Ronda Rich not only carried on a family tradition of finding humor in life’s challenges, she made a career of it.
The author and syndicated columnist shared stories of hope — injected with her typical Southern humor — recently at Effingham Health System’s annual Lunch, Laugh and Learn program to promote breast-cancer awareness.
“Humor will save you when nothing else can,” she said. “No matter how sick you are, no matter how dire the circumstances are, if you can laugh about it, you’ll feel better. The greatest stress-reliever in the world is laughter.”
Rich learned that growing up in a family she described as “almost irreverent in what we laugh about.” She said her father had a dry sense of humor and her mother was a great storyteller.
“We just always had humor in situations where people couldn’t believe it,” Rich said. “Whether somebody was dying or we were at the funeral home, we could always see the humor.”
Case in point, Rich shared a story from what she and her siblings thought would be their father’s final days. He was in the hospital, and doctors told the family he wouldn’t live through the week. (He lived for two more years, Rich pointed out.)
With the family gathered in his hospital room, Rich recalled, her father looked up from his bed and asked how a friend of hers was doing.
“Well, he’s doing just as he doggone pleases, just like he always does,” she answered.
“I don’t blame him,” her father responded. “If I were worth $20 million, I’d do as I pleased.”
Rich delivered the punch line: “Daddy, if you were worth $20 million, we wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep you alive,” breaking the packed house at the Effingham College and Career Academy into laughter.
Though Lunch, Laugh and Learn focuses on breast-cancer detection and treatment, it was part of an entire day of programs devoted to all women’s health issues. A health expo and a lecture by Dr. Toni Sylvester stressed the importance of preventive care for women.
“Most of the time, we let (health issues) go too far before we take care of them,” Effingham Health CEO Norma Jean Morgan said. “Too often, we take care of everybody else in the family but ourselves.”
Rich’s commitment to breast-cancer awareness is in honor of her close friend Barbara Dooley, the wife of former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley. Rich will never forget the Christmas Eve phone call she received from the Dooleys several years ago.
“Barbara came to the phone, and she was just squalling,” Rich said. “She said, ‘I’ve got breast cancer.’”
Dooley’s cancer was “almost stage three” when it was diagnosed, Rich said, but her friend fought it with “her typical aplomb, humor and sacrifice.” That helped her through a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.
“She’s eight years cancer-free,” Rich said to applause from the audience.
After Rich told a few humorous stories about her friend, her message turned serious. She urged women to have annual mammograms and perform monthly self-exams.
“Even when you don’t have a family history — no one she even knew had ever had breast cancer — it can happen,” Rich said.
“We have a lot of trials and tribulations in this life, and there are things that we cannot control,” she continued. “Breast cancer is one of them (we can), with early detection.”