CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — An organization that helps cancer patients and their families is celebrating a milestone this year.
Gilda’s Club was founded in 1995 in New York by actor Gene Wilder in honor of his late wife, Gilda Radner, an original “Saturday Night Live” cast member who died from ovarian cancer.
In 1998, Chicago started its own Gilda’s Club. Since then, it’s raised $25 million and helped more than 45,000 people.
“We were opened by Annie Lurie. She learned about the club when Princess Diana was here in 1996 and the club opened on Valentine’s Day, 1998,” said Laura Jane Hyde, CEO, Gilda’s Club Chicago.
“More important than the money that we’ve raised, which we estimated to be more than $25 million, is the more than 45,000 people we’ve served over the last 20 years,” Hyde said.
The organization offers more than 350 free programs monthly that provide education and healthy lifestyle activities, resource referrals and social opportunities for its members. Last year, more than 7,500 people attended programs at its six Chicago locations.
“Because no one wants to be diagnosed with cancer, we have to be there. These programs are free for the person diagnosed, family members, friends. We have a fabulous program GCC At School. We served over 1,600 kids and teachers last year. We go into the faith community, we go into the workplace, we’re everywhere,” she said.
The agency offers not just support groups, but also supplemental seminars on healthy eating and navigating healthcare billing, weekly classes in yoga and tai chi, and events where people can take their minds off cancer.
“We offer support groups where people come together and talk about the experience. We offer healthy lifestyle activities. We have nutrition workshops, we have mindfulness meditation, we offer yoga, we do educational program so people can learn specific aspects of their treatment to make their experience easier. We also do a lot of socializing and resource referral,” Hyde said.
The group was created in memory of Saturday Night Live comedian Gilda Radner who died due to ovarian cancer in 1989. While going through her own treatment, Radner spoke out about the need for emotional and social support for patients and their loved ones.
Hyde said the program offers support beyond the diagnosis.
“Next year there will be a projected survivor population of 19 million people. So as people live longer, as people are diagnosed earlier, there are concerns down the road. Yes, we want a cure down the road, but there are plenty of people who still need our help,” Hyde said.
On Feb. 14, in celebration of the 20th anniversary, Gilda’s Club Chicago is opening their famous Red Door and a party will be held on Feb. 17. A 20th anniversary awards dinner will be held June 21. For more information, www.gildasclubchicago.org