"I'd much rather be a woman than a man. Women can cry, they can wear cute clothes and they're the first to be rescued off sinking ships."
– Gilda Radner
Comedienne extraordinaire, Gilda Radner, joked her way into our hearts through her larger than life, goofy characters on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The actress later went on to win an Emmy in 1978 for her work thanks to her Baba Wawa spoof on the legendary Barbara Walters and the annoying anchorwomen Roseanne Roseannadana. Radner, one of the show’s original cast mates, was best known for making us all laugh each and every Saturday night. But what continues to live on because of the actress is her national cancer support group created in her name. Ovarian cancer took Radner's life in 1989 and afterwards, her friends and family started Gilda's Club in 1991 on the East Coast to honor her legacy. According to the club’s website, the name was inspired by something Radner herself said after her diagnosis: "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to."
Now 23 years later, the Madison-area chapter of Gilda’s Club planned to change its name due to the fact that many do not even know who the actress was. According to the Associated Press, Lannia Syren Stenz, the Madison-area club's executive director, said her organization decided to change its name to Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin because of this.
"We are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis," Stenz told the Wisconsin State Journal. "We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there's not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors."
While some of the chapters were quick to change their names, other organizations were holding their ground on keeping the Gilda's Club namesake. LauraJane Hyde, who runs the Chicago chapter, was reported as saying her group has spent 15 years teaching people that Radner's name was synonymous with cancer support.
"A lot of people feel very passionately about the name," she said. "We will lose donations if we change it."
Radner’s fans were outraged at Stenz’s remarks about changing the club’s and believe they were a complete insult to her memory.
"The only educating you're doing is teaching kids that when they die from cancer, their name will be erased from history in 20 years because the next generation doesn't know who they are. Way to give them hope!" wrote Mark Warneke, 44, a full-time college student in Arlington, Tex. on the club’s Facebook page and documented by the Associated Press.
At this moment in time, there are 56 chapters around the world delivering $40 million a year in free care to about 1 million cancer patients and their families, executive vice president of the national group, Linda House said to the Associated Press. Of those 56 chapters, 20 are still known as Gilda's Club, while three have changed to Wellness Community and the 23 remaining are Cancer Support Community.