At the age of 32, just two months before her 33rd birthday, Julia was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. She was suddenly propelled along a medical journey she never thought she would have to go through. Throughout the course of her treatment, Julia underwent 16 rounds of chemo, a bilateral double mastectomy, and several lung surgeries.
Julia had a great support system of family and friends at home, along with a strong connection to her faith. Recognizing the only thing missing was the support of others that understood what she was going through, she found Gilda’s Club while researching where she could connect with other young people diagnosed. She entered our red door to attend our Young Survivors and Women of Color support groups, and it wasn’t long before she found additional programming. “From there,” Julia says, “I started attending social outings and sporting events, as well as webinars related to my type of breast cancer, focused on improving my health and well-being.”
2022 saw Julia giving back by modeling at Bras for a Cause, a unique fundraising event where breast cancer survivors take to the runway in art bras to raise funds for Gilda’s Club. “I’ve made new lasting friendships with fighters and survivors that I now call family,” Julia shares.
“The most beneficial part of Gilda’s Club has been the multitude of supportive programming, resources, and activities that uphold those diagnosed and encompass the entire family at no cost. Gilda’s Club is essential in the cancer community…it makes an impact and imprint for our community to thrive during our darkest moments leading into our victory of survivorship.”
Jeanne first came to Gilda’s Club when a friend from work told her about a new cancer support center opening in town. Her friend had heard about it from a tiny blurb in the local newspaper. Since it was just two blocks from her house, she figured she would call and find out more.
At the time, Jeanne was one month out of diagnosis and surgery, headed towards two more surgeries and didn’t know a thing about cancer, so she thought, maybe she could learn something. Jeanne said that her surgeon’s way of answering questions was to hand her Dr. Susan Love’s book and say, “read it”.
Her first meeting at Gilda’s was the following Saturday afternoon after her initial call. She still remembers that day, “There must have been 50 people gathered upstairs in the Library at the Royal Oak Clubhouse, so many that the group had to be split in half,” Jeanne shared. “Everyone had an opportunity to introduce themselves, tell their story, and hear about the programming at Gilda’s.” It was then that she knew, she found her place.
Jeanne said, “The sense of community among these strangers and soon to be friends was overwhelming. In short, I came for the support and along the way found a community of friends and staff that were all on my side cheering me along each and every hurdle of my cancer journey.”
Jeanne has never left Gilda’s Club side; she has been a part of our organization now for nearly 30 years. Jeanne is an active member and sits on our board of directors. When we asked Jeanne why she continues to stay involved, she said, “Knowing in some small way that I am helping others (as I was helped) on their cancer journey.”
Bethanie first came to Gilda’s Club three months after she graduated college with a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She drove from Shelby Township to attend the Look Good…Feel Better program with another cancer patient she had met at the doctor’s office.
Bethanie joined Gilda’s Club and regularly attended the Young Adults support group. It was in this group that she found her new normal and her new family.
“Gilda’s Club is there for the newly diagnosed who just want someone who understands the lingo of the world they have been thrown into,” Bethanie said. “It’s for the survivor who is struggling to find their new normal after treatment and find a sense of comfort inside the red doors.”
Bethanie can’t image her life without the Gilda’s community. She has been a member for eleven years and now her family of four attends the Family Fun Days and her son and daughter participate in the children’s creative writing and dance workshops, the Open Play for Toddler’s and Camp Sparkle.
“Gilda’s Club means everything to me,” Bethanie said.
Bethanie feels that Gilda’s Club has helped her children to become compassionate as well.
“The support has been invaluable for my children,” Bethanie said. “They have been exposed to Gilda’s Club and the world of cancer since day one.”
Bethanie gives back to Gilda’s Club by participating and chairing a large fundraising event – Bras for a Cause. She loves how the Art Bra models, all breast cancer survivors, become empowered while on stage.
“Every dollar raised from the amazing Bras for a Cause event goes to keep those red doors open at Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit. Because of our founder and my dear friend Shannon Iezzi’s vision, the event has raised over a half a million dollars.”
In 2009, Sharde was in college, working full time, all while pursuing her passion for a professional dance career. That October, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Her whole life came to an abrupt stop. Recovery became everything. During treatment she was at home with her mother, ostracized from the world. She felt alone, like everything was moving on without her. She was lost and desperately needed something to connect to.
“All my options for support were for people much older or younger than me. Or they weren’t in Michigan. Or they only existed on the internet,” she said.
Sharde is a social butterfly. She needed to be around people. And she needed these people to know the impact of everything she was going through. She was up and down physically and mentally. And, up and down spiritually.
She found a website for Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit because they offered a support group for young adults. “I found a place to feel safe, to feel uplifted and understood. I found a place to wear a happy face or an angry face. Whichever one was real today,” she said.
It was February of 2011 and she received a bone marrow transplant. She spent this year and the next recuperating from it and the many side effects. It’s now 2015 and she’s still recuperating today.
“I am blessed and grateful to be cancer free today but anyone who has experienced cancer or been close to it will tell you that its impact on you lasts much longer than a few years of clean scans. It’s more of a reverberation in life that ripples till it reaches the shore.”
“I’m being honest when I say that Gilda’s Club is irreplaceable. It’s hard for me to imagine making it through all these years without the support I’ve found here. Joining is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I thank God for everyone who has contributed to keeping the lights on in the beautiful clubhouse.”
At the age of 31, Marjie, a high school robotics team mentor and engineering professional, was diagnosed with stage 2 Breast Cancer. “I went into the doctor’s office and I was the third person he had told (they had cancer) that day, but I was also the youngest.” Marjie had a strong support system at home with her husband of more than eleven years, as well as a dedicated group of family and friends. It was not until the day she was given some surprising news from her doctor that she recognized she needed the support of others that would understand what she was going through. “What brought me here was that I was told at the age of thirty two that I wouldn’t be able to have kids.” This news brought Marjie through the bright red door of Gilda’s Club where she was able to join the Young Adults Group as well as the Rack Pack, a breast cancer support group for women in their twenties and thirties.
“It’s been great coming here. The friends I have made and being able to help someone who is going through what I went through is amazing.” She has not only been able to support others as they cope with similar struggles and news, but she also appreciates having a comfortable place to deal with the ups and downs of cancer. “Here you are around people who always understand. When you come here and are not feeling like yourself, you don’t have to explain.”
Her positive attitude and sense of humor have helped her along her journey with cancer. Marjie has been able to continue to work and even found time to take some little vacations during her treatment. She has also used the insight she gained from her experience at Gilda’s Club to start a non-profit for young adults with cancer who would like to check items off their bucket lists. Marjie continues to live her life with a positive attitude. “Being here and talking with everyone, I have come to realize that I am one of the lucky ones.”