Women That Inspire: Karen Eubanks Jackson
In the month of October the towns are painted pink! Stores are selling pink merchandise, celebrities are adorned in pink garments, media personalities are wearing pink — and even the NFL has joined the rally. The color pink is worn for a purpose – to raise the education and awareness of breast cancer…and to recognize the continued fight to find a cure for this disease.
This October marks 25 years of Breast Cancer Awareness. Every year, women around the world receive the devastating breast cancer diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that there will be 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2011. Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of death among African-American women. In 2011, an estimated 26,840 new cases of breast cancer and 6,040 deaths are expected to occur among African American women.
Black women seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to breast cancer. The survival rate of black women is lower than that among white women. Factors that contribute to higher death rates among African American women include differences in access to, and utilization of, early detection and treatment, as well as differences in tumor characteristics.
Breast cancer is not a death sentence. Many women are surviving — and are now helping others to win the fight. Hope for Women got the wonderful opportunity to speak with Karen Eubanks Jackson, an 18-year breast cancer survivor, and founder and CEO of Sisters Network® Inc. Sisters Network® Inc. is committed to bringing local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African American community. A powerful key to overcoming breast cancer for all women — but especially black women — is knowledge.
In our interview with Karen, she talked to us about her experience, and why she wanted to start an organization committed to educating the African-American community, and providing support for women fighting breast cancer. In her dedication, persistence, and optimism in the face of this on-going health threat, Karen Eubanks Jackson truly represents what we at Hope for Women consider, “a woman that inspires!”
Hope: What was your greatest motivation to start Sisters Network?
Karen: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to join an African-American breast cancer community for women, but it didn’t exist. I wanted to talk to women and learn from women that looked like me. I wanted to share the challenges, the fears…and I needed support. I had a strong desire to connect on a deeper level with women who were going through the same thing that I was. I was not given a promising prognosis. I moved from the East Coast to be close to my family in Houston. I embarked on a new city. I approached women about breast cancer resources in Houston every chance I got. When I found out that what I needed didn’t exist, I decided to create it. I reserved a health center for our first meeting and 15 women showed up! Now we have Sisters Network® Inc.
Hope: What has been your greatest source of fulfillment since starting Sisters Network?
Karen: It has been an awesome experience to have a vision and live long enough to see how it has impacted so many lives.
Hope: Your organization has 3 major outreach programs (The Gift for Life Block Walk, The Pink Ribbon Awareness Project, and Stop the Silence). Will you talk to us about the influence that these programs have had in the African American community?
Karen: Sisters Network® has 45 affiliate chapters around the country. Our outreach programs are designed to educate the survivor and the fighter. Women need to know what questions to ask their doctor. These are programs that educate our community. There is no place where you can read the important information that you need to know. Many of these things are not openly discussed, especially with black women. Our organization and programs are geared to what the community needs. With The Gift for Life Block Walk, we are going door to door to talk to people about breast health, and how to get free mammograms. Sisters Network has designed a program where if you are in need of a mammogram, our organization will pay for you to get one free! In 2010 our outreach programs and other efforts have reached over 4.6 million families.
Hope: In 2006, SNI launched the Raising the House Campaign. What has been the success of the campaign thus far? What impact has it had on the lives of women battling breast cancer?
Karen: Part of my vision was to have a Sisters House. Not an office or building. I wanted a house that we could call a home. We found a house in the Midtown area – a black community near Houston’s world-renowned medical centers. We currently have a staff of 5. The Sisters House can accommodate 75+ people for open forums, cooking classes, lunches, and breakfasts to educate the community. We will also be Lighting the Sisters House for the entire month of October – it is going to be pinked out! It has been my dream to have a home where women can feel comfortable enough to do anything that you would do in a home, at the Sisters House.
Hope: The mortality rate among African-American women is higher than other races. Why do you think that is the case?
Karen: There are several things that we as a community of black women need to do for ourselves. We don’t put our health first, but it needs to be a top priority. Our mindset needs to change. You are important enough to be put first. To lower the rate of those diagnosed with breast cancer, nutrition plays a major role in our health and survival. We don’t know what we don’t know. Knowledge is power! This is not a slogan to me. We must educate ourselves to reduce the fear. Get tested! Those are steps that we must take to prevent breast cancer. Exercise is very important for general well-being. Endorphins make you happy. A happy person is a healthier person.
Hope: Do you think that lack of adequate healthcare is one of the prime reasons why African-American women die of breast cancer at higher rates than others? How does this impact our community — and what advice or insight do you have on this that can help our women?
Karen: This plays a major part in our poor survival rate. If these things were a priority, we could help ourselves along with advocating for better heath care options. We are now at the point where people can stand to listen to cancer education. Now we have to get forward and take action! Technology is improving. Women are getting better treatment. If you pick the wrong doctor or hospital you will get bad treatment. This is why women need groups such as ours to assist them. Women with breast cancer should be seeing a breast specialist and oncologist. We aren’t knowledgeable about this. You have to accept that you don’t know and seek out what you don’t know. That is why we have Sisters Network, to equip our women with the knowledge they need to have a successful fight and become survivors.
