By Leslie Halpern, LCSW
Program Manager and Cancer Support Specialist
One of the things I appreciate most about Gilda’s Club is the space we hold for those impacted by cancer to experience their full range of emotions. Whether celebrating good news, sitting with uncertainty, or grieving a loss, we welcome and encourage everyone who walks through our red door to feel “all the feelings” – even when it’s hard…especially when it’s hard. We do this because there’s healing in the process and, together, even the heaviest of emotions – fear, sadness, anger, exhaustion – seem more manageable.
Over the last few weeks, our Gilda’s Club community has been feeling some extra big feelings, in large part because of two special events: our annual Night of Remembrance and the inaugural Gilda’s Gang 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run. In both cases, we invited broad community participation (and all of the big emotions) for the purpose of remembering.
Held virtually on March 30, our Night of Remembrance was an opportunity to come together as a community and remember loved ones we’ve lost. Living in a virtual world during a pandemic has been an isolating experience for so many people, but especially for those grieving the loss of a loved one. The isolation can feel so overwhelming. Coming together as a community, even virtually, and creating space to hold our grief with others was connecting in a way that many have been missing over the past year. We may not have been able to share in those famous Gilda’s Club hugs, but being able to see each other’s faces, feeling connected through love and loss, was a meaningful way to honor our loved ones and remember we are not alone.
The story behind our April 3 Gilda’s Gang 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run is a beautiful one that began when a woman named Dr. Gail Addlestone first became involved with our cancer support community in the early 2000s. First as a volunteer, then as a part of our staff, and finally as a Gilda’s Club member herself, Gail was passionate about our mission from the very beginning. Among the many things she accomplished on our behalf was the creation of the effort that would later become Gilda’s Gang – a half-marathon training program and fundraiser that raised more than $1.3 million for Gilda’s Club between 2006 and 2017. While we lost Gail to metastatic breast cancer in 2007, her passion lives on in her friends and family members who helped us bring this new community event to life. On April 3, we remembered Gail and others we’ve loved and lost like her with joy and sadness – laughter and tears.
At Gilda’s Club, we will always make space for the hard stuff; it’s why we’re here. Making space for the hard stuff also allows us to be present for the laughter, the joy, and the beauty that lives even in those challenges. Remembering and honoring our lost loved ones gives their legacies space to live on through us and in our communities. It allows us all to be part of something bigger than ourselves, while maintaining deeply personal connections. And for this, I am grateful.