In 1982, Harold and Harriet Benjamin transformed the way our culture faces cancer. Harriet, a cancer survivor herself, sought to create an organization that would provide social and emotional support to not only cancer patients, but also to families, friends, and caregivers. The Benjamins strongly encouraged psychosocial care because they believed in a strong correlation between emotional and physical well-being. Thus, the first walk-in community facility of its kind, The Wellness Community (TWC), was founded in Santa Monica, CA as an outlet for those suffering cancer to receive appropriate support. One of the biggest advocates of TWC was late comedian and “SNL” cast member Gilda Radner. When diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986, Radner sought support from TWC. She called for similar support-focused organizations to be available not only on the West coast, but everywhere. Unfortunately in 1989, Gilda passed away.
In honor of Gilda’s legacy, her husband Gene Wilder, and Joanna Bull, along with friends and family, founded Gilda’s Club in 1991. The first local Affiliate organization, Gilda’s Club New York City (GCNYC), opened its iconic Red Door in 1995. Since then, additional locations have opened worldwide, incorporating larger cities (e.g., Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto), smaller cities (e.g., Fort Lauderdale, Quad Cities, Hackensack, Rochester) and locations in between (e.g., Nashville, Grand Rapids, White Plains).
[Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner (Columbia Pictures Industries, 1982) shown here.]
In 2007, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs, a groundbreaking report on the importance of addressing the social and emotional needs of individuals facing cancer, rather than just their physical needs—an idea The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club Worldwide had both been implementing for many years. This eventually sparked merger discussions between the two organizations, which aimed to increase operating efficiency and reduce overall costs in order to provide greater resources and influence.
In 2009, The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club Worldwide merged, becoming a united organization under the name Cancer Support Community. CSC has remained dedicated to its mission of providing emotional support and psychosocial care for individuals impacted by cancer, including their families and friends. In addition to the clubs, the organization has developed online the Cancer Support Helpline, the Cancer Experience Registry and greatly expanded the Frankly Speaking About Cancer educational materials and radio shows. Further, CSC piloted an inaugural hospital-integrated model. Through all of these developments, CSC has worked to further expand its services so that “no one faces cancer alone”. Furthering CSC’s vision is their Research and Training Institute, which was born out of the necessity to better understand the complete needs of people with cancer and their caregivers and to improve the cancer experience. The Institute conducts cutting-edge psychosocial, behavioral, and survivorship research to gain evidence for improving cancer care. CSC’s Cancer Policy Institute is engaged in public policy and advocacy in Washington, D.C. and throughout the nation. Using the perspective of patients and grounded evidence, the Cancer Policy Institute strives to ensure that everyone has access to comprehensive care for all patients, quality as a central theme, and research as a critical priority.