Teens find strength together

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Gilda’s Club helps MTHS students

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Once a month, Alexis Witkowsky, 17, is able to share her cancer story with other teens at Middle Township High School.

Her father, Steven, died from a brain tumor Dec. 17, 2009. He was 35.

“I went to every single appointment; saw all the doctors with him,” the Green Creek teen said.

This year, she joined the Gilda's Teen Club, a cancer support group that has been in existence for four years. It is part of Gilda's Club South Jersey, named for comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer. A Gilda's affiliate opened in South Jersey in 2003.

“It feels really nice to have support of other people,” Witkowsky said.

More students have gotten involved in the Middle Township High School club. It was heavily promoted earlier this year, said club adviser Ellen Muller.

“It’s just basically a support group,” said Witkowsky, a high school junior.

Before her father died, she promised him that she would put him and others before herself.

“It feels really good they [students] are able to share,” Muller said.

That was a challenge initially for the Gilda’s Teen Club, she said.

Muller is a breast cancer survivor and said she realized that attitude is 90 percent of the battle.

Cancer has also touched many lives for club member Madison Musinski of Del Haven.

The high school junior joined the club this school year after prompting from a friend.

She said her cousin from Virginia, who is now 17, battled leukemia and is a cancer survivor.

“I watched that progress as I grew up,” she said.

Musinski also took many trips to hospitals to see her cousin.

 “I think so many people need the support,” the 17-year-old said. “We all need help.”

She said feels a calling to start an organization that caters to those facing all kinds of medical problems. She wants to provide hope and resources.

Musinski said she has medical issues, including getting headaches. She has a pseudotumor, which is a tumor-like mass that puts pressure on a person’s skull.

Forming an organization has been an idea of Musinski’s for about four years, the teen said.

“It would take a lot of investment emotionally and monetarily,” Musinski said.

She already has name picked out for the organization: Speranza, which is Italian for hope.

Musinski said wants to study business in college with the focus on starting the organization.

“My teens educate me. I learn from them. They are very inspirational,” said teen program manager Beth Wray. She works from the Gilda's Club South Jersey office in Linwood, Atlantic County.

Thirty to 60 students come to the Middle Township High School Gilda’s Teen Club meetings each month. The next meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 18, around 8:40 a.m. in the high school cafeteria.

The middle school in Upper Township also has a Gilda’s Club.

For more information on the Gilda's Club South Jersey, see gildasclubsouthjersey.org.

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