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Time to Think Pink

Posted Oct 8, 2013


It’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Time to think pink.

Like the rest of the NFL, the Seahawks are on board to promote the occasion and will recognize it in a variety of ways.

Here’s an important one: 10% of pink merchandise sales at team Pro Shop locations—at CenturyLink Field and in downtown Seattle at 4th Avenue and Pike Street—during October will be donated to the Seattle chapter of Gilda’s Club, a nonprofit community cancer support group that opens its famously bright red doors to anyone touched by the disease.

SEAHAWKS AND BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

All October: 10% of pink merchandise at team Pro Shop locations will be donated to the Seattle chapter of Gilda's Club, a nonprofit community cancer support group. Pro Shop locations: CenturyLink Field; downtown Seattle at 4th Avenue and Pike Street.

All October: The CenturyLink Field arch lights will glow pink Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Saturday (Oct. 12): The Seahawks Women's Association will host a Football 101/201 Clinic with proceeds benefitting the local chapter of Gilda's Club. 

Sunday (Oct. 13), Gameday, Tennessee Titans at Seahawks: The local chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA) will distribute 30,000 pink ribbons to fans as they enter CenturyLink Field.  Representatives from the ZTA, the Puget Sound affiliate of Susan G. Komen and the American Red Cross will have booths in Touchdown City in the CenturyLink Exhibition Hall to share information on breast cancer and raise awareness. During the game the Sea Gals will use neon pink pom-poms, wear neon pink boots and honor local survivors during a halftime celebration featuring local high school dance teams. The two video boards will feature pink ribbons on the bottom of the screen. On the field fans will see pink ribbon stencils, pink goal post padding, pink sideline caps for coaches and sideline personnel, and pink caps and pins for game officials. Some players will wear pink shoes, pin cleats, wristbands, towels, gloves, chin straps, helmet decals, captains' patches. A pink coin will even be used for the pregame coin toss. The purpose for all this pink symbolism? To raise awareness on the importance of annual screenings, especially for women over the age of 40. 

Great news, says Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate, who since his 2010 rookie season has been an active supporter of Gilda’s Club in Seattle, where people and family members coping with cancer’s impact are welcomed with free social support and education.

“It’s a really neat place,” says Tate. “They have a ton of activities for families. I’ve hosted some events there, helped make ice cream there. Just to see people smiling and happy, considering what they’re going through, it touches my heart.”

Tate understands the huge value of access to a broad support system when cancer barges into a family’s rhythm of life. His grandmother was diagnosed leukemia at age 62 and died when he was just 8.

“She had her children and grandchildren around her,” he says. “She enjoyed the last of her life with them. But she didn’t have another family or group to turn to for support.

“It’s tough to go through something like that, not only the person with cancer but the people surrounding them—it’s draining,” Tate says. “When I learned about Gilda’s Club, it felt like a place where I could make a difference in at least one person’s life.”

Named after comedian Gilda Radner, an original Saturday Night Live cast member who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, the Gilda’s Club movement was started by Radner’s husband, actor Gene Wilder. It progressively spread nationwide. Anna Gottlieb, who once worked for then-Delaware senator Joe Biden, opened Gilda’s Club of Seattle on Capitol Hill in 2001.

What motivated Gottlieb, who worked for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center after she moved to Seattle, to take on such a task?

“My mother had cancer when I was young,” she recalls. “There were just two of us girls, and my father would not talk about it. No one would. Everybody around us whispered and cried, and I always remembered thinking, ‘There has to be a better way.’

“All I wanted to do was meet other kids,” she says. “You feel very isolated when you have cancer. Even though there is so much cancer around, people feel isolated and fearful. They don’t want to talk about it at work or at school. But they want a place where they feel safer talking about it, where everyone gets it and they don’t get questioned.

“All of us, we don’t know what to say to people when we find out that they have cancer. You back away and stop talking. But these people want to live a normal life.”

She read about the movement in Parade magazine and chose to visit the original Gilda’s Club in New York City. “I went there and thought, ‘This is just perfect, because it’s family.’ I really wanted the family aspect of the nonmedical part of cancer.

“On the flight back, I thought, ‘Well, how hard could this be to start a club?’ I filed my own 501-c3 and set about thinking it was going to be easy. Instead it took four painful long years. Stubborn and stupid, I say. But we finally got it open.”

