What's In A Name? Why Rebranding Gilda's Club Matters

4 years ago

When I first read that the Madison, Wisconsin chapter of Gilda’s Club was changing its name because younger cancer patients didn’t know who Gilda Radner was, I did the logical thing. I went to Pinterest. If young people don’t know who Radner was, then certainly there wouldn’t be pages of pins. And I wouldn’t scroll through many more pins if I searched “delicious ambiguity,” that beautiful quote from her memoir. Guess what Gilda's Club of Madison? Pinterest totally knows who Gilda Radner is. Totally.

Credit Image: © Entertainment Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com

Today, Thursday, November 29, Gilda’s Club of Madison has an official ribbon cutting ceremony as they rename it the Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin. It seems a bit clinical for a place that was created in the spirit of giving cancer patients and families support outside of a hospital. Like the experience Radner found at the Wellness Center in California, the one that her husband Gene Wilder and friends wanted to recreate on the east coast (the two would eventually merge). They named it after a line in her memoir, It’s Always Something, in which she equated having cancer with "membership to an elite club I'd rather not belong to.” As of today, the club no longer exists. Not in Madison.

I am disturbed by the idea of anything named in someone’s memory having an expiration date, which I should probably get over as I live in Los Angeles. “They Paved Paradise And Put Up A Parking Lot” describes our way of life. Literally.

I was born in 1978. The year Radner won an Emmy for her work on Saturday Night Live. I didn’t see her as an original cast member on SNL, only in reruns. I remember Haunted Honeymoon, which was the last film she starred in. And the film she made just before that, Movers and Shakers, which was the last feature my grandfather directed. But he’d live another 27 years, passing away this year just before turning 91. If alive today, Radner would be just 66.

Lannia Syren Stenz, executive director of the Madison center, explained that “One of the realizations we had this year is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed, as we are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis... We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there’s not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors.”

At the flagship New York City Gilda’s Club, the Ambassador is actress Emma Stone. Stone doesn’t remember when Radner died because it was the year she was born, but when she hosted SNL in 2010, she told People magazine, “Gilda Radner was my original hero.”

I remember when Radner died. I was 11. My dad was making a film about John Belushi, and I knew who the "Not Ready For Primetime Players" were. (I just knew them better as Clark Griswold, the less fun mom on Kate and Allie, and Dr. Peter Venkman.) But I was raised on Young Frankenstein, Willy Wonka and The Producers. So, I thought of it more as the death of Wilder’s wife. I remember being sad for him.

It’s fine, normal even, when people don’t remember someone, but since when has not remembering been an acceptable reason to omit them? I think people might find it worthwhile that Gilda had people talking about ovarian cancer. That after her death, Wilder would testify before Congress about how it took 10 months for a correct diagnosis to be made. Ask why her family history of ovarian cancer wasn’t taken in to consideration. Radner’s death would lead Wilder to help create The Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai. (Cedars is located off George Burns Road at Gracie Allen Drive -- do people know who George and Gracie were?) He would also become involved with a research program in Buffalo, NY, that would be renamed the The Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. Because of these programs, work is being done around the world to search for a cure for ovarian cancer.

The more I think about it, the question becomes: Why don’t we give more attention to what her death meant for ovarian cancer research -- beyond the creation of this amazing free place for patients and families with all cancers? Did you know that it's free?

Gilda’s Club is free. As is the Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin.

Because of Gilda.

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