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Former Secretary, Rebecca Clifford, Battles ALS

Rebecca Clifford (right) of rural Pittsburg in Williamson County recently retired as a secretary in the Adult Basic Education department at John A. Logan College as she battles ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a slow-moving disease that paralyzes the muscles. Now wheelchair-bound, Clifford is pictured here with her close friend and sister-in-law, Deb Geiger. (Logan Media Services photo)

Rebecca Clifford (right) of rural Pittsburg in Williamson County recently retired as a secretary in the Adult Basic Education department at John A. Logan College as she battles ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a slow-moving disease that paralyzes the muscles. Now wheelchair-bound, Clifford is pictured here with her close friend and sister-in-law, Deb Geiger. (Logan Media Services photo)

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

WILLIAMSON COUNTY – It takes a special person to be dealt a life-threatening diagnosis from a crippling disease and still maintain a positive attitude.

Meet Rebecca Clifford.

She is the epitome of positive thinking.

The 49-year-old rural Williamson County woman worked as a secretary at John A. Logan College for nearly 19 years before finally having to step away from her duties late last year. She is now in the battle of her life after learning a few years ago that she had contracted ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a slow-moving disease that paralyzes the muscles, thus weakening the body.

ALS is a neuromuscular disease that strikes without warning and without family history. According to information gleaned from the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association, there is no known cure or effective treatment for the illness. As it progresses, a person’s body can become completely paralyzed while the mind and senses remain unaffected.

“My first health issues began in 2007 when I noticed my foot was dragging,” Clifford said. “I wasn’t able to lift it and walk very well without tripping. I went to the doctor and it was thought that I had multiple sclerosis, but more than a year later, I was diagnosed with ALS at Washington University Hospital in St. Louis. I think it would be fair to say that I was in denial at first. I disagreed with the diagnosis and figured there had to be some other explanation. I even tried alternative medicine, but when that too failed, I realized it was time to face reality and that I needed to do what was best for my family and me.”

JALC ‘Walk for ALS’ set for June 1

CARTERVILLE – A walk to benefit the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association has been scheduled for Saturday, June 1 on the John A. Logan College campus.

Rebecca Clifford, a former secretary at the college, who is battling the disease, is involved with the organization of the event as are her former co-workers at the school.

The walk will begin at 9:15 a.m. that day and cover two miles around the campus. Registration will get under way at 8:30 at the Community Health Education Complex. A memorial tribute is also on the agenda for 9 a.m. There is no make-up date for the walk in the event of inclement weather.

There is no entry fee to participate in the walk, but the first 150 individuals who donate $50 or more will receive a “JALC Walk for ALS” T-shirt. There will also be drawings for prizes.

To make an online donation, click on this link: Online Fundraising Form.

Here, Clifford gets caught up on some reading on her Kindle. A Hurst native, Clifford said she has become an avid reader since ALS has forced her indoors the biggest part of the time. (Logan Media Services photo)

Here, Clifford gets caught up on some reading on her Kindle. A Hurst native, Clifford said she has become an avid reader since ALS has forced her indoors the biggest part of the time. (Logan Media Services photo)

As time passed, Clifford went from a cane to a walker and now a wheelchair. Besides losing strength in her legs, she has now lost strength in her arms and hands. She requires assistance to do even the most mundane of chores such as bathing and dressing.

“Thankfully, I don’t have any pain. In fact, I still have feeling in my arms and legs. I just have no strength.”

Clifford has been married for 30 years to her husband, Steven, a contractor. The two, who have resided in a home he built 15 years ago in a wooded area near Pittsburg, grew up in Hurst and graduated Herrin High School. She, the former Rebecca Lavender, is from the Class of 1982. The couple has one daughter, 25-year-old Devon, majoring in business administration at SIUC.

“This disease has been so frustrating to me,” Clifford said. “I worked out all the time. I enjoyed working in the yard and in the house. I would go on motorcycle rides with Steven and to the mall shopping with my girlfriends. And then to have to give up my job at Logan, which I enjoyed so much, because I could no longer do my job effectively, that was emotionally devastating to me.”

