The Latest From Gilda’s

A Lifeboat for the Cowans

November 18, 2015

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Joan and Chris Cowan and their family found a community of support at Gilda’s Club Twin Cities to help them navigate life with cancer. Here is their story in Chris’ words.


Have you seen the movie Titanic? If so, you may remember this scene: the captain, realizing the danger of his ship’s situation, commands his radio operator to request assistance from all nearby ships. His hope is that someone familiar with the icy seas will be able to help.

That was my hope as well when my wife Joan was diagnosed with melanoma in 2013: That someone familiar with the uncertain future we—Joan, me and our two girls—faced would be able to help us navigate what lay ahead. But unlike the ship’s captain, we didn’t know where to turn for help.

Thankfully, a colleague did: She recommended we call Gilda’s Club Twin Cities. She knew that even though Joan and I had a wide circle of supportive family and friends, it would be invaluable having others we could talk to who were going through the same thing. We needed people who were in the same boat. She was right.

A reassuring welcome
Although both Joan and I were reluctant to join a “club” or share our personal thoughts and feelings with strangers, we visited Gilda’s clubhouse on a cold, rainy day, shortly after we’d learned that Joan’s cancer had metastasized. We were really scared. It was hard for us to even talk. Thank goodness for Program Director Ali DeCamillis. She took one look at us, invited us into her office and said, “Sit back and take a deep breath.”

cowan-girls-verticalThat sentence was like a lifeboat for us. For the first time in months, we were able to exhale. What’s more, we finally felt we’d found a place where people understood us and what we were going through. Before long, we were regular members of the Gilda’s Club community: Joan went to Living with Cancer group meetings, I attended Family and Friends group meetings and our girls hung out in Noogieland.

Joan and I got the support we so desperately needed, gaining strength from other members. And the girls got what they needed most—a chance to be kids. In the process, I learned something unexpected: that the strength you get from others one day is strength you can pass on to someone else another day. Originally hesitant to speak about my experiences and fears, Gilda’s Club gave me a voice—one that can help others. That’s what I’m doing now as a member of the Living with Loss group.

Heartfelt ongoing support
When Joan died in April of this year, my girls kept asking, “When can we go back to Gilda’s Club?” At first, I told them I wasn’t ready. And I wasn’t. But I knew Gilda’s was there for us and that provided comfort. Eventually, we did return…and the girls are once again hanging out in Noogieland.

Now, when I walk down the hall of the clubhouse, I make a special point of talking to others. Some, like me, are dealing with recent loss. Others are struggling to come to terms with their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of someone they care about. Some are celebrating their remission. Regardless, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities is our lifeboat.
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On behalf of Joan, me and our daughters, Whitney and Mackenzie, thank you for making Gilda’s Club Twin Cities available to us. Thanks to you, we didn’t have to face cancer alone. Please help us make sure no one else has to either by making a generous donation today.

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Chris Cowan
November 2015