Hope: As an 18-year Breast Cancer Survivor, what hope and inspiration would you share with other survivors, or women that are currently fighting breast cancer?
Karen: Hope is essential to all of us. My hope is a cure for ALL cancers. We are capable of finding the prevention tools. Cures are good, but prevention is better!
Hope: Can you talk to us about how your faith and hope in God brought you through, and the role that your faith plays in your daily life now? How has that changed in the past 16 years?
Karen: I stepped out on faith to start Sisters Network® Inc. I had no money for the first 5 years. My faith and my hope kept me purposeful not to give up. Through life challenges, fears, and stumbling blocks, you have to keep the hope that one day it will be better. I feel blessed to choose hope, and to keep going. I would inspire women to stay true to themselves, and stay true to their vision. You have to know that tomorrow is a better day!
Hope: Breast Cancer has a great emotional effect on those that have been diagnosed and their families. How important is it to have a “sisterhood” of women that have had any kind of experience with breast cancer?
Karen: It is SO important. When you have a community of sisters that has gone through what you are experiencing, they understand, they will sit with you, and they know what to do for you. They know what you need. Family is great, but the sisterhood makes all the difference. A woman’s family must work to understand the ups and downs and the challenges. Give them more understanding than normal. It is important for the family, keep encouraging the woman that is fighting breast cancer. Don’t ever stop encouraging them to push forward. Remind them that tomorrow is a better day. Keep them in good spirits, so that they can get through the journey. Tomorrow is a better day!
Hope: You had a vision deeply rooted in your heart to start this organization and it has become such a success! What advice would you give to anyone that has a vision that would inspire them to move forward?
Karen: Your mission is yours, and so are the challenges that you will face – you need to continue with learning, and moving forward with what you believe. Stay focused! Stay true, focused, and purposeful with what you have envisioned. Don’t let other things or people turn you around.
Hope: What do you HOPE for?
Karen: I hope for prevention. A cure is good. Prevention is better!!!!
Karen gave us so much inspiration and hope that we would like to pass on to all of our readers. Breast cancer can be scary, but with the right knowledge, a community of sisters, a mustard seed of faith, and a heart of hope, you can beat it!
In our interview, Karen encouraged our readers with the statement: “Life is a choice!” If any of our readers are fighting breast cancer or know someone that is, we want you to be encouraged and know that tomorrow is a better day. Women must get educated about how to prevent breast cancer and how to treat it, if diagnosed. We must put our health first. Karen also says: “We have to treat our bodies like the temple that it is, and remember that it needs repair often. What you eat develops who you are, what your body needs, and what your body is lacking. Nutrition is important! Your faith and hope come from your attitude in life and your expectations.”
Sisters Network® Inc. was created to give women knowledge and hope. There are chapters around the country that can provide any woman fighting breast cancer, and survivors, an immediate sisterhood filled with love and care. Sisters Network® Inc. will also provide you with resources to help in your fight against breast cancer.
To get involved with Sisters Network® Inc. call 866-781-1808, or contact the organization via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also visit the website at www.sistersnetworkinc.org.
Upcoming Sisters Network Events
Lighting of the Sister House (October 2011)
National Day of Worship (October 23, 2011)
Stop the Silence Walk (April 2012- Houston, TX)
Breast Cancer Prevention Tips
Routine Breast Exams
Annual OB/GYN appointments with breast exam
Make your health a priority!
Visit the Susan G. Komen website (http://ww5.komen.org/) to learn more about prevention and risks of breast cancer.
Be sure to follow Hope for Women on Twitter, and visit our Facebook page, to get more advice from Karen Johnson on some of the following:
Steps to prevention
Signs of breast cancer
Inspiration to push forward to win the fight!
As Karen says: “Feed yourself in The Word and stay encouraged!” Stay Inspired and full of Hope!
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2011. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2011.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans 2011-2012. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2011.
Tanika Jones, a marketing professional, aspiring Christian author, and a student at Rhema Correspondence Bible School, has been called to minister to others through her passion for writing. In her spare time, she loves reading, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. Tanika is committed to letting God use her as He sees fit. Her devotional messages encourage, motivate, and inspire God’s children to live a Christ-centered life. Tanika hopes that her ministry will bring lost souls to Christ. To receive an additional outpour of inspiration, visit her blog, My Alabaster Box at www.tanikajones.com.
(Credits: Picture Sisters Network event guest/sponsors Vannesa Reed, Community Reinvestment officer, Comerica Bank, Karen Jackson, CEO Sisters Network Inc., Irvin Ashford Jr., Sr. V.P. Comerica Bank)