Gilda Answers is a new letter series which seeks to provide answers to common questions and to dispel myths about Gilda's Club Westchester.
Challenging the Myths of Gilda's Club and Men
Imagine that you've just joined our staff at Gilda's Club Westchester. It's Friday afternoon, and you're heading home after your first week. You bask in the satisfaction that comes from time spent doing something that really matters. You smile as you recall the joke a new member told you, and make a note to repeat it at the next staff meeting. You feel a tug at your heart as you brainstorm a new idea for Noogieland, which supports the youngest and most vulnerable in our community.
Yet, something seems to be missing at this wonderful new job. And then it hits you. Where are the men?
Well, we at GCW have been pondering this issue for years. Despite a variety of outreach programs, the majority of our members are women. Yet, we know that men facing cancer need the same emotional and social support that women and children do. Unfortunately, reaching out in this manner seems to be on the same gene as asking for directions - yes, there are some men who willingly do it, but many need convincing.
So, we decided to come at this issue directly by talking to men who have greatly benefited from our Program. We got great feedback: why they're here and, most importantly, why they think other men aren't. Most of the latter reasons are based on misconceptions as to what GCW is all about. The purpose of this article is to dispel those myths and encourage more men to take advantage of our valuable Program.
The two men quoted here, Larry and Bob, came to GCW from different perspectives. Larry, who is in his mid-60s, is a support person for his wife who has been living with liver cancer for the last 2 years. Bob, age 40, is in remission from his own cancer which was first diagnosed last year.
Myth #1 - "Gilda's Club is only for women with breast and/or ovarian cancer."
There is so much wrong with this statement that it's easier to start with what's right. Yes, Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, was the inspiration for Gilda's Club; the legacy of her laughter and indomitable spirit will always motivate what we do every day.
Now, for everything that's wrong with this statement. GCW is not just for women with a particular type of cancer. We support every individual living with any type of cancer: male or female, young or old, single or married, child or adult...well, you get the idea. Our members have faced virtually every type of cancer. And when we say facing cancer, that doesn't mean that everyone who attends a GCW activity is the one with a cancer diagnosis. Far from it. Many of our activities support families and friends of those diagnosed -- from spouses and partners, to children with a parent living with cancer. Simply put, if you're human and dealing with cancer in any way, you'll fit right in at Gilda's Club.
Myth #2 - "Men don't need support dealing with cancer - we know how to tough things out." This is like deciding to tough out a root canal instead of using anesthesia. Sure, you could, but why would anyone choose to suffer unnecessarily? And dealing with cancer alone can make root canal look like spring break in Florida. Bob said it best, "the worst thing to do when facing cancer is to be an island. I could never imagine doing this alone." Cancer is overwhelming: intellectually, emotionally and socially. Nearly everyone, even the strongest among us, benefit greatly from sharing that burden with people who really understand what you're going through.
The great thing about GCW is that our experts come in so many different packages. It might be an oncology nurse from a lecture who recommends an herbal remedy to relieve a medication's side effects. But it could just as easily be another GCW member who knows exactly how hard it is to be a parent of a teenager facing cancer - simply because he's one himself.
Myth #3 - "Support groups pressure people to discuss things that are too personal, even if they're not comfortable doing so." GCW understands that support means moving at a pace that each individual participant is comfortable with. Larry, a member of one of our support groups, mentioned how dynamics can change from one session to another. "Sometimes we talk about cancer stuff, sometimes we discuss other things. But the bottom line is that I'm talking with people who are going through what I'm going through. They get it." In fact, Larry mentioned that sometimes his group sessions ended before everyone had discussed everything they wanted to! But there are certainly members who are more reserved; they are never pressured to speak up and share as much or as little as they choose. Each participant is valued for his particular contribution.
Myth #4 - "I already have more information than I can handle from oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, etc. What more could I possibly learn from Gilda's Club?" There's no question that information overload is yet another symptom of cancer. GCW helps members understand and dissect this data, as well as providing specific and sometimes overlooked information via seminars, speakers and other events.
But our members also get something much more. "It's the critical information you just don't get from doctors," Larry told me emphatically. "The real life things that patients and spouses go through: personal relationships, kids, job issues - it's so valuable. Everyone who faces cancer desperately needs what Gilda's Club offers."
Because Bob was relatively young when he was diagnosed, it was important to him that, "GCW was a place that I didn't feel weird. I could talk to people who were in my shoes. Family and friends are great, but that support only goes so far. They're not going through it, and I really needed to talk to people who were."
So, guys, do any of these myths sound like the reasons you haven't explored Gilda's Club Westchester? Facing cancer is challenging enough. Don't let a bunch of old-fashioned and unfounded ideas stand in the way of having a happier and more satisfying life as you are dealing with cancer. Take that all important first step. Call us, tour our website or just walk through our welcoming red door at 80 Maple Avenue in White Plains. As the famous hockey player, Wayne Gretsky, once said, "You'll always miss 100% of the shots you don't take."