Sometimes it simply takes the encouragement of a good friend to motivate someone to come to Gilda’s Club for the first time. For Sue, that was definitely the case. “My doctor said to go to Gilda’s Club because I was feeling really depressed and really alone, and I didn’t have to be feeling this way.” Mary and Sue had met at a hospital support group where both women came to realize that they had been diagnosed with breast cancer around the exact same time. It wasn’t until Mary encouraged Sue to visit Gilda’s Club that she finally agreed to come.
“I remember thinking it’s so roomy and homey here,” Sue recalls of her first visit. “I was impressed by how peaceful it was.” Mary found that the calming atmosphere combined with having a familiar face in her groups and activities brought her a lot of comfort. Both ladies take part in many of the activities here including the Walk to Get Fit workshop, yoga, breast cancer support group, Angel Pillow Project and social events when possible. Mary shared, “We hold each other accountable to come.”
These two amazing friends enjoy that they are able to spend time together several days a week at Gilda’s Club. They also continue to see the silver lining in their cancer diagnosis. “If we didn’t have this diagnosis we probably never would have met,” reflects Mary.
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.”
The Youth Council was established two years ago to involve more teenagers in the mission of Gilda’s Club. Helen, a 14 year old from Huntington Woods, joined the Youth Council at the request of a good friend who is a member of Gilda’s Club.
Helen felt like the Youth Council was a perfect fit for her. She wanted to give back to her community to a cause that meant something to her. Helen was touched by cancer when a family member was diagnosed in 2011 and since then, Helen says, “I always feel welcome here because it feels just like home.”
The Youth Council meets every month during the school year. Helen has met some new friends and they have bonded over the planning of their yearlong projects, volunteering at family-oriented events at the Clubhouse, creating Team Youth Council for the annual Walk & Run and their large fundraiser they plan for the end of the school year. The Youth Council members are given the freedom to express themselves under the guidance of our Youth Program Director.
Planning and taking on a leadership role in the annual fundraising events has helped Helen to hone her skills in presenting the mission of Gilda’s Club to her classmates. As a result of joining, Helen has met some new friends in surrounding towns. Helen’s favorite activity is volunteering at Camp Sparkle.
“Gilda’s Club makes me feel inspired to do all good deeds. Gilda’s has helped me realize that I can help many people and I can make a difference because it is about the people who are here [at the clubhouse].”
Holly, of Garden City, ran through the Gilda’s Club red front door just three summers ago not knowing what to expect. She attended her first Camp Sparkle and looks forward to the six week camp every summer.
Holly lost her father and grandfather to cancer at the age of 5. She is not shy to let people know why she is at Gilda’s Club. Many times you can hear Holly making a declaration about her father and grandfather to new members and volunteers at her events.
Holly and her grandmother, also a member, attend many of our family social functions. Holly just loves the Saturday Family Fun Day!
At 8 years old, Holly brings an exuberant amount of energy to the clubhouse. She is bubbly and likes to be silly despite learning that life can be cut short and bring up ugly feelings. Holly has learned that other kids share her same feeling of loss, but that it is okay to still have fun. She has displayed a tremendous amount of perseverance.
Holly really enjoys expressing herself through the arts and craft projects, especially painting. When asked about her favorite thing at Gilda’s Club, Holly says “My favorite thing about Camp Sparkle is making new friends and getting to come back every summer to play with old friends”
A Royal Oak native, Dennis knew that Gilda’s Club was right in his backyard. When he was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma last November, he immediately knew he could turn to Gilda’s Club for support.
Dennis and his wife Kim attended the Holiday party at the clubhouse, and knew this was exactly the right place to be. They knew their family would benefit from all the comfort and love they experienced that night when they walked in the door.
“The whole family loves Gilda’s,” Dennis states with a smile.
Dennis attends the Head and Neck group regularly, monthly Bingo, special events and yoga when he is feeling up to it. He says that the benefits have been fantastic.
Kim attends the Family/Friends/Caregiver group, Bingo, and special events while their children, ages 6, 10 and 16, enjoy Noogieland and Camp Sparkle. Dennis believes that it is a “privilege” to be a member at Gilda’s Club. He loves that the whole family is able to find the support that they need from his diagnosis. He realized early on that at Gilda’s Club, people really care about you and your family. He finds this extremely soothing for his entire family.
Dennis says “Gilda’s Club is fantastic – it brings a piece of mind that my wife and kids can always find a place of comfort and support.”
Mary Ellen, from Shelby Township, is a breast cancer survivor who has found a family behind the red front door at Gilda’s Club. She is currently involved with the quilting group which meets every Thursday. Mary Ellen calls this group of ladies her family. Mary Ellen has been a part of the Gilda’s Family for 17 years.
When Mary Ellen was diagnosed with breast cancer she felt like she was handling the diagnosis well, until the news that her husband had a terminal illness pummeled her. Upon her husband’s death she attended a support group at Gilda’s Club to help her deal with all the pain and grief she was experiencing.
She knew she found the right place, when a Gilda’s Club staff member said it was okay to cry. For the first time since her diagnosis she felt safe to let it all out.
“Gilda’s is a place where you can come and you’re always welcome. There’s always someone to talk to you and the coffee pot is always on,” she said.
Mary Ellen’s favorite part of Gilda’s Club is the friends she has made through the years, the welcoming feeling she has when she walks in the door and the emotional support she receives from her Gilda’s family.
“There’s so much help here…emotional help. Gilda’s was here when I needed them,” Mary Ellen said.
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.”