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'How Hard Can This Be?'

Posted on Jul. 5, 2012 ( comments)

Anna Gottlieb tells the story of how she came to be Gilda’s Club Seattle Founder and Executive Director.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was young. No one talked about it in my family. My father never mentioned the word cancer and my mother cried all the time. My sister and I were very scared. We were told not to tell anything to anyone about my mother being "sick." My mother is a 43-year breast cancer survivor and still will not talk about it. The feelings of isolation and terror always stayed in the back of my mind. I can only imagine how isolated my mother felt.

Many years later, my 36 year old sister-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia. She had two small children. Times had changed. We could talk about her cancer and try to support and help her and her family. Yet, there was still nowhere we found to go or to take her for support. She wanted to talk to other parents. She wanted to know how to tell her kids she was dying and how to help them after she died. She yearned for a place that the whole family could go. She knew she was dying and even surrounded by loved ones, I think she felt alone.

I first read about Gilda's Club in an article in People magazine while I was waiting for a friend at her doctor's appointment. Gilda Radner, cancer, humor and families. It was almost as if a light bulb went off in my head-so this is what I want to do. I went to New York in 1996 to see the first Gilda's Club. I was in awe. A program for families learning to live with cancer. For men, women and children, for all cancers. And it had spirit and humor and caring. I remember flying back to Seattle thinking in my head, "how hard can this be?" That makes me laugh now because it is a good thing I did not know the answer.

Five years later with the help of many, many dedicated and compassionate businesses and individuals, our bright red doors opened at 1400 Broadway in 2002. It was everything and more that I had imagined. We really can and do make a difference. Our members tell us so every single day.

Families learning to live with cancer every day, they are the experts. There are many tears, and much laughter here. Sharing our lives makes a difference.

As one of our members put it so eloquently, "you don't have cancer only on Tuesdays from 2-4pm. You have it every day and you need a place every day. And so does your family."

One question I get asked all the time now is, "where were you when I needed you?" Well, we are here now.

Gilda Radner knew what we all needed. Her legacy continues to grow — now with 23 Gilda's Clubs open throughout the United States and many more to come, as well as Gilda's On The Go, a program that we began to reach more people living with cancer. Cancer support can take place in many different places and venues. What matters is that we are here for anyone living with cancer in any setting. The flexibility of Gilda's On The Go will ensure that we have made Gilda’s dream — that no one has to face cancer alone — a reality.

Reprinted with Permission

MultiCare Regional Cancer Center and Gilda’s Club Seattle have partnered to bring cancer support programs and activities to Tacoma.

The program, called Gilda’s on the Go, began June 1 and will bring many of the activities and events offered by Gilda’s Club Seattle to MultiCare Regional Cancer Center’s Tacoma General Hospital location.
Learn more about Gilda’s Club Seattle at

Posted in: Cancer

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