- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Behind the bright red doors at Gilda’s Club on Vogel Road, there is laughter, tears, learning, sharing and, above all else, love and support.

One of nearly 50 Gilda’s Club affiliates nationwide, Gilda’s Club of Evansville officially opened its new location in February and has seen its visitors and participation grow in the months since. The facility, which staff and members refer to as “the clubhouse,” hosts 35 to 50 events per month for people surviving all types of cancer and for family and friends of those individuals.

“People ask me, is it a depressing place?” Executive Director Melanie Atwood told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/138Zcy8 ). “There are times when it’s a very tough day when some of our members have gotten a bad report. But there’s comfort in talking to people who get it. Some days, there’s no words you can say. You just sit and hug them and cry together. And yet, it’s balanced with those times you want to do cartwheels.”

Shannon Holt said Gilda’s Club has had limitless value for her and her family.

Holt had two young children when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2010. She underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy and believed for almost the next two years that she was cancer-free.

She was found to have a recurrence in late 2012 and now is in Stage 4. Holt’s children are 10 and 8 years old.

“Gilda’s Club is amazing,” Holt said Monday before heading to the clubhouse to do some volunteer work. “They’re just starting their children’s programs, and I’m trying to get my children there more often. That was my biggest concern - support for my kids. I have a huge support group. My family and friends are just amazing, and my employer is wonderful. But it’s different for the kids.”

Young children have unique needs, and so do the parents of those living with cancer, Holt said. Her mother also has been to the clubhouse.

“The very first thing I wanted to do there was for my mom,” Holt said. “It’s totally different to watch your child (deal with a cancer diagnosis). None of her friends could look at her at her and say ‘I know how you feel, I know what you’re going through.’ The family and friends support group is separate. We’re not in the same room with them. They might say things they would not say in front of us, and that was important to me as well. Gilda’s has offered a ton of strength for not just me, but my family as well.”

Physician-led workshops are offered on nutrition, healthy lifestyles and coping with the stress a diagnosis can cause. There are yoga, art and knitting clubs.

But it’s not uncommon for people to come through the red doors at their leisure, even when no event is going on.

“We’re open at any other time for people who just want to come hang out, curl up on the couch and read,” Atwood said.

The drive to establish an Evansville branch of Gilda’s Club was led by local television reporter Ann Moore, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in July 2009. Photos of Moore, along with the club’s namesake, the late “Saturday Night Live” comic Gilda Radner, adorn the walls of Gilda’s Club.

Atwood said Gilda’s Club is becoming more engrossed in the area’s physician network, and that has helped the nonprofit and its programs. She noted the club’s Vogel Road location is a short drive from numerous large medical facilities.

“We’re starting to get the word out. Physicians are doing more referrals. People are coming straight from the physician’s office. This year we’re seeing that, and we weren’t before,” Atwood said.

Gilda’s Club relies heavily on donations of all sizes, and its needs are year-round. Fresh Market of Evansville donates food and snacks weekly. The nonprofit’s small staff writes grant requests. As of yet, Gilda’s Club receives no federal or state funding, in part because of the evaluations required. Atwood said a grant from the Welborn Baptist Foundation will allow the club to create an evaluation tool.

“This next year, we’ll explore that more,” Atwood said.

The club has ample volunteer opportunities, and it posts news on a Facebook page (Gilda’s Club Evansville) and Twitter (@gildasclubevv). A noon potluck on New Year’s Eve is open to “members, volunteers, anybody in the community,” Atwood said.

Gilda’s Club’s philosophy is to be relationship-based, Atwood said. “It’s so cool to watch. Those who have had cancer, who are maybe two or three years in survivorship, they want to give back. They want to come and say, hang in there, you can do this too,” she said. “To sit back and watch that happen, it’s beautiful.”

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com


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