Throughout her life, Efrat Livny has enjoyed solo careers as a biotechnology information specialist, an artist, and a bodyworker to name a few. But it’s the collective energy of individuals coming together, sharing their unique gifts, and pooling their diverse strengths to make a positive difference, that fuels her spirit. It was that energy and vision that, as part of her own cancer journey, propelled her to gather people who wanted to create new resources and experiences for those touched by cancer in our community.

When she received her diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer in February 2001, Efrat knew that medically speaking, she was lucky to live in a city that is home to some of the best and most comprehensive cancer care available. But she quickly realized that something was sorely missing. “Everybody was interested in the disease, but not in the person having the disease.” Her emotional needs and the need for connection with others on the cancer path remained unacknowledged and unmet. Additionally, no place offered family members and friends who supported her on this path the care and support they needed and deserved.

After completing her cancer treatments, Efrat was invited by her old college friend Linda, with whom she shared these challenges, to come to Detroit and visit Gilda’s Club. “It was love at first sight!” Efrat exclaims. “I walked through the doors of this beautiful old building in a residential neighborhood, bells started ringing in my head. 20 minutes later, I just knew. I told myself, ‘When I come back home, there will be a Gilda’s Club in Madison.’”

What drew Efrat to Gilda’s Club was a focus on the whole person, on supporting family and friends, and on building community. “There was no brushing away of the seriousness and the difficulties, but there was also so much levity. There was just this feeling of, you’re not carrying this as a burden and you are not alone.”

When Efrat returned home, her friend Joy introduced her to Pat Anderson, who was also interested in bringing this kind of support to Madison. Pat joined her as a fellow founding member. “We held the place for this new idea, and then slowly, different people found us.”

The group of Early Founders who set out to make the dream of Gilda’s Club Madison a reality had a steep learning curve and needed to address many obstacles. But they persisted.

Gilda’s Early Founders. From left to right: Linda Hanson, Joe Cernillia, Pat Anderson, Cindy Alvarez, Barry Alvarez, Efrat Livny, Peg Lucas, Amy Nickles, Freya Reeves.

Efrat, now a “Cancer Graduate” as she’s called herself for over 22 years, still feels the immense accomplishment that the Club’s creation and lasting success represent. She has accompanied friends and family members through the red door and has participated in events and workshops over the years. She’s shared her expertise in cancer massage and has brought other healers and complementary medicine providers to teach members about whole-person care through many supportive modalities.  

Since the founding of Gilda’s Club Madison, Efrat has seeded and started other projects including a unique community space to foster creativity and well-being, as well as an organization that supports refugees. She hopes that the Gilda’s Club story reminds and inspires all of us to see “opportunities that, sometimes, come through a painful door, yet allow us to see our human journey and attend to it together.”

Written by Maggie Thorison and Efrat Livny.

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