Gilda’s Club Kansas City wants a world where no one faces cancer alone.
Story by Amelia Arvesen
At the top of cancer survivor Kathy Sudeikis’s bookshelf there is a hardcover book of compiled blog entries and comments she received during her two-year journey with cancer. Other than showing it to friends, she hasn’t opened it alone since the first read.
“I really felt like the book closed the chapter for me,” Sudeikis says, adding, “It makes me cry.”
Sudeikis, of Overland Park, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in February 2006, and within seven days started the first of 45 days of chemotherapy. Though never seriously ill, Sudeikis still had questions, being the first in her family to have cancer.
“I even made the mistake of Googling cancer,” she says, smiling and shaking her head.
During treatment, Sudeikis longed for somewhere to turn where people understood what it was like to lose their hair and feel overwhelmingly emotional, but Gilda’s Club Kansas City (GCKC) wasn’t yet established in Kansas City. A nonprofit cancer support organization offering professional programs and support at no cost to members, GCKC started in New York, New York, in 1995 to honor the legacy of Gilda Radner, the Saturday Night Live comedian who died in 1989 from ovarian cancer. Radner’s husband, Gene Wilder, and cancer therapist, Joanna Bull, founded the organization after her death, spurring 46 other national chapters.
GCKC welcomed the first official members through its signature red doors in an intimate, homelike setting off the Country Club Plaza in 2011, and participation continues to grow.
“But we’re still one of the best-kept secrets in the city,” Sudeikis says, “and it’s too bad because we have so much to offer people with cancer and their family and friends—everyone is impacted.”
When dealing with her disease, Sudeikis found a few resources online such as “Seven questions to ask your doctor” and the blogging website. But encouragement came from her big family (including husband Dan, famous son Jason Sudeikis and brother, actor George Wendt) and the professional travel community she knew from serving as CEO and chairman of the board for the American Society of Travel Agents.
Sudeikis, celebrating seven years cancer-free, embarked on a new chapter of life years ago when she became involved with GCKC and joined the organization’s board.
Annual fundraisers such as Golf Fore Gilda, a friendly competition on the putting green, and Giggle With Gilda, a spring comedy night, help build awareness for GCKC. Sudeikis’s son, known for his comedic roles on SNL and in the movies, headlined Giggle several times, putting the popular event on the map.
Angela Lawrence, executive director of GCKC, notes the high level of support GCKC members encounter at the clubhouse.
“Our goal is always that our members leave in a better place than they came,” Lawrence says. “Being supported by people who understand helps, whether it’s through support groups, individual meetings and events such as Giggle, where the emphasis is on humor.”
GCKC has touched more than 1,350 people through more than 5,600 unique program visits since its inception in Kansas City. Members and family and friends choose from a schedule of programs such as lectures, workshops, social events and weekly wellness groups.
“At Gilda’s Club Kansas City, you have this backup nation that will be there forever,” Sudeikis says.
Gilda’s Club Kansas City (GCKC) hosts the sixth annual Giggle With Gilda 7:30 p.m. May 2 at Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City, a night of pure silliness featuring comedian Tom Papa, music from Lonnie McFadden and magic by Todd Lamanske. The dose of laughter aligns with Gilda Radner’s vision to bring the cancer community together so that no one faces cancer alone. Proceeds support GCKC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a family-like community and opportunities for people in all stages of cancer.
And listen for GCKC board member, supporter and cancer survivor Kathy Sudeikis in the audience. Laughter is something that comes naturally to her—and hers is infectious.