By Laura Alabed-Olsson
Over the last 12 months, I’ve had the honor of working on an awareness campaign for Gilda’s Club, based on the premise that everyone has a cancer story. At a point in time when three out of four families are impacted by cancer – and given the range of cancer stories shared within our Clubhouse walls on an almost daily basis – the idea of capturing 21 stories in recognition of our 21st anniversary seemed fitting.
And what better way to demonstrate that Gilda’s Club is a place for anyone impacted by cancer than to lay it all out in black and white… to ask the difficult questions, share the sometimes-uncomfortable responses and, in doing so, help people understand that you don’t have to have a specific cancer story to benefit from Gilda’s Club. We are here for anyone and everyone impacted by cancer. Differences that may matter elsewhere in the world just don’t matter here, because we all have cancer in common – and when we come together and share our stories, it’s powerful… We learn from each other. We feel less alone. We laugh. We cry. We create bonds and build community.
It was a beautiful and heart-wrenching gift to be able to capture these stories – and even share my own story. To hear firsthand about our members’ fears and anxiety and sleeplessness and loneliness…but then their comfort and sense of community and ability to “live better” with cancer, because of Gilda’s Club. Making themselves so incredibly vulnerable, they shared their stories with gratitude and pride, because they understand the power of storytelling.
Gilda’s Club has a long tradition of sharing stories. Over the last 20-plus years and to this very day, our members share their stories in support groups and over coffee in our kitchen. They share their stories while working on projects in our art room and hanging out before a yoga class. They share their stories and, when they do, there is understanding, support and healing.
“Being [with my Young Adults support group] – listening to others share their stories and struggles and emotions – made me feel comfortable enough to be open for the first time. … They are my mental salvation. They are the only ones who really understand my mental fatigue…the fatigue that comes with treatment, the side effects, managing the people around you…,” says Gilda’s Club member Irma.
Sharing stories is also an important part of our regular Board meetings. Each one begins with a “member moment,” during which a Gilda’s Club member shares his or her cancer story and the impact our program is having on his/her life. Just last month, a member named Chuck shared “Cancer is lonely. Cancer puts you by yourself, even within your own family. Having group every week helped me understand the power of talking…the power of listening. Being able to share with others who get it is amazing.”
The sharing of stories is an important part of our fundraising efforts, too. At last year’s Red Door Bash, member Justin shared his cancer story and that, for him, “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.’ 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.”
You can view all 21 stories in our Everyone Has A Cancer Story campaign at www.gildasclubmiddletn.org/mystory/. I hope you’ll take a look and then invite those in your own circle to do the same. At a point in time when three out of four families are impacted by cancer, chances are the invitation will be welcome.