For generations of Saturday Night Live fans, Gilda Radner was an icon. She inspired Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Rosie O'Donnell, Tina Fey and many other stars. Her elastic face and vulnerability were endearing qualities that were unforgettable as she battled ovarian cancer in her fiercely funny way.
Bringing her memory to life for 1200 people in New Jersey, Alan Zweibel, who helped create some of her most memorable Saturday Night Live characters, recounted a story of her final appearance on the Gary Shandling Show. After an absence of almost seven years from television, her host opened with a question on her absence from the entertainment world, and she responds, "I had cancer, what's your excuse?" bringing the audience in the studio to cheer her through their tears. Alan recalls how footage of that segment still shows a wobbly movement as the camera comes in for her close-up. It was caused by the cameraman's unsteady hands as he struggled to contain his tears.
Gilda's Club was started by her therapist, Joanna Bull, urged by Gene Wilder and theater critic, Joel Siegel, to create a place where anyone with cancer can find social and emotional support so no one would ever have to face cancer alone.
Today, Gilda's Club has a network of over 50 clubhouses offering life enhancing laughter and companionship to families living with cancer. Kids get together with other kids in Noogieland, learning how to cook, cope with cancer or share their fears about family members going through a cancer experience. Adults have art classes, yoga, cooking lessons, mind-body workshops, while joining support groups, parenting network sessions, bereavement groups and learning how to deal with cancer. All for free!
As a volunteer who helped found Gilda's Club in Northern New Jersey, I was transformed by the experience of working with and for people living with cancer.
It was not depressing, it was inspiring! To be a part of making people's lives better, people who took life one day at a time, learning to live despite a terminal diagnosis - this taught me how life should be lived. The Gilda's Club philosophy of Living Fully, regardless of the diagnosis, is one that we can apply to our own life. According to the Buddha: "The only thing we really have is now-ness, is Now."
When I became Chair of Gilda's Club Worldwide, I was inspired by stories of members who learned how friends and family create a web of support when someone is diagnosed, how spouses made the last year of their partner's life magical by fulfilling lifelong dreams. At Gilda's Clubs, there is a sense of human connection that strengthens our ability to communicate love, to find joy and pleasures in the smallest and most insignificant things, to integrate the truth of impermanence so your life is transformed.
As Gilda Radner said: "Some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity. . . ."
VIDEO CLIP: Gilda Radner on Garry Shandling's Show