Diagnosis inspires ‘Hugz’ the clown

PORT MATILDA – Tammy Miller isn’t offended when someone calls her a clown.

In 2000, Miller, 53, of Port Matilda started her business, known today as Tammy Speaks LLC, as a clown known as “Hugz.”

“I was a professional clown. I started teaching clown courses and did educational courses on clowning and professional clowning at corporate events,” Miller said. “I was a clown with an educational flair.”

A native of Toledo, Ohio – she went to the same high school as Danny Thomas and Jamie Farr – Miller moved to Lewistown in 1977 and then to State College in 1994.

In the early days of her career, she worked in banking, insurance and as a cake decorator before going into business for herself.

Her life changed suddenly in 2001 when she was diagnosed with “estrogen receptor positive,” a form of breast cancer.

“When I was diagnosed the world was crashing down, it was Sept. 14, 2001, just after 9/11. I said you have the wrong mammogram. I was 42 years old; there was no history in my family of breast cancer,” Miller said. “I had two daughters in high school. I was more concerned about my daughters. I said if the Lord brought me to it, he would see me through it.”

Miller underwent a different kind of treatment and had surgery at Centre Community Hospital, now Mount Nittany Medical Center.

“The Lord led me to a different treatment. I had an oopherectomy where they remove the ovaries. I ended up with a total hysterectomy. I have been cancer-free since the surgery,” she said.

Miller, who is also an accomplished speaker – she recently earned Toastmasters International’s most prestigious title: the accredited speaker designation – became an advocate for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.

“When I became diagnosed, the platform became breast cancer. Something suddenly became a part of my life that I didn’t anticipate. I was a goal setter, getting cancer wasn’t one of my goals,” Miller said. “I always did charity work, but the charity changed.”

Miller serves as a speaker and emcee at breast cancer functions, including the coalition’s State-wide Home Run Derby fundraising activities and Penn State Lady Lions Pink Zone events.

“Tammy is tremendous. Any time we call her she is there, she never says no, She is such a motivator. She is an inspiration to anyone who is batting or who has battled the disease,” Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition spokeswoman Natalie Kopp said.

In October, Miller received the Shining Light Award from the coalition for selfless service, longtime advocacy and continued dedication to the coalition and breast cancer causes.

“Tammy truly is a shining light for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition,” president and founder Pat Halpin-Murphy said. “She has helped to spread the word about our programs across the state of Pennsylvania through her work as a volunteer, speaker, author and survivor. From speaking at a prison to wearing pink high heels on the baseball field to bedazzling bras for breast cancer, Tammy has done it all with our mission in mind of finding a cure for breast cancer now so our daughters won’t have to.

Miller tries to encourage women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It is important to try and make a difference and help people understand they are not going through this alone. When you are diagnosed, it feels like your world is spiraling out of control,” Miller said.

Miller also is an author and a speech coach.

She donates proceeds of her book, “Pink Ribbon Stories: A Celebration of Life,” to the breast cancer coalition. She has also written “The Lighter Side of Breast Cancer Recovery” about her personal journey using humor to deal with her cancer diagnosis and “My Life is Just Speech Material And, So is Yours,” a guide to discovering what to say and how to say it.

Miller said she is a spiritual person.

“I believe the key to my success is trying hard to listen to the Lord. I pray I don’t say anything stupid and do what I am supposed to do,” Miller said.

Miller, the only female auctioneer in Centre County, sets a personal goal every year to get a certain kind of certification. She plans to get her real estate license in 2013.

“I set goals and look at things differently. It is not because I am bored. I believe there is so much to learn, see and do in this world. I need as many experiences as possible,” said Miller, who also has tried skydiving.

“I knew I would get to the ground one way or the other,” said Miller, who calls life a great adventure.

“In 2000, I didn’t know what breast cancer was all about. In early 2010, I didn’t know what auctioneering was all about. Everything we want to do in life is step by step. All experiences we have in life help to make us what we are. Making a difference in the lives of others is important; I try to think that way as much as possible,” Miller said.

“My message for everyone is we can’t always change what happens to us but we do have control over how we respond. It can be a relationship, a bad disease, a loss of a job; we can’t always change what happens. We need to understand we have control over it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.