Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, November 29 2011Snapshot: Christine Clifford, CEO, The Cancer Club and Divorcing Divas
Christine Clifford is CEO and president of The Cancer Club, which markets humorous and helpful products for people with cancer, and Divorcing Divas, which hosts all-day educational conferences for people facing divorce. She launched the first in 1995 after her breast cancer diagnosis. She launched Divorcing Divas in 2010 and turned a profit from the company on day one.
She’s also raised money for a nonprofit women’s shelter and more than $1 million for breast cancer research. She has published Laugh Til It Heals: Notes from the World’s Funniest Cancer Mailbox and The Clue Phone’s Ringing…It’s for You! Healing Humor for Women Divorcing.
She owns a company called Christine Clifford Enterprises, which offers consulting on branding and positioning and helps people who want to be authors and professional speakers get their careers off the ground.
Before launching these companies, she was senior executive vice president of The SPAR Group, a New York-based marketing services firm. She lives in Minneapolis and has two adult sons.
Womenetics: We know what spurred you to start The Cancer Club; why did you start Divorcing Divas?
Christine Clifford: I started Divorcing Divas following my second divorce because I felt so empowered leaving such a horrible marriage. (It involved domestic violence; he broke my nose, among other body parts). Yet, as I looked around me at friends and colleagues who were going through divorce or thinking of divorcing, I realized that so many of them were "stuck," as if their feet were in cement. They didn't know how to move forward. I had moved forward with such conviction in both of my divorces that I thought, "How can I pass this knowledge on to other women so that they can move forward, too, and realize that they can find life, and a good life, on the other side? I believe I started the company out of compassion.
Womenetics: You have two home-based businesses. How do you separate your work life from your home life?
Clifford: It's not easy separating work life from home life. I often will mix the two (do a load of laundry during the day; stop to shovel snow, etc). But I do try very hard to structure my day so that I have a lot of uninterrupted time to focus on work. I am very disciplined when it comes to work. I may make up for lost work time during the day by doing work-related things in the evening, such as paying bills, answering emails, etc.
Womenetics: What do you do to unwind, leave your home?
Clifford: I have a Siberian husky who needs to be walked several times a day. At least once per day, I take her on a long, four-mile walk around a lake I live near. I also will go out to meet people for lunch and will schedule personal things such as manicures or haircuts just to get out of the house.
Womenetics: You encourage humor in dealing with health and romance crises. But I’m betting you didn’t laugh when you received your cancer diagnosis.
Clifford: I certainly didn't. I always say my cancer journey started when I was 15 years old and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She became clinically depressed, crawled into bed, and wanted to die. She was only 38 years old. She passed away at 42 and virtually lived like a recluse in those four years.
So when I was diagnosed at the age of 40, I turned to the only role model I knew: my mom. I thought, "I'm going to get depressed, crawl into bed, and die." I think with all the thousands of cancer patients I have met in the past 17 years, I was probably the most depressed of anyone.
Then I had what I now call my "twilight zone" experience. Six weeks after my surgery -- I had already started both chemotherapy and radiation therapy -- I woke in the middle of the night with a vision: cartoons. As many as 50 cancer-related cartoons started popping up in my head. I went downstairs into my office and started madly scribbling as many as I could. Went back upstairs, crawled into bed, and thought, "What was that?" The next morning, I went to a Barnes & Noble and the public library.
Their reactions turned into cartoons in my first book, Not Now... I'm Having a No Hair Day! I started searching for signs of humor and suddenly, everything, including my outlook, changed.
Womenetics: What kind of humorous and helpful products do you market for people with cancer?
Clifford: The Cancer Club offers humorous books, DVDs, stuffed animals, ornaments, jewelry, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and more. Our focus and motto are: Don't forget to laugh!
Womenetics: How do you market your products internationally?
Clifford: The Cancer Club has gained international exposure through one medium: the media. I wrote a column in The Hindu in India for several years, have spoken all over the world on using humor to get through a cancer experience, and have a good presence on the internet.
Womenetics: What kind of information does one gain from a one-day conference for divorcing divas?
Clifford: The all-day educational conferences hosted by Divorcing Divas allow women to gather in a shared, safe environment to collect information on everything from the legal journey (before, during, and after) and financial journey (before, during, and after), but also attend classes on everything from what divorce does to the body to how to buy and service a car, the psychological trauma of verbal abuse, self-defense, and, of course, humor.
For the price of admission, women can spend up to an hour with attorneys, mediators, financial planners, psychologists, and a number of other specialists who would charge them upwards of $300 an hour for a consultation. The other blessing of the day is to meet other women who are going through the same thing and to share stories. It's a very powerful day for women facing divorce.
Womenetics: Have you always had a sense of humor?
Clifford: I think I have always had a great sense of humor, but I was never the one telling the jokes. I'd be the one listening and laughing. Now, when I share the funny stories of what happened to me during my cancer treatments or while going through my divorces, the laughter in the room absolutely fills me with joy.
Of course, humor is different for every person. But by telling stories about myself, as opposed to making fun of others or telling a joke that might not be well-received, I put people at ease because I'm laughing at myself.
Womenetics: How would you describe the child that you were?
Clifford: I was always a spirited child and one that marched to her own drum. I did the traditional childhood things, but always lived a bit on the edge, I believe. Those traits have followed me into adulthood, I'm afraid. I definitely think outside the box.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.