As the Program Director for Gilda’s Club Quad Cities for the past 14 years I have seen a lot of individuals and families come through the door.  I’ve witnessed many changes within our clubhouse and in the world of cancer support services.  One of those key changes being the merger between Gilda’s Club Worldwide and The Wellness Community in July 2009.

For most people this probably wasn’t headline news, but for our organization it was a big deal.  This united organization, called the Cancer Support Community, is now considered the largest cancer support organization in the US, with a combined 45 years of expertise.  Instead of being one of 25 affiliates were are now part of a group of over 50.

Not only did this merger bring the collective wisdom of 58 affiliates together but it brought with it an actual Research and Training Institute (RTI).  The RTI was developed as part of The Wellness Community and aims to conduct cutting-edge psychosocial, behavioral, and survivorship research to provide a seamless flow of program delivery through education and training, not only to affiliates but to all related organizations.

Gilda’s Club Quad Cities was approached by the RTI to participate in a project that would test the feasibility of screening our members for distress.  We were considered for this project because of our unique and special relationships with the local physician offices and cancer centers.  This kind of community-based research had never been done and I felt honored that the Quad Cities was recognized within our network for leading the way in providing support services for those affected by cancer.  The research project tested a particular kind of electronic based distress survey, and what we learned during the project allowed us to create an improved online distress screening program called CancerSupportSource™ (CSS).

Currently, Gilda’s Club Quad Cities one of two sites nationwide piloting this new program and have had a great response from our members with cancer that have utilized it.  A nice feature of CSS is that it can be completed either in the privacy of your own home or on-site at Gilda’s Club.  The survey contains 25 questions that target specific concerns that many cancer survivors experience.  Not only does the program ask about your concerns but it follows up each concern with ways in which we can assist you with that particular concern; by providing either online resources, written information, or having one of the staff talk with you in person.  Ultimately, our goal is to provide screening to our members, referrals to community resources as needed, and follow-up to see how helpful the information was.

Recently, a writer for the Wall Street Journal heard about CancerSupportSource™ and requested to speak to one of our members who had benefited from completing the distress screening tool. Again the Quad Cities received national recognition when the article was published in the WSJ.  You can read about our member, Cindy Dalen, and her experience here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444914904577615291424503430.html

Once the pilot project is over we will make a few changes to the program and hopefully continue to utilize CancerSupportSource™ at our affiliate in the Quad Cities with our members to help them recognize areas in their life where they need assistance.  We also plan to develop a version that can be utilized with the family members of those with cancer, while currently we are looking for funding that would allow us to convert CancerSupportSource™ into Spanish.

Gilda’s Club Quad Cities continues to lead the way in providing cutting edge cancer support to our community and across the nation.  I think Gilda Radner would be happy and I am so proud to be a part of it!

– Melissa Wright, Program Director at Gilda’s Club Quad Cities