By Remy Sisk
Photo by William DeShazer
“Living with cancer is not a choice anyone would make, but how you live with it is – we are about living with cancer with laughter and joy, with style and purpose, living your life while cancer is a part of it,” relates Karen Morrison, president/CEO of Gilda’s Club Louisville. Since opening its red doors in Louisville in 2007, Gilda’s Club, located at 633 Baxter Ave., has been serving as a resource center for cancer patients as well as their loved ones, offering a place of hope and camaraderie in the face of a horrific illness.
Gilda’s offers over 100 free programs every month – programs that range from movie and karaoke nights to themed parties, yoga, zumba and, of course, support groups. Much of the programming at Gilda’s is peer-based, which allows all in attendance to feel like they are genuinely understood. “There’s always somebody three months ahead of you and somebody three months behind you, so you can be a mentor and a mentee,” Morrison describes. “And outside the red doors, people take each other food, take each other to the doctor, visit each other in the hospital – that community and the bonds they create here extend far beyond Gilda’s Club.”
Indeed, Gilda’s is unquestionably a resource for cancer journey support as well as educational and motivational offerings, but it also places a heavy emphasis on offerings that aren’t necessarily directly related to cancer. At Gilda’s, you can learn all you want to about the disease, but you can also take your mind off of it when you need to. “We host all kinds of purely social functions for families to come together and safely share and explore their cancer journey, and in some cases escape it because here, you’re normal – everybody’s dealing with it so you don’t have to talk about it,” Morrison emphasizes.
However, there are also offerings that are site-specific to whichever cancer a member may be dealing with. In regards to breast cancer, Gilda’s hosts a breast cancer networking group as well as one tailored specifically for those with metastatic breast cancer. It also offers support groups that are only for those with breast cancer in addition to its broader options.
And what makes all of this especially unique is that these programs are available to the individual with cancer and also to those close to them. “We’re there not just for the breast cancer patient but for the children and the spouse,” Morrison affirms. “A lot of the youth in our kids program have a mom or a grandma going through breast cancer, and they’re experiencing all the psychosocial symptoms of cancer – the whole family gets affected by anxiety, fear, helplessness, hopelessness – and we’re treating those symptoms for the whole family.”
There’s truly nothing else like Gilda’s in the community – a place where everyone on a cancer journey can come together and choose to keep laughter and joy in their lives while battling the unthinkable. And at the end of it all – when the cancer is gone and life begins to return to normal, Morrison says that those touched by cancer often come away from it with a renewed sense of positivity: “Maybe you readjust your expectations, you redefine hope, you reorganize your priorities – a lot of folks, after they’re past a cancer journey, they’ll say, ‘Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me because it makes me appreciate every day more. It makes me appreciate those I love more.’” VT