Celebrating 35 Years at the Cancer Support Community: How It All Began

March 15, 2017

Who are Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, the Benjamins, and Joanna Bull? These people are all part of the Cancer Support Community’s rich history. You may know Gilda Radner as one of the original seven (hilarious) people from “Saturday Night Live,” and you may also know that she passed away from ovarian cancer in 1989. Her late husband, Gene Wilder, was best known for his role as Willy Wonka.

In 1982, Harold and Harriet Benjamin created The Wellness Community to provide social and emotional support for cancer patients and their family and friends. This idea was fairly new for its time. The Benjamins believed in the connectivity of physical and emotional well-being, and developed The Wellness Community to tackle this area of cancer treatment. Harriet Benjamin, who was a cancer survivor herself, along with her husband Harold, pioneered the first walk-in facility in Santa Monica, California as a support network for those suffering from cancer.

Gilda Radner was one of the biggest advocates for The Wellness Community. She attended programs at the founding location in Santa Monica and believed that informing others about her experience with ovarian cancer would make a difference. Sadly, Radner passed away in 1989. A few years later, Gene Wilder and psychotherapist Joanna Bull created Gilda’s Club in her honor in New York City. The goal of this organization was to provide a network and community for people living with cancer, along with their families and friends. Joanna Bull wanted “to see that no one should ever feel alone while living with cancer.”

After the Institute of Medicine released its groundbreaking report, “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs,” The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club joined forces in 2009 to create the Cancer Support Community. Since then, the Cancer Support Community, inclusive of its Gilda’s Clubs affiliates, have continued to develop and deliver high quality, evidence based programs to help people with cancer and their loved ones.

Cancer Support Community affiliates offer support groups, educational sessions, health and wellness programs, and other types of community support around the country. We have also developed a toll free Cancer Support Helpline, where licensed counselors can provide you with support and referrals to additional local resources

Another innovative program is the Cancer Experience Registry, which is an online community for cancer patients and caregivers to share their experiences and learn about the experiences of others.

The Cancer Support Community has been redefining the cancer experience for 35 years. The legacies created by The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club live on through the Cancer Support Community, and this union created one of the largest providers of cancer support in the world. This April, CSC will highlight our 35th anniversary at our Spring Celebration Gala in New York City.