Sandy Towers founder Gilda's Club Middle Tennessee Nashville free cancer support

My best friend Kristy was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was in her 20s and living in California. As was typical of Kristy, she jumped right into the available research and – in addition to addressing her medical needs – did her best to take care of her emotional and social needs, too. I remember her telling me she had gone to something along the lines of what Gilda’s Club currently calls guided imagery. I thought it was a very California thing for her to do back in those days… Ultimately, she found little pockets of people who understood what she was going through and, without realizing it, had formed her own psychosocial support circle.

Kristy died at age 31 and, as I worked through the sadness and loss, I had this incredible desire to “do something.” I worked at a tennis club in Maryland Farms at the time and thought maybe I could use my event background to raise money and build cancer awareness…host a tennis competition or triathlon or something. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), nothing fell into place.

But the feeling persisted… So, not long after, I sat down with my friend Judy Liff Barker and asked her if anyone ever started their own nonprofit.  Her reply: “Not if they can help it!” I remember thinking, “Well, that’s that,” but then Judy called a few days later saying she had just heard about a new nonprofit forming in New York City for Gilda Radner, who’d been a big believer in psychosocial support. The idea of Gilda’s Club peaked my interest, so I reached out to a friend in New York and made the trip to learn more. I met Gilda’s founder Joanna Bull during that visit…The first Gilda’s Club wasn’t even open yet. It was Fall 1994.

In 1995 – having spent several months thinking about Gilda’s Club and doing my own research – I was invited back to New York for the Gilda’s Club grand opening.  While there, a weird thing happened. Celebrities like Gene Wilder and Mandy Patinkin were in attendance, which created a lot of media attention, and the next thing I knew, someone said to me: “We have an AP reporter on the phone and we just told him there may be a Gilda’s Club affiliate opening in Nashville.” So, the Associated Press put it out there! Then, a reporter from the Tennessean picked up the story and contacted me for an interview! I remember telling them they’d better put my phone number in the local piece, because I was going to need all the help I could get.  (laughing)

My inspiration to keep moving ahead was always Kristy and ultimately, the creation of Gilda’s Club Nashville happened very organically. There were all these bread crumbs that were thrown along my path … I just followed the crumbs…and ate every one.

With support and guidance from numerous individuals, we officially opened our red door in August 1998.  For all those who came before, and those on the frontlines now working diligently to further the mission of Gilda’s Club – I am forever grateful.