The Clubhouse

A funny lady leaves behind a legacy of optimism and hope

Before actress Gilda Radner succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1989 at the age of 43, the Emmy Award-winning comedian, writer, and original cast member of Saturday Night Live requested a favor of husband Gene Wilder: After having spent time in a Wellness Community in California, the longtime New Yorker nurtured the hope that a similar place of education and empathy for cancer patients and their loved ones might one day exist on the East Coast. She asked Wilder to establish such a center, and in 1995, he and Radner's therapist, Joanna Bull, welcomed Manhattanites inside the first Gilda's Club. Since then, its membership has increased dramatically, with houses opening across the United States.

When Gilda's Club Seattle opens its own doors in early 2001, it will be the organization's first affiliate on the West Coast. Special Events Architect Sheryl Eisenbarth remarks that the Seattle branch has been in "massive fund- raising mode" over the past couple of years, but the house, conveniently located on the strip of Broadway running through "Pill Hill," will soon be gearing up for its first guests. In a note to readers on, Gilda's Club President Joanna Bull declares, "Men, women, children, families—all of you are welcome. Gilda said that when cancer happens, it happens to the whole family. . . . Gilda also said that having cancer gave her membership in an elite club she'd rather not belong to, so membership starts with a laugh." Laughter, friendship, support—Gilda's Club encourages all of these in a comfortable environment, in the words of Eisenbarth, "away from the smells and sights of the hospital." In addition to providing a meeting ground for those coping with cancer, Gilda's Club Seattle will host a slew of free events, including nutritional cooking classes, meditation, tai chi, art therapy, music therapy, lectures, and Noogieland, for children who have cancer or whose parents have cancer.

With a fully operative Gilda's Club Seattle house lingering in the near future, volunteers can bring that future closer to today. The Seattle affiliate has focused its efforts on such annual fund-raising events as "Surviving with Style," a May fashion show that features 25 bold and beautiful cancer survivors; March's Magnum Wine Auction; October's online auction; and January's Wedding Show raffle. Eisenbarth says that although Gilda's Club has already formed a committee for the fashion show, the organization needs help conducting the online auction and selling raffle tickets at the Wedding Show. For those wanting to volunteer at the new house, Eisenbarth notes that computer and office equipment donations would be greatly appreciated. Once the center's open, those with office skills can assist by answering phones, doing data entry, and generating newsletters. People with a knack for teaching can conduct lectures and workshops. Eventually, the affiliate will welcome social workers and mental health professionals willing to lend free services. Shoppers can put their dollars to a good cause by purchasing Gilda's Club T-shirts, mugs, or a set of greeting cards designed by five kids living with cancer. Lastly, Gilda's Club can always use monetary donations. Cash can't cure cancer (though research is moving forward all the time), but it can certainly continue one organization's unique and hopeful outlook.

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