Cancer Humorist Speaks to Record Audience at Women’s Night Out

October 13, 2012 | Wadena Pioneer Journal | By Rachelle Klemme

The 2012 annual Tri-County Health Care (TCHC) Women’s Night Out saw record attendance Monday evening, with free screenings, a doctors’ panel and speaker Christine Clifford at Wadena Memorial Auditorium addressing the topic of humor to get through life’s adversities. 

A total of 730 women participated, according to a TCHC press release.

TCHC Events Coordinator Holly Weller said the event drew women from about a 60-mile radius around Wadena.

Clifford, a business owner, Certified Speaking Professional and breast cancer survivor, said she has spoken all over the world, and Wadena’s conference of more than 700 women was very impressive.

Clifford, of Shorewood, Minn., was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 at age 40. Her mother had died of breast cancer at 42, and Clifford’s own prognosis was not good at first.

But her case was not the death sentence she thought it would be. She went through chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a lumpectomy.

“In December I will be celebrating my 19th year of survivorship,” Clifford said.

Clifford said one night while battling cancer, she had a “Twilight Zone” experience. She woke up in the middle of the night after surgery, went downstairs and sketched about 50 cartoons relating to her cancer experience.

That was during the mid-1990s, a time period when the idea of putting cancer and humor together was unheard of, Clifford said.

While Clifford shed a lot of tears at the time, she recalled one day when one of her children answered the door for her to greet a well-wisher.

“Mom, more flowers for your breast!” her young son announced, and Clifford said she remembered laughing, and it was comforting to know she could still laugh.

Clifford said she eventually quit her job and started to pursue her dream. Among the four companies she owns are the Cancer Club company, with products and humor for people with cancer, and Divorcing Divas, to support women going through divorce through consulting work. She has also written eight books, five of which deal with humor and cancer.

Clifford said, while a cure for cancer has not been found, the experience for patients and survivors is better than in the mid-1990s, and survivorship rates are also higher, compared to when she was diagnosed.

Weller said a survey taken last year helped the choice of speaker for this year. Feedback included wanting a cancer survivor, wanting a humorist and wanting someone inspirational. Weller said Clifford fit the bill for all three, so she was invited to speak.

“Anybody who has ever had cancer is a hero,” Clifford said during her presentation at Memorial Auditorium.

Doctors speak on current issues

Prior to Clifford’s keynote presentation, four TCHC doctors engaged the audience in a Q&A panel. Doctors answered questions about current medical issues, along with other health-related questions.

One question concerned the recent fungal meningitis outbreak, which included cases in Minnesota.

Dr. Heidi Olson said TCHC’s facility does not have the tainted steroid linked to the outbreak, but if Wadena area residents received an epidural from elsewhere, they should check with those respective facilities.

Doctors were also asked for their opinion on the Affordable Health Care Act, colloquially known as “Obamacare.”

Olson said the Affordable Health Care Act addresses who pays for insurance, but not the cost of insurance or high demand.

Physician Assistant Tina Hulse said the high cost of medicine is not going to be solved soon, but she supports the preventative aspect of “Obamacare.” Uninsured people who used to have to resort to the emergency room can now receive preventative health care, rather than wait until they are seriously sick, she said.

Dr. Janelle Strom said she would like to have support from the government to practice evidence-based medicine, rather than over-treat patients or order tests just to reduce patients’ anxiety. She also said medical malpractice litigation should be reformed.

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