When Lisa Rayford was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1993, her kids, Tyrone and Lisa Marie, now 14 and 12, didn’t have peers who understood what they were experiencing. But five years ago, they became members of Gilda’s Club Chicago—a free community center for men, women and children whose lives are affected by cancer—and all that changed.
"Before we went there, we didn’t have kids to talk to who were going through the same thing," says Lisa Marie who, along with her brother, enrolled in many free support groups and events.
Now, the center has even more information and resources for families, with the addition of the Emily Dorfman Resource Center, which opened Oct. 1. Unlike Gilda’s Club, there is no need to make an appointment before stopping by to use the resource center. It is open Monday through Saturday to anyone.
The resource center is the work of the Emily Dorfman Foundation. The Northbrook-based organization was founded by Steve and Beth Dorfman, whose daughter, Emily, died at age 3 from an inoperable brain tumor. The foundation has set up similar resource centers in hospitals—including one at Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge—but this is the first such center in a non-hospital setting.
"Rather than putting the resource center at every children’s hospital, we wanted something more central," says Steve Dorfman.
Dorfman approached Gilda’s Club Chicago with the idea for the center after reading about the club’s programs for kids. He is thrilled with the end result.
"[The club has] given enough space to make it very usable. For us, that’s the key—it’s going to get used."
The computers, stuffed animals and huge library, along with "anatomy vests," are designed to give both parents and children a comfortable place to find information and emotional support as a family. The library includes medical texts as well as books that help children explore their feelings about the illness.
"The center lends itself to learning," says LauraJane Hyde, executive director of Gilda’s Club Chicago. She says she hopes medical professionals, teachers and others who work with families affected by cancer will use the resource center and that it will attract more families to the other services offered by Gilda’s Club, which already has 4,000 members in Chicago.
Lisa Marie, who has used the computers in the center, predicts "kids will like the resource center."
Gilda’s Club Chicago, 537 N. Wells St., is one of 19 Gilda’s Clubs in North America. Named and founded in memory of Saturday Night Live comedienne Gilda Radner, the first Gilda’s Club opened in New York in 1995. For more information, call (312) 464-9900 or visit www.gildasclubchicago.org.