When Joe Clifford was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Oct. 10, 2008, the world as he knew it changed forever. A young husband and father whose life—which appeared to be so “normal”—was now devastated as a result of a cancer diagnosis. It wasn’t the cancer or being faced with his mortality, but instead, the feeling of desperateness and helplessness that frightened Joe the most. The reality of not being able to provide financially for his family and the uncertainty of his future sent Joe into a negative downward spiral, which in turn made it difficult to mentally prepare to fight the disease.
It was here, in this basement of depression, where Joe’s heroic journey back to life began. On Thanksgiving Day in 2008, as a patient at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania, Joe had his first encounter with the HEADstrong FoundationTM (HF). The organization was serving a Thanksgiving feast to cancer patients and their families. While the notion of spending the holiday in the hospital was harrowing, Joe saw an opportunity to enjoy the benefit of being surrounded by his loved ones. And with that, he invited 26 members of his family to attend the feast. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Joe had something to look forward to, giving him the motivation, confidence, and determination to fight the disease head on. And on Thanksgiving Day, Joe made a promise and a commitment to HF: that he would one day join them not only as a volunteer but as a survivor.
Since that day, Joe Clifford has become an intricate part of the HEADstrong family, helping to broaden the footprint of the organization, specifically among the regional patient and hospital networks. As a living testimonial to the necessity of HF’s service offering, Joe has served as an ambassador—submersing himself in the mission of the organization to serve whole heartedly as a patient advocate, public speaker, campaign captain, and member of the HEADstrong Foundation’s Board of Directors.
Joe’s enthusiasm and commitment to HF has allowed the organization to better serve the patient population and make a true impact. Stemming from his first experience with HF, Joe has been instrumental in advancing the HEADtable program, which he participated in as a patient—serving meals to patients/families at local hospitals not just on Thanksgiving but many times throughout the year. Joe takes the time to personally visit with each patient and provide them hope and inspiration. Additionally, Joe has spearheaded the HEAD2head Patient Advocacy program with HF, connecting newly diagnosed patients with survivors who serve as mentors, listeners, and an arm of support, fully understanding the stresses, emotions, and brutality of a cancer diagnosis. Joe courageously shares his story and the impact of HF’s services and programs, helping to guide and assure others that they are not alone in their fight. Every day, Joe fulfills his promise to not only himself but to the HEADstrong Foundation which he made over five years ago; he is relentless in his efforts to give back to his community and, as a survivor, has dedicated his life to changing the game for others who are walking in his footsteps.