Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gilda's Club

The girls and I had a little adventure today, a much-needed step outside of our comfort zone and into an environment that promises warmth, friendship, and support, as we travel our "cancer journey" together.  I have been wanting to check out Gilda's Club since I heard of it during my first visit to RVH in Barrie in the spring, and finally today we made it.

Gilda’s Club grew from the dream of Gilda Radner, the comedian best known for her work on television’s Saturday Night Live. As she navigated her own journey with cancer, Gilda reclaimed her gift of laughter, learned new strategies for living with cancer and gained a feeling of control when she joined with others who also had cancer. Her vision was to create a community of hope and inspiration for people with cancer and their families and friends that would be free-of-charge.

Apparently there are only two Gilda's Clubs in Canada as of yet, one in Toronto, and wowee... one in Barrie.  :-)

Today they had a new member meeting, so we had a full tour and met staff, a volunteer, and some members.  During the orientation we were welcomed to use all of the facilities, which include a yoga room, a teen room complete with books, electronics/TV, and a piano keyboard! There is a fully equipped huge art room with tables covered in paper just ready to be created upon.  
Several washrooms including one with a gorgeous shower designed for wheelchair use, and quiet lounges with comfy couches and tranquil decor, a huge community room which is like a grand beautiful bright living room, with an open concept commercial-style kitchen and dining area, fully stocked with coffee, teas, treats, and supplies/tools for cooking any friendly feast.  It's really gorgeous.

While I attended the meeting Claire and Cass had a ball in the art room exploring and relaxing. I was so happy they loved the place too, we were all a bit nervous walking in, but as soon as we were greeted by the staff we felt right at home. I got all emotional of course, I felt there was some significance to our being there.  

I am incredibly grateful for the loving support we have from family, friends, and our community, everyone is amazing, we really lack nothing.  But this place offers a little something we can't get at home, and that's an environment in which cancer isn't such a marvel or a mystery.  At Gilda's Club you can talk about it, or you don't have to.  Everyone who is there is there because they are touched by cancer, whether they are diagnosed themselves or are family members of a cancer patient, they are there to connect. It goes unsaid. 

My main priority throughout this journey is my health of course, but also that of my daughters.  They are my life, my inspiration. I want them to be okay.  They follow my lead on pretty much everything in their lives, they always have, as we have been through many ups and downs.  I feel that with Gilda's Club I can offer them a source of support that they may rely on now and in the future.  We can go there together and it be our place to learn, grow, connect, experience our cancer-related situation, and/or just plain meet people who are in the same boat as us.  

There are many programs and activities, a full calendar of events we can sign up for and enjoy; there are "Teen Scene" events and "date night" and cooking and yoga and art classes as well as support groups for various cancer stuffs. I am looking forward to meeting people or finding out more about my disease, as every case is so unique.  

It is not a medical facility or a residential Lodge-type building, but it is coordinated by the social-work side of cancer support.  I felt a weight lift off my shoulders just walking through the door of the place. 

I took a few photos, though the girls wouldn't let me post ones of them in the pic. LOL 
 Art Room:
 Teen Room:
 From their website:  

"The cancer support community at Gilda’s Club is here for you and for everyone in your life, from the moment the doctor confirms the diagnosis of cancer, through the entire journey, whatever the outcome.

Our mission is to ensure that all people impacted by any cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community. Because no cancer care plan is complete without emotional and social support, our innovative programs of  networking and support groups, education workshops and social activities are provided free of charge."

One of Claire's Paintings:

Thought I would take a moment to explain my involvement with the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, to which I usually refer in my blog as "RVH, Barrie."  Why do I go there as well as Sunnybrook?  Well.. it is because, thankfully, I was referred to both when I was first diagnosed with invasive melanoma.  

Because my family doctor is in Clarksburg, and she gave me the option of Owen Sound or Collingwood for my first mole surgery, and I chose Collingwood, all of my care has been routed in that direction.  Owen Sound patients usually go toward London's Cancer Centre, Collingwood goes toward the Big Smoke.  

I was referred to both RVH and Sunnybrook.  I have a file with a Radiation Oncologist and a Medical Oncologist at the Cancer Centre at RVH, which qualifies me for social work support and additional therapy offered at that centre.  Because my melanoma is so advanced I was also referred to Sunnybrook last April, as there are some things that RVH just can't offer.  I had a built-in "second opinion team" right from the get-go, and they have definitely served as such, to my benefit.  

Sunnybrook and RVH do work together in some cases, and provide local care when possible.  I could have had my immunotherapy at RVH had I not opted for the clinical trial offered only at Sunnybrook, and had I had radiation therapy for my melanoma post-op, I would have had the option to have it at Sunnybrook or closer to home in Barrie.  

I love the city of Barrie, have spent a decent amount of time there in the past ten years, it is my go-to "city" when the girls or I need a mall fix or a rock concert.  When we moved back to Meaford almost ten years ago, it almost didn't happen as we were apartment-hunting in Barrie.  Funny how things work out, I wouldn't change my move to Meaford, but I am also very comfortable travelling around Barrie and I think it will be a happy medium country-city for the girls as they grow.  We hope to build on our many fond memories there, and I feel that Gilda's Club will be an integral part of that. 

There is no pressure to go there nor any type of special commitment required, we can just go there when we feel like it.  If I am feeling up to a trip or feel up to fitting it in between medical appointments, I can go there for additional support. Or the girls can go there while I am at an appointment at RVH (it's right beside).   

It is tough finding emotional/psychological support in the cancer field around here; CCAC provides some support but it is limited, so I feel it is important to reach out to all avenues possible.  Thank you RVH for your social work, and for the referral to Gilda's Club!

Article & Photos © Natalie Richardson 2015

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