Gottlieb describes Gilda’s Club as a cancer-support community for anyone living with cancer. “Any cancer, any stage, any diagnosis—from the minute you’re diagnosed to the rest of your life,” she says. “We’re about friends and family. It’s not just the patient, it’s for everybody. We encourage people to bring their kids and grandparents and friends to come and do activities here and learn to live with cancer.”

The Seattle club, inside the bright red doors at 1400 Broadway on Capitol Hill (every Gilda’s Club features red doors as its icon), offers support groups, educational lectures and classes, from exercise and nutrition to writing and journaling. Guest speakers include oncologists and nurses. One of its most popular drop-in celebrities is Tate.

“People have told me their stories and it brought tears to my eyes,” says Tate, a native of Hendersonville, Tenn. “I admire people going through cancer. They’re going through something I can’t even imagine trying to deal with by myself. For them to be trying to stay strong, staying prayerful, that says a lot about them and their character.

“I met a woman and her children,” he recalls. “The children were very young, and they don’t understand the magnitude of cancer, how bad it can be. The lady started breaking down just because I was there, to bring her family some joy. These are small things that go a long way. It’s kind of hard to explain, you have to be there to see the interaction, but it’s a special opportunity. I’m very, very fortunate that they allow me to be involved.”

The original connection between Gilda’s Club and the Seahawks was forged by former defensive lineman Bryce Fisher.

“I had been opened for a few years and I get a call,” Gottlieb recalls. “The voice says, ‘My name is Bryce Fisher. I’m a Seahawk and I want to help you.’ I didn’t even know who he was. I had to Google him. But he’s this big football person and I said, ‘Whoa, really?’ Could you come in? He came in and he was the nicest guy.”

Fisher started an annual charitable golf tournament that supports the club, and has since asked Tate to join him. “Bryce couldn’t have found a better guy,” Gottlieb says. “Golden comes to talk to our families and work with our kids. He’s been terrific.”

Gottlieb says demand for the club’s services is constant and has expanded to include programs in area hospitals (Bellevue’s Overlake, Tacoma’s Multicare and Children’s Hospital) and high schools.

“We’ve probably seen more than 150,000 people come in and out of the clubhouse,” she says. “The clubhouse is meant to be non-hospital, no hospital odors, away from the medical community. But as the internet grew and traffic got worse, we realized we’re not an easy place to get to and needed to go where people are. So we started a Gilda’s-on-the-Go program, and we’ve already seen 25,000 teens just in our high schools.

“We talk to kids about the 3 cancers they need to be the most careful about at that age: lung, skin and cervical/testicular cancer. We talk about how to talk to somebody with cancer, how to communicate with your parents if one of them has cancer, about prevention. We have a teen writing contest about cancer that has led to some phenomenal essays. We have collected more than 1,200 in the last 6 years. So we do a lot of things inside and outside the clubhouse. We try to get out to a lot of places.”

The goal, ultimately, is to unite people. “I think people want to be together,” Gottlieb says. “People tell us

what we offer is just as important as medical care. They have a place to go where people understand them. Often if people have to pick between a doctor’s appointment and a support group, they choose the support group.

“We’ve worked with a lot of families that said there’s just no communication until they come here and learn how to talk to each other. They get to meet other people here. That’s really the key. We have a big parents’ group where there’s a diagnosis with a parent, and they all have kids, and nobody knows how to tell their kids, talk to their kids as a parent dies. They really cling together. People here have created some amazing bonds that have gone on for 10 years.”

Gottlieb is happy Gilda’s Club can help fill social and emotional gaps in the treatment process. “In Seattle, the medical community is phenomenal,” she says. “But the human aspect is important, too, and doctors just don’t have time to do emotional and social support, and they shouldn’t have to. So that becomes a missing piece, because the way treatment and medical care is now you spend more time out of a hospital than in a hospital. That’s where people need the help, and that’s where we step in.”

Tate is happy to step up for the Seahawks and for himself.

“It’s definitely a blessing to be put in a situation where I can affect other people’s lives positively,” Tate says. “I mean, why not? Why not try to make this world a better place? Why not make someone’s life better or have a positive effect on someone? I’m very fortunate to be involved, and I look forward to many years of working not only with Gilda’s Club but other cancer organizations, too, helping raise money for more research so hopefully we can find a cure for this.”

Hawk Mail Asks

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