If you listen to my radio show weekday mornings on Lite Rock 96.9 WFPG, you've undoubtedly heard me mention events Gilda's Club South Jersey is having during the year; lunches at the Palm, cocktails by the beach, and every July, one of my favorites, the Gilda's Club South Jersey Dragon Boat Festival.

These events and other fundraising efforts help Gilda's Club South Jersey raise the close to $1M a year it takes to keep the doors open at their clubhouse in Linwood and offer a wide variety of cancer support services to members at no cost.

Gilda's Club South Jersey offers support to men, women and children with any type of cancer, as well as to cancer patients' caregivers, families and friends. They have support groups for cancer survivors, and grief counseling for loved ones who didn't survive.

Gilda's Club's "Noogieland" provides support for kids with cancer or who have family members with cancer.  Everyone is also welcome to be apart of a host of exercise and lifestyle classes like yoga, Pilates, Zumba, cooking classes and much more.  All at no charge.

A more effective way of showing you the importance of Gilda's Club South Jersey and how blessed we are to have them in our community is to hear an actual member's story.

Here's one such story.  Debbie's Gilda's Club South Jersey story.

My daughter, Christie Hess, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in the spring of 2013. I did what any mother would do, I was by her side for tests, doctor visits, and surgeries. I educated myself about breast cancer by reading books and researching online. I was determined to be her tower of strength. Then in October 2015 we found out it had spread to her bones and liver and she was now stage 4 with a poor prognosis. I fell into a deep depression. I felt so helpless. That’s when I decided to contact Gilda’s Club.

I met with one of the directors who told me about the Friends and Family support group which met every Tuesday night. I knew I could no longer support my daughter without getting help for myself. For the next year and a half I attended group meetings with people whose loved ones were going through cancer treatment. We shared what it was like for us. We talked about our fears, hopes, disappointments and victories. We talked about what cancer was doing not only to our loved one, but to us as well. We cried, we laughed, and we were there for each other.

A year ago, my 36 year old daughter lost her life to breast cancer. She left behind two little girls, ages 1 and 2. People often ask me how I am doing. I always say I’m doing ok because I have Gilda’s Club. I now attend the weekly grief group. It’s hard to put into words what that group means to me. We are like family. I can tell them anything I think or feel, and they understand. They carry me during the times when life and my grief overwhelm me.

I wish I had reached out to Gilda’s Club sooner than I did. I was afraid to ask for help at a time that I needed help the most.

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