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Athletics: Clough comforted by Warrior community as she battles cancer

Brainerd Warriors head dance team coach Cindy Clough is battling her own fight with cancer.

Cindy Clough coaches dancers during a practice session Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Just for Kix in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Cindy Clough coaches dancers during a practice session Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2021, at Just for Kix in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Triple-negative invasive metastatic ductal carcinoma.

Cindy Clough takes her time pronouncing those words. It’s a series of nouns that created a hard pause in the life of the head coach of the Brainerd Warriors dance team and owner of Just for Kix.

Clough is a hands-on business owner, coach, parent and grandparent. That changed in the last week of July. It was during one of Clough’s dance camps when she discovered a lump. She said she wasn’t feeling different and her yearly mammogram was in December, which made the discovery shocking.

“Looking back I think I had a lot of fatigue that was unexplained, but I didn’t feel different,” Clough said.

Clough is grade 3, stage 3 meaning it has spread to the lymph nodes and so in that regard, she didn’t catch it early.

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“Today, you actually caught me on a pretty good day,” Clough said while in Florida. “There’s been ups and downs. Last week, I didn’t have chemo because my white blood cells and my neutrophils were too low so then they gave me a shot to boost bone marrow production to help get those up. This week, I’m not as nauseous, but have some bone pain which is a side effect of that shot.”

She is no stranger to cancer. Clough’s father died from it. She said she knew the drill, but the diagnosis has forced her to focus one day at a time, which is the opposite of her general nature of planning everything out months at a time.

Her biggest surprise through the process is how time-consuming battling cancer is. It’s become her job. Her day-to-day consists of her next treatment, her diet and her medicine intake. It’s also about battling the anxiety of the unknown.

I’m making this my job to fight this.
Cindy Clough

“Triple-negative cancer is kind of the most aggressive and hardest to cure,” Clough said. “It has great treatments and it can have great outcomes, but it’s an aggressive treatment. I don't think it’s been so bad. I’ve had a couple of pretty bad days, but most of the time I would call it manageable. I think my mindset helps. I’ve always been a person who is finding a solution.”

Clough continues to exercise. She’s changed her diet. She’s cut out sugar. She feels in good spirits. She’s optimistic. Most importantly, she’s not alone.

“I wear a lot of different hats and my husband has been unbelievably amazing,” Clough said. “He’s researched everything and is just doing so much. My kids have really stepped up at work in so many ways by trying to take work off of me as well as my employees.

“Normally, I’m working a lot of hours and I haven’t been. I’m making this my job to fight this.”

Clough has coached the Warrior dance team for 46 seasons. This year will be her 47th and she does plan on coaching this winter. It’s how she takes her mind off the word cancer. On Monday, while sitting looking out at the ocean, Clough worked on routines. The chemotherapy and low white blood cell counts have her tired, but she forces herself to work so she’s not dwelling on her situation.

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Clough isn’t naive. She’s focused on herself first and draws comfort from her assistant coaches. Julie Davidge has been Clough’s assistant for 16 years. Terri Ebinger has been an assistant for 14 years, Ali Clough-Gerates for 16 years. Even Avery Davidge has been around for a number of years, though this will be just her second year on the staff. She asked and was granted by her employer more flexible hours to help coach the team this season.

“Julie Davidge has just stepped up like you can’t believe. She’s done so much prework for the season,” Clough said. “Everybody else, Terri Ebinger, Avery Davidge and my daughter, Ali Geraets, they’re all going to be coaching and we’re all just going to take it one day at a time.

My worry is, I don’t want to get exposed to sickness at practice. As much as I want to be there, if kids are sick I’ll have to stay back. When you’re white blood cell counts are low then you don’t want to catch anything.”.”

The dance team, the dance community and the dance alumni keep Clough’s spirits high. She laughed that it’s almost overwhelming the number of cards, letters and comments on social media she’s received. Parents of long-time former athletes have reached out with pictures and memories.

Clough is humbled.

“Even as I’m going through this, I know three alumni that are going through this right now,” she said. “We’ve all been talking and texting back and forth and I feel fortunate for that.”

Clough knows others who don’t have the support system she has. She knows without family or a network of friends it can be easy to become isolated. She appreciates the prayers and the help. She’s not taking those things for granted.

“I feel optimistic,” Clough said. “I got a great book from Jason Freed, the football coach, that he mailed to me. I sat and read it and one of the things in there is that every cancer has been survived by someon. If you want to be hopeful remember that.”

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Friday, Sept. 23, will be Brainerd’s homecoming game against the Bemidji Lumberjacks at Adamson Field. Brainerd will be passing buckets around for Tackle Cancer, a yearly fundraiser to help fund cancer research.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

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