In 1982, Harold and Harriet Benjamin transformed the way our culture faces cancer. Harriet, a cancer survivor herself, sought to create an organization that would provide social and emotional support to not only cancer patients, but also to families, friends, and caregivers. The Benjamins strongly encouraged psychosocial care because they believed in a strong correlation between emotional and physical well-being. Thus, the first walk-in community facility of its kind, The Wellness Community (TWC), was founded in Santa Monica, CA for those living with cancer to receive appropriate support.

One of the biggest advocates of TWC was late comedian and “SNL” cast member Gilda Radner. When diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986, Radner sought support from TWC. She called for similar support-focused organizations to be available not only on the West coast, but everywhere. Unfortunately in 1989, Gilda passed away.

Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna on SNL

In honor of Gilda’s legacy, her husband Gene Wilder, and psychotherapist Joanna Bull, along with friends and family, founded Gilda’s Club in 1991. The first local Affiliate organization, Gilda’s Club New York City, opened its iconic Red Doors in 1995. Since then, additional locations have opened worldwide.

Local History

In 2001, a dedicated group of volunteers decided to bring Gilda’s Club to Madison. Early founders Efrat Livny, Pat Anderson, Amy Nickles, Brandi Funk, Freya Reeves, and Pastor Todd McVey began to meet and move the mission forward. The group incorporated in December, 2002 as a 501(c)3, known as Madison Friends of Gilda’s. Peggy Lucas became involved and later engaged Barry and Cindy Alvarez. Click here to read more about our early founders.

In 2003 the corporation was accepted as a provisional affiliate by Gilda’s Club Worldwide, and changed its name to Gilda’s Club Madison. The journey to making Gilda’s Club Madison a reality had its challenges, including initial resistance from the then-corporate office, fundraising, and relentless paperwork. But a meeting at the Gilda’s Club Worldwide affiliate leadership conference held in New York City in May 2005 would be an uplifting turning point for the founders and a reminder that they had something worth fighting for.

In 2006, clubhouse planning picked up speed when Barry and Cindy Alvarez personally made a challenge donation and then secured a generous gift of land in Middleton from the Livesey Company. In October 2007, ground was broken on the clubhouse, and in October 2008 Gilda’s Club Madison officially opened.

Since Gilda’s Club Madison opened its doors and began programming in 2008, we have experienced rapid growth and interest in the community. The Gilda’s Club program has expanded and continues to offer free emotional support, cancer education, and healthy living activities both in-person and online.

In 2009, The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club Worldwide merged, becoming the Cancer Support Community. As a result of this union, the Cancer Support Community is now one of the largest providers of cancer support worldwide, with Gilda’s Club and Cancer Support Community affiliate locations across the country.