"Gilda's Club was a part of the care of Christine, not just a place to go to escape or hang out with others. I think it was very much an integral part of her care," says Tim Webber, who first came to Gilda's Club Seattle three years ago with his wife Christine Shannon. The couple had just learned that Christine's breast cancer had metastasized.
"The number one thing we liked about Gilda's Club was there's no overriding agenda here," Tim says, noting that the Club's 'Come as you are' philosophy allows people to be "immediately comfortable" and talk frankly with each other.
Over the next two years, Gilda's Club would become a very important part of Christine?s treatment.
The couple participated in a Breast Cancer Networking Group where members came together to share information and support each other. "Obviously she was a receiver from the other group members, but also I think she became a role model to a great degree," Tim says, telling how Christine, whose career included teaching, practicing law and working as a business executive, encouraged other women to become stronger advocates for their own care.
Although Tim emphasizes that every couple's cancer experience is different, for Christine, this group played an important part on her journey. "It had a lot to do with her personal health and longevity," he says. "I think it had a direct impact on her personal well-being and that speaks to the quality of atmosphere here," Tim says.
For Tim and Christine, the cancer experience led to a highly intensified relationship. "Once you go through that intensity of living your priorities become a lot more simple in general because the other stuff just doesn't cut it anymore,' he says. Along with the breast cancer group, at Gilda's Club Christine participated in guided imagery and yoga. "I think that the quality of Christine's life, the quality of her attitude towards the world, the quality of her ability to help others was enabled by her participation here," Tim says.
"Gilda?s Club, if properly utilized, is directly involved in the treatment of cancer," he says. "I think it is umbillically linked with health and wellbeing." When Christine died last year, Tim continued coming to Gilda's Club, participating in the ph&d Alumni Group for people who have lost someone to cancer. "I'm here because I'm hoping that I can give something back to others who are going through an experience I've gone through," he says.
As a man he?s something of a rarity in the Clubhouse. Currently 25% of our members are men, a number that is higher than most other Gilda's Clubs. Tim feels this low percentage reflects how many men react to cancer in a spouse or partner in general. "I think in this society men are really good at the physical muscle, but we're not good ? anthropologically speaking ? when we can't just go out and kill the deer and make it right," he says, noting that it takes a lot of strength to support someone who is living with cancer. "It takes real courage to do this as a couple. Do we all have this? Of course we do," he says.
In the end, it was a group of men who helped him to get through Christine's illness. At the time of her metastasis he chose six male friends to take care of him, selecting them because they were good at working under fire, comfortable with uncertainty and had big hearts. It was a very male strategy, he explains ? using very male terms ? they "kept me on the field."
"I think for me it made all the difference in the world in being able to help Christine," he says.
Did You Know?
Who founded Gilda's Club?
Gilda's Club was founded in memory of Gilda Radner by her husband, Gene Wilder, her psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, and her friends.
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