Gilda's Club Heals Cancer One Family at a Time

Gilda's Club offers its support to anyone in the community that is living with cancer.

Tremaine Hawthorne is a bright sixth grader with dreams of being a soccer player or a doctor, but over the past two years the 12-year-old boy's mind has been preoccupied with more than just making friends and doing his homework.

In 2009, Tremaine’s mother, Janice Lewis, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to a children's support group at Gilda's Club, Tremaine has come to terms with his mother's illness by talking with the organization's counselors and interacting with other kids that are going through the same situation.

"(Tremaine) doesn't seem to have as many worries as he did before," Lewis said.

A recent report shows three out of every four families will help care for a family member with cancer. Luckily, Tremaine and Janice didn't have to go through that experience alone, and Gilda's Club provided the support they needed to pick up where they left off.

Open to Milwaukee since May of 2004, Gilda’s Club is a non-profit organization that offers support for anyone living with cancer. After the Shorewood clubhouse closed in August 2010, the organization has relocated to the in Whitefish Bay.

Thanks to a donation from Brown Deer businessman Stanley Kass, whose wife, Lee, died of cancer last year, Gilda’s Club now provides a free social and emotional support program for everyone living with or knows someone that lives with cancer. These programs include, but not limited to, psychological services, financial guidance, social connections, educational seminars, support groups, resources and referrals.  

The mission is to reduce isolation that cancer may cause and embrace community support. That’s why in 2011, Gilda’s Club began a new outreach model by bringing support directly to the people. Now Gilda’s program can be found in schools, local businesses, community centers, and places of worship throughout the Greater Milwaukee.  

“We all know that for every person diagnosed with cancer, countless family members and friends are touched," Executive Director Trish Haudricourt said. "By reaching out to individuals in various communities, we reduce the number of people facing cancer alone.

“Members have said that doctors may have treated me, but Gilda’s Club has healed me."

After learning about Gilda's Club through a nurse at Froedtert hospital, Janice has learned more about cancer and has even met one of her best friends through the organization.

"The breast cancer made me a stronger person than I ever thought I was," she said.

One program, known as Kid Support, offers support for children such as Tremaine who have a loved one with cancer. Here, children from ages 4 to 12 can take part in a six-week support session and explore issues, feelings, and coping skills needed when experiencing such life changing events.

Tremaine said the program allowed him to learn more about cancer, while also interacting with other kids through playing games and drawing.

This year, Kids Support is launching its first week-long day camp program at the JCC's Rainbow Day Camp in Fredonia, Wisconsin. The camp, held from June 27 through July 1, will brings kids together for swimming, nature expeditions, arts and crafts, and a myriad of other activities.

With the help of Kid Support, Tremaine can enjoy a safe, stress-free environment to address all of the unanswered questions that any child may have about cancer. In fact, Tremaine has attended three sessions of Kid Support and is now considered a mentor to the new oncoming children.

When asked what he hopes for in the future, his answer was simple.

“I am not looking too far into the future," he said. "Everything is going great right now.”

To donate, volunteer or partner with Gilda’s Club, visit the organization's website.


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