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A Bittersweet Farewell to Allison Yonker

This month, we are saying a bittersweet farewell to an incredible Gilda’s Club staff member – Allison Yonker. After 21 years of dedicated, impactful, and professional contributions to improving the lives of people with cancer  and their loved ones (including staff, volunteers, and beyond) at Gilda’s Club as a Program Manager, and recently as Program Director, Allison will be headed off on a new adventure.  

Allison’s steadied leadership supported the Program Team through three years of adaptation during and after the pandemic.  She has led the innovation of new ways for members to engage with our program never-before offered at Gilda’s Club – cancer support three ways; in-person, virtual, or a hybrid combination. She has touched many lives in many families. Allison leaves a rich legacy of service to Gilda’s Club and our community. 

Before Allison left, we asked her if she would share some of her insights about cancer care, how it has changed, and what she thinks sets our support program apart. 


I have learned that to treat cancer well, it means to treat the whole person, to see them as more than a cancer diagnosis. How will the diagnosis and treatment affect their work, their family, and their quality of life?  

We know that research shows that psychosocial distress can manifest as mental, social, emotional, and physical symptoms and that mental health needs often go unrecognized and untreated. Medical teams are there to provide medical treatment, but a person with cancer needs care between appointments. Family members/caregivers need support. The staff at Gilda’s Club works to address these needs in a customized and caring way.   

At Gilda’s Club, we regularly examine data about our members’ participation rates and survey members to assess their needs and pivot to help meet those needs.  

Additionally, our Medical Resource Council is comprised of exceptional oncology healthcare providers in Middle Tennessee. These individuals support our mission personally and professionally and share input on program elements and evaluation. Medical Resource Council members also offer educational programs. A list of our Medical Resource Council members can be found on our website. 

In the early days, there was limited research about the benefits of psychosocial support following a cancer diagnosis. Today, there is a broader understanding that cancer affects a person more than just physically and that patients benefit when they receive psychosocial support, alongside their treatment. 

Outside of our evidence-based methods at Gilda’s Club, one thing that always sets us apart from any other cancer support program is our community.  

There is an understanding here that life doesn’t stop when there’s a cancer diagnosis. There are still family members to care for, a job to go to, children who need help with homework. Living with a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean you only have cancer to manage. You are a whole person- a partner, an employee, a friend- who walks through all the things you walked through before with the additional complication of cancer.   

It is also understood at Gilda’s Club that once there is a diagnosis, there may be family members/caregivers who are facing an equally daunting task of navigating a loved one’s diagnosis. What to say, how to say it, how much to push, how much to just leave alone, etc. The Program Team has the crucial job of validating and providing perspective for our members’ loved ones. Offer a reminder that having cancer doesn’t make a person perfect or that a caregiver won’t be the perfect caregiver. The Gilda’s Club community – through support groups or other activities- isn’t there to give instructions, but to provide a community of people who can hear those struggles and nod their heads in comradery and understanding. 

One of the things I am most proud of about my time at Gilda’s Club is the staff. We show up in spite of the things we’re all managing in our lives, ready to do this challenging work and prepared to shift the day’s plan if a person walks through our red door in need of support. It’s one of the gifts of Gilda’s Club: the awareness of how precious our time is and that our time is almost always best spent when we’re together in community. 

 Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my time at Gilda’s Club. To all of our members over the last 25 years, you are why we do what we do, and it has been my privilege to have walked alongside you through your cancer experience.