Fifty years ago, Jeanne Robertson was crowned Miss North Carolina, and as she traveled the state, she discovered she could make people laugh.
Now, Robertson is a nationally renowned humorist heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio’s Family Comedy Channels. On Tuesday, she lifted the spirits of cancer survivors at the 11th Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon held at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
The event, sponsored by the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, raised $35,000 to purchase 3-D mammography technology for the Columbus Regional Breast Care Center, said Anne Holmes, a spokesperson for the foundation.
“It can see through dense tissue, which is often a problem for some women,” Holmes said. “That’s going to be a big deal for women who have been told they have cystic breast tissue.”
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The theme for the event was “Life is Better with Friends.” The audience of about 1,300 people also consisted of caregivers, health care providers and companies that support breast cancer research and awareness.
In a short video, breast cancer survivors Olga “Yogi” Hall and Patty Livingston described their journeys from diagnosis to treatment at the John B. Amos Cancer Center.
“My biggest strength during this time came from my daughter,” Hall said. “She was my sole heart in all of this. And she said, ‘Mom, we can pull through this. I know we can do it. We’ll take it a day at a time, and we’re going to fight this.”
Livingston said her cancer was detected late because of dense tissue. But she emerged from the experience with new sense of purpose, which includes educating other women about things she wish she had known.
“I encourage every woman to ask about their breast tissue,” she said. “This is not something you know naturally. You have to ask (your doctors and radiologists) about it.”
Robertson, the keynote speaker, said she never had breast cancer, but had a hysterectomy after discovering she had ovarian cancer at age 26. She said she uses humor to address serious topics like cancer because she believes people need encouragement, and laughter can be uplifting.
During her monologue, she described her life as a 70-year-old woman with sagging body parts and a husband who she affectionately calls “Left Brain.”
“He’s my best friend. I would not talk about him if it hurt his feelings, but he is not here,” she told the audience, which roared with laughter. From there she went on to tell stories about her husband’s obsession with order and his insensitive male tendencies. She also made fun of her own foibles, along with life’s challenges and disappointments.
“Well, bare-footed with my hair mashed down, I am 6-feet-two-inches tall," she said. “This makes me, even though it has been 50 years, the tallest contestant to ever have competed in the Miss America Pageant in any state in the union at any time...This also makes me the tallest contestant to ever lose in the Miss America pageant.”
She told the audience: “Please continue, no matter where you are on this journey or what your place on this journey is, to remember that even in the toughest of times there are some things that don’t hurt another person but can bring a smile to our face, and make sure to look for those humorous times too.”
After her speech, women lined up to purchase autographed copies of her books and DVDs. Robertson said $5 from each sale would go to the Columbus Regional Health Foundation.
Judy Buchanan, 62, of Phenix City, has been battling breast cancer for 10 years, and had a double mastectomy in January. She said she heard Robertson speak at the Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon two years ago, and didn’t want to miss another opportunity to see her in person.
“It’s easy to get down and depressed, but you have to have a positive attitude,” she said, leaving the luncheon. “People like Jeanne help so much. I knew I was going to laugh.”