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Gilda’s Club Louisville Brings Its Mission To Southern Indiana

doorBy 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

marriage.

Cancer survivor Alan Hecht and his wife Jackie sign one of Gilda’s Club’s signature red doors.

Cancer survivor Alan Hecht and his wife
Jackie sign one of Gilda’s Club’s signature
red doors.

“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.

Leavenworth residents Alan and Jackie Hecht are grateful for Gilda’s Club Louisville, which is now offering support groups in Southern Indiana.

Leavenworth residents Alan and Jackie
Hecht are grateful for Gilda’s Club
Louisville, which is now offering support
groups in Southern Indiana.

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

for them.”

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

help.

“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

Against Cancer.”

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

darn good.”

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.”