Justin Hiltner Gilda's Club Middle Tennessee Everyone Has a Cancer Story Nashville


I first learned about Gilda’s Club through my friend Vickie, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. Even after walking through her treatment with her, there was no way I could ever feel prepared for my own diagnosis in August 2018. A colonoscopy found rectal cancer, a low-lying 5cm mass that had been causing me extreme pain and discomfort for months. Immediately, I knew from my experience in helping Vickie that I would have Gilda’s in my corner.

Even with a baseline knowledge of Gilda’s Club, I was still surprised at how quickly it felt like home; it felt like a place where I could immediately be 100% real and vulnerable, too. As a young adult, a member of the LGBTQ community, and having struggled with an anxiety disorder for most of my adult life, I wasn’t sure this would be the case. At Gilda’s, these things don’t matter. They do everything they can to ensure there are no barriers to entry. You just show up – and find yourself surrounded by people who’ve walked or are walking parallel paths. It’s wonderful and helpful. It’s a body-, psyche-, and life-changing place – so much so that when I was struggling with planning my first birthday post-diagnosis, I knew I could celebrate with my support group. There was no place else I wanted to be.

For me, Gilda’s has been – and continues to be – a place where I can face my fears (real or imagined), be heard, and have people “see me.” It’s a place where I can rebuild myself post-treatment and post-surgery; a place where I can focus on my well-being. But I think what strikes me most about the entire organization is that I’ve not been, at any point, just a person who comes to Gilda’s. I am a part of Gilda’s.