Gilda’s Club Madison provides free emotional support, cancer education, and hope to children and adults facing any kind of cancer at any stage. Programs are offered both in-person and virtually, allowing Gilda’s to provide support across Wisconsin. Unfortunately, many people still think they have to manage their cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship on their own.
Gilda’s Club member, Kathryn, recently shared this story. Can you help spread the word and help ensure that no one in Wisconsin has to face cancer alone?
For many years I worked as a respiratory therapist in a pediatric ICU. For readers that have never done that kind of work, it means I took care of kids on ventilators, among other tasks. I experienced long shifts where there were hours of routine punctuated by the need for intense precision. In may ways I was fearless, because I knew the kids I worked with and their families counted on me.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was an entirely different thing. It threw me for a loop and I thought about death all the time. I didn’t feel fearless anymore.
At first I went through the stress and anxiety on my own. I worried that I would have to remove both breasts to stay alive. I felt isolated, particularly because my diagnosis happened during COVID. I was in turmoil and my mind was in an entirely unfamiliar space.
I had family support but I needed to feel free to express my worst thoughts.
Ironically, I didn’t have to go through my first cancer diagnosis alone, fifteen years prior. When I had been diagnosed with uterine cancer in Chicago, I was immediately referred to Gilda’s Club Chicago. As soon as I heard the words, “You have cancer,” I was told there was somewhere to go to help me manage all that I was going through. My hospital had signs up all over about Gilda’s Club. Medical staff mentioned it to me several times. It quickly became my sanctuary.
This time around, no one mentioned Gilda’s Club. In fact, I assumed there wasn’t one in Madison. At one point, a patient navigator gave me a 100-page notebook. In chapter 11, there was a single page that mentioned Gilda’s Club and cancer support. It was buried and lost among all the other information.
That’s not good enough. The doctors, nurses, and patient navigators gave me excellent medical care but were unable to address the mental turmoil cancer caused me, just like so many other patients dealing with a cancer diagnosis. I was not thinking straight. We are not who we usually are. We’re in another mental space. For us to find our way through the darkest days, we need help and guidance beyond basic medical care. That’s where Gilda’s Club fills a gaping need.
Regarding my cancer, I got lucky this time around. It was small, not aggressive, and it was slow growing. It responded to hormones and my doctors were able to surgically remove the tumor.
I found out about Gilda’s Club Madison one month after my diagnosis and although I wished I had been supported from the beginning, it has still had a positive impact on my ability to manage the emotions surrounding my cancer.
Through Gilda’s Club Madison, I have attended the breast cancer support group where I met and talked with so many caring, loving women who also had breast cancer. I have also been part of a weekly “Coffee Connections” group where I get to talk with many other people dealing with different kinds of cancer. I attended a workshop on death and dying and even participated in yoga with other survivors.
In addition to spending time at Gilda’s Club, I also decided to get my first tattoos at the age of 75. I did this in an effort to re-embrace my body. The bluebird flying up from my surgical scar is in memory of my dad and is similar to the soccer team bluebird he had on his bicep when I was growing up.
The other is an origami crane. According to Japanese lore, folding 1,000 cranes will bring good luck and health. My daughters and I have folded many of these over the years and they have a special significance to me.
So – what is your path to cancer support?
If you’re facing cancer and feeling bad, I want you to know it’s common to feel alone or down. Sometimes it can simply help to know it’s common for you to feel frightened, even if you’re usually fearless. I just want you to know you don’t have to go through cancer alone.
Gilda’s Club would love to talk with you. Schedule a time to visit Gilda’s Club Madison and meet with one of their supportive staff members. All the programs are offered for free to anyone touched by cancer, including caregivers and loved ones.
You will benefit from all you can learn about your treatment, managing costs, and getting support. Part of the awareness should be that your feelings of fear and anxieties are natural and sharing similar experiences with others can help you feel less alone.
For me, Gilda’s helped me appreciate being alive. My second cancer experience renewed my appreciation of every day as a gift. Trite, but true. We aren’t guaranteed our next days, but we are in this together.
Do you know someone who is facing cancer? They don’t have to face it alone. Visit https://www.gildasclubmadison.org/ to learn more about the free support programs provided by Gilda’s Club Madison.