Gilda's Club

Artwork in Gilda’s Club South Florida It’s a hot Tuesday, two days before Valentine’s Day, and I’m sitting in Gilda’s Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’m so happy in this 1930s house full of rich reds and laughing images of Gilda Radner that I’m almost in tears.

It’s a hot Tuesday, two days before Valentine’s Day, and I’m sitting in Gilda’s Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’m so happy in this 1930s house full of deep reds and laughing images of Gilda Radner that I’m almost in tears.

If you don’t know what Gilda’s Club is, it’s a cancer support community created in honor of actress, comedian, and original Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner. Gilda died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

No, I’m not here because I have cancer. I’m here because my friend does. She’s just moved to South Florida, and I came down to help her get settled.

Yesterday, she made an appointment for an orientation at Gilda’s Club. At first I was ticked, because it’s my last morning here. I fly out in a matter of hours and I wanted to spend those hours with my friend, not sitting in a great room while she goes through club orientation.

But now I’m glad I’m here, because I feel like it’s a home – like a place where one wants to come in, lean back on one of the big red couches, relax and talk. I’m not even sure one needs to talk. Just the vibe is healing.

Gilda's Club great room

The great room in Gilda’s Club

Maybe it’s the vibe of healing laughter. Even some of the potted plants have images of a laughing Gilda on them and they make me smile.

Ironically, Gilda has Roseanne Roseannadana hair in the images, which I’ve been “suffering” while here, and yesterday I was quoting Roseannadana – “it’s always something” and “if it’s not one thing, it’s another.” That was while my friend was weeping and clinging to me as she pleaded with her health insurance company. They’d cancelled her coverage because her employer had terminated her since she can’t work. I hate that word “terminated.” It’s too much like terminal. My friend is stage 4 cancer. Terminal.

I keep telling my friend you don’t know that – that it’s terminal. She keeps saying, yes, I do. I keep saying there’s always hope. She’s keeps telling me there is no hope, don’t use the word hope, the doctors tell her she IS going to die. I tell her we all die, the doctors aren’t God, and they don’t know when she’s going to die, only God does. I repeat that there’s always hope. She tells me never to use the word “hope” to her. So I don’t.

Gilda's Club

I love this place!

Today, I walk through Gilda’s Club. I see that the club offers classes for water color, for writing, for all kinds of things that I just know – I have to know this at this stage 4 – will heal at least the heart, if not the body. And this place reminds me Valentine’s. And that’s why I’m writing.

In fact, I started a blog a few days ago about Valentine’s Day, never finished it, and now maybe I’ve found the way to say what I wanted to say. You probably know without knowing it, that in the world of marketing, Valentine’s is considered a sex holiday. That’s why you’re seeing more advertising about lubricants and seeing bigger displays of condoms. But Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about sex. It doesn’t even have to be about romance. But perhaps it must be about love.

Let me emphasize, if I haven’t already made it clear, it doesn’t have to be about romantic love. It can be about the love of friends.

Right now, there is a group of teenaged girls sitting in Gilda’s library and I listen to them giggle as they tell jokes. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” And a kind gentleman named Sam walks in and begins to tell them who Gilda Radner was. I wish they’d known her themselves … because then they’d laugh when they hear “if it’s not one thing, it’s another” and “it’s always something.” And they’d know to keep putting one foot in front the other when times get horrible. And they’d know that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about sex. Because right now, it’s really nice to hear my friend say, “I love you.” And I say, “I love you.” And she says, “But I love you more.” And maybe they could understand that cancer can heal old wounds of the heart and make distant friends close friends again. And I close my eyes, try to blink away my tears, and smile when my friend finishes her orientation, because when I look up at her, she is smiling, too.

Soon, we sit in her car, laugh and weep, and thank God for Gilda Radner and Gilda’s Club. To me, this is what Valentine’s is really about.

* * *

Gilda sings "Honey Touch Me"

Gilda sings “Honey, Touch Me”

It’s Wednesday night. Valentine’s Day is just a few hours away, and I’m sitting back in Texas. Today my friend returned to Gilda’s Club for her first support meeting. She met a woman who has the same kind of cancer as she, same stage 4 as she. But this woman has been pronounced cancer free. When my friend told me this, I slipped and said, “That sounds hopeful.” Then I immediately apologized. But today, she said I could use that word — hope. That right there gives me hope.

Thank you, Gilda’s Club. You’ve given me the best Valentine’s I could ever hope for. And I hope you, my friends, have an equally beautiful Valentine’s.

Suzy Spencer is a New York Times best-selling author and journalist.
  1. Carol Reply
    I heard you on dudley and bob this morning. I didn't think I'd be writing you today to thank you for your beautiful words about Gilda's Club. We can "hope" together. And we don't have to tell your friend. Thank you.
  2. Suzy Reply
    Thank you, Carol. You make me smile.
  3. Elisabeth Glynn Reply
    Suzy, what a lovely article. I am employee of Gilda's Club South Florida and am honored to be a part of this team. In the time that I've been with this amazing nonprofit organization, I've seen what a tremendous impact it has on people going through their cancer journey. You truly can find hope here. Thank you for accurately describing who we are and what we do!
    • Suzy Reply
      Thank you, Elisabeth, for being there for my friend and me. Next time I'm there, I want to go to one of the friends and family networking meetings.
  4. Larry Reply
    Thanks for sharing. Your friend needs to know that over on the right side of the charts for life expectancy percentages are those for survivors five and ten years and more out. She needs to count on being among those in those columns. I guess that constitutes hope. My first wife felt from the very beginning that she was doomed. And that for me was the most difficult of things to deal with. I was the one who put hope into the positive statistics. You're being a very good friend.
  5. Scott Presnall Reply
    I think hope is what kept Jimmie Lou going when she battled breast cancer. Even until her last day with us, she had hope. I'm sorry that your friend has to face the C-monster, but she a great friend like you and a comfortable place like Gilda's to lean on. All those things matter.
  6. Angela Reply
    Nothing is better than love in all its' forms and flavors. Laughter is love expressed through sound and motion. The peals and cackles and giggles. The jiggling body as waves of laughter pour forth. The snap and spark of hope flaring with each chuckle that bursts out and floods the universe with the sound of love made manifest: laughter. Sending you and your friend sound waves of love as I giggle at my memories of Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Love...oops I meant, love, laugh.
    • Suzy Reply
      Angela, you have got to start writing your own blog. You are so great.
  7. Angela Reply
    Maybe I will start my own blog. But I do have such a blast riding on your blogging coat tails? Lol.
  8. SUSAN Reply
    What a beautiful article about your friend, her illness, an amazing place called Gilda's Club that I had never heard about, and the love you have for your friend. You're right in saying that Valentine's Day is all about "LOVE" in any form, not just sex and romance. I, too, spent that day with two of my best girlfriends. I went to dinner with one, and I visited the other who had just fallen and had severely broken her foot and had been in the hospital for over a week with complications. It didn't matter to me that day that I did not have a BF or lover. I had my 2 best friends. And I remember Gilda Radnar very well on SNL. I read her autobiography years ago about her discovering and fighting her cancer and all she went through. I highly recommentd anyone to read it. Thank-you for this blog on Gilda's Club. I was truly in awe to know there was such a place and that she was being remembered in such an honorable way.

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