By Lisa Hornung | Photos by Christian Watson
In December 2015, Alan Hecht of
Leavenworth was in his mid-60s, enjoying his life
with his wife, children and grandchildren, when he
got devastating news: He had pancreatic cancer.
He had eight rounds of chemo, Whipple surgery
(a procedure to remove the head of the pancreas,
the first part of the small intestine or duodenum,
the gallbladder and the bile duct), then eight more
rounds of chemo, then 30 rounds of radiation.
The whole process took a toll on his life and his
“We were kind of getting after each other’s
throats,” admitted Hecht.
His wife, Jackie, did some research and found
Gilda’s Club, at 633 Baxter Avenue in Louisville.
The two went and were interviewed, and they
were placed into support groups that fit for their
circumstances. Jackie was put in a group of people
whose spouses were battling cancer, and Alan was
put into a group of people with cancer.
“And you start to realize that you can talk to
people on the same level as you with no barriers,
and you go, ‘Hey you’re not so unusual after
all.’ And what spouses do from the other side is
trying to help their spouse heal as well. They just
gave us a new sense, a new direction. Helped us
understand, hey we’re not so unusual, even though
we’re fighting all the same battle.”
Gilda’s Club was founded in 1995 by comedian
and actor Gene Wilder, the widower of comedian
Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.
Wilder teamed up with Joanna Bull, Radner’s
therapist, and movie critic Joel Siegel, who later died of colorectal cancer. The Louisville location
has been open for more than 10 years, and its
demand has exceeded its capacity, said Karen
Morrison, president and CEO.
Starting next month, the club will offer support
groups at the Norton Cancer Institute’s Pat
Harrison Cancer Resource Center at 1206 Spring
St., in Jeffersonville, Morrison said.
Right now, Gilda’s Club only has about 12
percent of its members coming from Southern
Indiana. “It’s really only about a mile from here,”
Morrison said, “but we know there are a lot of
folks, whether it’s the toll or the downtown traffic
or whatever, who want to be in that community
where they’re comfortable, and so we want to
improve their access and make it comfortable
Alan and Jackie Hecht said they’re glad to see
the expansion, but they were more than willing to
cross the bridge. They drove to Gilda’s Club from
Leavenworth, Indiana, which was a bit of a haul.
“I think it’s great,” Alan Hecht said. “I hope the
people of Southern Indiana will take advantage
of the opportunity given to them to improve
their way to life. It doesn’t matter if you are in
Louisville or Southern Indiana, people are going
to have cancer.”
About a year from now, the club will move
into a new one – just one mile away from its
current site – at the corner of Ray Avenue and
Grinstead Drive, which will be bigger and have
more parking. In 2020, its opening a branch at
18th and Broadway streets, to meet the needs of
people in the West End.
The Ohio River is a perceived barrier to getting
“West Louisville is a community that is missing
a lot of resources, and so we just want to make it
convenient and accessible as possible,” Morrison
said. “It is a community that is disproportionately
impacted by cancer. The Passport Health campus
gave us an opportunity to go into a location where
we could offer basically a mini-clubhouse where
we will have two support group rooms, a small
‘Noogieland’ (for kids), a little kitchen. For those
who can’t or won’t come here, we want to make
sure they have access, and we are doing that in
collaboration with Kentucky African Americans
Gilda’s Club Louisville sees about 1,600 unique
individuals per year, with about 14,000 visits.
About seven new people living with cancer come
through its red doors every week, Morrison said.
The club hosts support groups, cooking classes,
gentle yoga classes, kids’ camps and activities,
social events and more.
Now 69, Alan Hecht’s cancer has been in
remission for more than a year. He knows he’s
very lucky because pancreatic cancer is a killer.
The five-year survival rate is only 9 percent.
When he gets his regular blood tests, the lab
techs and nurses ask Hecht what kind of cancer
he had. When he tells them “pancreatic,” they say,
“You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re a miracle!”
He attributes his positive attitude during his
treatment to Gilda’s Club.
Hechgt still struggles with the toll the treatments
have taken on his body. “Yes, it is a pain in the rear
end, but it is a small price to pay,” he admitted.
“I get to enjoy my wife. I get to enjoy my family.
I get to enjoy my eight grand kids, so life’s pretty
And he’s on a new mission now: “I made a
promise that I was going to try to see if I could
find the one dollar that opens the door to cure
this disease,” Hecht said. In 2016, he bought a new
“neon blue” Corvette, and he and his wife travel
the country telling people his story.
And he often asks people to donate one dollar
to cancer research in their communities.
Thanks to Gilda Radner’s comedy, Gilda’s Club
is not just a place for tears, though there are still
people who don’t win the battle, Morrison said. The
club adheres to the idea that living with cancer is
not a choice, but how you live with it is, “with joy,
with style, with laughter, with purpose, that’s what
Gilda’s Club is really all about. Gilda Radner said,
‘Cancer is the most unfunny thing I’ve experienced,
but sometimes laughter beats the alternative,’ so
there’s a lot of laughter here.”