As part of an ongoing series featuring V-Soft Golf Scramble beneficiary Gilda's Club Kentuckiana, we're showcasing experiences of people impacted by the charity making such a difference in our community.
Ann Lustgarten was a school teacher for 25 years before retiring in 2013. Originally hailing from New Jersey, Ann and her husband Richard moved to New Albany, Indiana in September 2017 to be closer to her daughter and granddaughter. Ann was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in September 2018, but Ann's support system was still in New Jersey so she did some research and reached out to Gilda's Club Kentuckiana.
"I was diagnosed in late September and started treatments in November," said Ann. "In January, my husband and I searched out Gilda's Club. We were aware of Gilda's Club in New Jersey, we are of the Gilda Radner generation of SNL. We both fully believe humor can get you through anything!"
Richard was placed in a support group for caregivers and Ann was placed in a support group for people fighting cancer.
"It was amazing from the start and so positive. We would always arrive to a smile, hug, a 'how are you doing?',” said Ann. “The place provided a humorous anchor, some people in my group were facing devastating news but you’d see them doubled over with laughter. We always walked out of there a little lighter."
During her journey, Ann decided against wearing a headscarf or wig when she lost her hair from chemotherapy. It was always a conversation starter and while she was participating with Gilda's some members told her she gave them the courage to go wigless too.
That's what happens at the Gilda's Club. People with cancer come together and share their experiences. There are tons of different journeys: people with crazy wigs, some no wigs at all, oxygen masks, wheelchairs and everyone is all there supporting each other and most importantly: laughing.
"I can share things there that I can't share with even my girlfriends... you get to a point during treatment where you think you're just boring everyone with what you're going through but when you're at the club everyone is asking 'what kind of cancer do you have?', 'how did your MRI go?'. It's always a warm welcome."
Ann attributes Gilda's Club for helping her daughter too.
"I didn't have to lay it all on her. I had somewhere I could talk, and people would listen."
Ann's husband also got a lot out of the club.
"My husband is not a 'kumbaya' kind of person. He's a straightforward attorney. He's the last person in the world who would go to something like this, but he actually loves going."
Ann said her husband felt reassured that other caregivers were struggling with the same things he was: watching someone you love stressed and uncomfortable, and the feelings of hopelessness.
"My husband is wonderfully patient; he did everything. We've been married for 49 years and I never saw that side of him before. He was so gentle."
She recalled one of her fondest memories at Gilda's Club was a Valentine's Day dinner for couples. Each couple had their own room where a romantic dinner table full of flowers was setup and a lovely dinner was served. Afterwards, the couples joined together to listen and dance to each couples' favorite songs.
"It was really nice to be special but the thing that struck my husband and me the most was, we went into this whole journey thinking I would beat the cancer," Ann said through tears. "We were just thinking of all the people that this could be their last Valentine's Day, and what a great memory it was. It has made us realize how lucky we are."
Ann regularly recommends the club whenever she can and says she's thankful for what she’s learned.
"They teach you to put off the negativity as much as you can. Smile and laugh. Live for today, enjoy what you can, find those things that make you happy."
Ann went in her for her CAT Scan in April and found out her cancer is in remission. Everyone at V-Soft would like to congratulate Ann and her family on a hard-fought battle and thank her for sharing her story.
If you would like to get involved in the V-Soft Cares Golf Scramble by sponsoring, donating, or volunteering please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.