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Absegami High School's Gilda's Club Helps Students Cope With Cancer

Gilda's Club NoogieFest will be held Oct. 26.

Cancer knows no boundaries.

It doesn't discriminate, nor does it say how families affected by it deal with their loved ones' diagnosis or prognosis.That's where Gilda's Club comes in to help.

Gilda's Club, which began in 1986, was so named for actress and comedienne Gilda Radnor, who had ovarian cancer. According to the Gilda's Club South, Radnor believed that all people with cancer and their families and friends should have free access to social and emotional support.

After she died in 1989, her husband, and fellow funny man, Gene Wilder, vowed to make her vision a reality. He, along with Joanna Bull, Gilda’s psychotherapist, teamed up with family and friends to create a network of “Gilda’s Clubs.” The first club opened in New York City in June, 1995.

The local chapter, which operates at 700 New Road in Linwood, opened in January, 2003 and since its inception, has offered the community a variety of supportive and educational programs and activities for all ages.

One of its more popular programs is Noogieland, a program aimed at children. A Halloween-themed party called NoogieFest allows children to get together and forget for awhile that they or a loved one has cancer.

There will be food and other activities during the event, which will be held at Gilda's Club South Jersey's home on Friday, Oct. 26, starting at 6 p.m.

Some local schools, including Absegami, also have their own versions of Gilda's Club. Absegami High School has had the Gilda's Teen Club for 14 years, advisor Joseph Monteleone said, but he noted it did take a brief hiatus for about a year.

Having it at the school has been a blessing, according to Absegami High School Junior Amy Muskett and Senior Helen Snelgove.

It allows them to talk to other students who are going through or have gone through what they're currently going through. Muskett lost her mother to cancer, and Snelgove lost her dad.

Nonetheless, the two young women have indicated that too often, other students have come up to either of them and ask "What's wrong?" "Are you okay?" "Why are you crying?" if they happen to see one of them suddenly -- and unexpectedly --burst in tears. Snelgove and Muskett each indicated that students affected by cancer -- their own or a loved one's -- would already know the answers.

The student(s) would also be given their space, if needed.Snelgove and Muskett have also indicated that being involved with Gilda's Teen Club at Absegami has allowed them to interact with members of Gilda's Club South Jersey who they've described as a tremendous help.

Gilda's Club South Jersey's staff has always been there to provide support to the girls and the other members of the school's group whenever it's needed, they said. In return, the students have helped out with some of the projects that the organization has provided, including the upcoming NoogieFest.

Additionally, even though Gilda's Club is typically thought of as an organization for those affected by cancer, Snelgove and Muskett, along with their advisor, said that it's also open for other students who have lost a loved one.

"If you're affected by death in any way, you need to talk about it," Snelgove said, noting that it's often easier talking to a peer or a stranger than to someone within your own family.

Monteleone said the school's Gilda's Teen Club is open to any student who needs assistance. It isn't restricted to just those students affected by cancer.

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