Today, Clifford doesn’t get out of the house much.

“The few places I do go – like out to dinner or to the grocery store – I have to do with the help of Steven. And he’s been very good throughout this whole process. Coping with this disease would be so much harder without his support and the support of my daughter, other family members and friends.”

Clifford has become a voracious reader and checks articles on her personal computer almost daily related to ALS in an attempt to fully understand the disease and with the hope of finding new treatments and an eventual cure. Within the last year, she has also reached out to the ALS organization and has acquired an entirely new support team.

“There are times when I want to talk to somebody who understands ALS better than I do and that’s where their counselors come in,” she said. “And an ALS rep comes here to the house a couple times a week and helps prepare meals and does some light housekeeping, which is much appreciated. It’s not fair to Steven to have to work all day and then have to work all evening, too.”

The Cliffords recently made a trip to Florida to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

“It was really good to get away, even if it was for just a while,” she said.

Earlier this spring, the LOSA organization at Logan organized an in-house fundraiser to help offset some medical expenses for Clifford.

Overwhelmed with the gesture from her former co-workers, Clifford has taken the initiative to organize a fundraiser for ALS research in the form of a two-mile walk around the JALC campus on Saturday, June 1.

“The people at Logan have backed the idea of a fundraiser walk 100 percent,” Clifford said. “I can’t thank them enough. There is no fee to participate, just donations. I think Southern Illinoisans would be surprised at the number of people diagnosed with ALS right here in the region. We don’t know how close researchers are to finding a cure, but we have learned that ALS is closely intertwined with other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”

Clifford said she could wallow in self pity or fight back with all her available resources. She has chosen the latter.

“I have decided to stay positive and I think that mindset helps carry me through some days, which granted, are very difficult to deal with. But I am fortunate to have a strong support team and I wake up every morning knowing that something wonderful is going to happen to me.”

If there is a silver lining to her affliction, it’s the fact that she and her husband, family and friends have grown closer to one another.

“And not in a sorrowful way,” she said. “A positive way. There are worse things that could have happened to me.”

Sister-in-law, Deb Geiger, who is especially close to Clifford, said she enjoys spending quality time with her new best friend.

“We fix lunch together and our talks take on a much deeper meaning than before. It’s not a morbid thing. It’s a friend thing. I live in Murphysboro, but I make sure to get over here at least once a week so that we can enjoy our time together.”

Claudia Merrett, who serves as secretary to the president at JALC, said she first met Clifford in 1993 when she was in the process of hiring a student worker.

“Rebecca was a non-traditional student who worked with us in admissions at the time, and did such a good job, that Tom Cardwell hired her as a full-time secretary a year later in his office,” Merrett said. “Rebecca became the younger sister I always wanted. We had a common interest in staying fit. We faithfully worked out in the aerobic center and walked everywhere – that is when we weren’t going to dinner together with our husbands.

“Her Steve and my Mike had similar interests in cars,” Merrett said. “In 2007, we drove to Arizona together to pick up our newly restored 1953 truck. What wonderful memories we made. Rebecca started having health issues shortly after that. As a friend, watching her struggle with ALS has been very heart-wrenching and difficult for me. She has faced many obstacles with dignity and grace.”

Merrett described Clifford as “gifted and a vibrant young lady,” always thinking of others.

“How appropriate that she wants to give back to the ALS Saint Louis Chapter by organizing the June 1 walk. She has many friends and family members who support her and want to help in any way that they can. Rebecca has always been there for us, and now we want to be there for her.”

Clifford’s more recent boss, Kay Fleming, director of adult education at JALC, said she learned much about her friend while working with her side-by-side five days a week the last 10 years.

“I have seen how this disease has slowly changed her physically, making the most simple tasks very difficult,” she said. “Even with the many changes that Rebecca has had to make and the challenges she continues to face, she still has the sweet spirit and positive attitude that makes her special. At the risk of being cliché, Rebecca is an inspiration to me. Still wanting to help others and always looking forward, it’s certainly no surprise to me that she is dedicated to raising money for research in the hope of finding a cure for ALS. She just doesn’t give up. I am so glad to have her as my friend.”