s has to offer.” She began with the lectures, which provides the tools and information about living with cancer. Enthusiastically, Denise attended the potluck suppers and karaoke nights. She participated in the wellness group. Finally, she stated: “I settled on knitting, mahjongg and yoga” For the past year-and-a-half Denise has come three times a week to Gilda’s Club. “Coming here and meeting with other people; using their energy, getting energy from them, getting energy just from being in the building with lots of people with great courage, very brave people; there’s a lot to be gained from that.” Living just a few blocks away, Denise considers Gilda’s Club as “part of her neighborhood.” Before leaving for her engagement with her mahjongg group, Denise shared these final thoughts: “I find the atmosphere here and the variety of people extremely supportive so I don’t go looking for any other place.”

Mickey & William Sheldon
Mickey was next to share. “I’m a seven-year survivor of cancer”, she explained with a tone in her voice that resonated the cheerful and happy spirit found in her twinkling eyes and gleeful smile. “I’m in the glee club, I do art, I do potluck, I sing at Roswell, I dance at Roswell, I just love Gilda’s; you walk in here and it is like—like there’s such—such peace. You can go into the kitchen and have a cup of tea, sit with your friends, it’s just like you’re at home; and this -- this really is our house, we can take a nap, we can read, no one will bother you. It just seems like when you’re in here, she’s here and she makes you feel real -- -real serene and happy; you know? The minute I hit the red door, that was it, this was for me; these girls will do anything for you. They’re wonderful, wonderful girls, and guys, too. Yesterday we were all standing right there” as she pointed to the piano, “we were singing our songs, dancing, kicking up our legs; OK!! We’re all fine, OK!! Women with hats on, women with no hair, it’s OK!!; We’re at Gilda’s; come as you are!” Mickey is a free spirit who is committed to loving those around her. A mother, a grandmother, a wife, a fellow cancer survivor; Mickey is all of these things and more. “I’ve done belly dancing; ‘I’ve been a model’, I’ve spoken at functions’, I’ll do anything for Gilda’s Club”. And right alongside her is her husband, Bill. Bill sat patiently waiting for his turn to speak and humbly he said that “perhaps it’s selfish, but I’m here to support my wife.” Just then there was a look, a glance across the room at one another; and Mickey smiled; a proud smile. Bill continued to explain what Gilda’s Club has meant to his wife from his perspective: “I notice a difference from when she comes here and when she doesn’t. That camaraderie really helps you get through it, knowing that you are not alone, it’s very therapeutic, I’ve tried to make a rule now that she has to come once a week; she needs it, it helps her.”

Together Bill & Mickey raised their daughter and they are very close to their granddaughter. This relationship has enabled the whole family to become involved in the support of Mickey’s survival of cancer. Bill is concerned that “there are misconceptions about Gilda’s Club that need to be dispelled. Many think that it’s just for women, but it’s for everyone whose life has been touched by cancer. For husbands, children, friends’, for anyone in need of support and direction.” In closing, Mickey just wanted to mention that there are many needs for resources by the members of Gilda’s Club. Art supplies are needed, and more, so please visit the website and check out their “Wish-List” to find out how you can help.”



Patricia Chip
“My name is Patricia Chip and I am still in treatment. I was diagnosed last September; ’I’ve known about Gilda’s for a long time, I had planned to become a volunteer just before I was diagnosed, so now I’m a member” I remember just barely being able to get up the stairs, I was so weak, and my husband asked why are you going there? And I said because I like it there! Her voice delivered her message with a commitment and conviction that was as pure as new fallen snow and as warm as the friendship that was instilled within this room, that day and probably every day.” Patricia continued telling me about the sense, the feeling when you are diagnosed, but she added this: “unless you have been diagnosed, until you have heard those words about you or your loved one, you can never know. Coming here, it’s a support group, they understand what you are talking about, they understand everything that you are going through and if they’re not going through it right now they have already gone through it.” When first diagnosed she said to herself;” I don’t want this, I don’t have time for this, I have too many plans”. Today Patricia is an active member of the wellness group. She is considering becoming a member of the Glee Club.“Some people think that once you get cancer, you shouldn’t talk about it. After you have accepted it, like for the first week or so, I couldn’t talk about it; once you have accepted it then you can talk about it to anybody”. The last thing that Patricia wanted to share is that “knowledge is power.“Once you have been diagnosed then you should look into everything, get a second opinion, learn as much as possible about your disease and about the treatment so you can give an honest assessment of what is going to happen to your body” She feels that her faith has also helped her become a survivor. God Bless!!



Patty Gelman
Patty began her talk with this statement:”Cancer made me better, cancer made me a better person, no question about it .Cancer gave me the opportunity to share my story and to help other people with life” Patty has written a book about her experience and challenges that faced her as a cancer survivor. Patty believes “that all people who have been touched by cancer need a support group at different stages throughout their treatment”. She places a positive value on her living with cancer. “Skies are bluer, children are cuter, grass is greener, life is better, chocolate tastes the best of all; with it on my mind it makes me appreciate everything wonderful. The more shared stories people hear, the more they know what’s out there and their fear, from the unknown is manageable.” Patty’s passion about Gilda’s Club is intense. “Membership is great, membership is free, look at this beautiful place. I thought a support group was a bunch of sad people sitting in a circle; so I joined Gilda’s thinking I was doing them a favor; instead I grew so much from the experience.”


These five people live every day with the reality that cancer has touched their lives. They did not wane from this truth. Instead they grasped the opportunity to regain control and well being. They learned skills and gathered information, which empowered them to grow stronger living with cancer. They joined together and enabled one another to enjoy life and appreciate all that surrounds us. This was all made possible because of a vision within a community and a commitment of people to this vision. We must thank Mary Beth Karr and her staff for all that they have done to keep this hope alive for the many hundreds of Gilda’s Club members in Western New York. We must thank the Western New York community for embracing the concept of Gilda’s Club and providing the resources to make it come alive. And it is more than alive. I would like to conclude with a quote from Denise Hanlon:
“I’ve never been enamored with referring to myself as a ‘survivor’. I didn’t really want to be included in that category. It never seemed enough for me. I consider myself beyond surviving. I am thriving and Gilda’s is one of the reasons I was able to move beyond surviving to thriving. I particularly like the quote of Maya Angelou—‘Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.’
For more information on Gilda’s Club, call 716-332-5900 or visit their website

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