When Karen E. Jackson was diagnosed with breast cancer, in 1993, she was met with a lack of educational resources and no community to rely on for support. What’s more, she felt that racial biases within the healthcare system kept her from receiving proper treatment. It left her feeling adrift and lonely.
“To not be able to pick up the phone and ask the questions that I had was devastating,” says Jackson. “I wanted to know what was going on throughout the country for Black women with breast cancer, not only to help myself, but to help other Black women.” At the time, cultural stigmas surrounding breast cancer kept many people in Black communities from speaking out about their health. “My own family didn't want me to talk about being a breast cancer survivor,” Jackson says. “Even though we had a family history, they wouldn’t want me to talk about it. But I never had that feeling. I just went ahead and spoke my truth.”
Jackson found herself in the position of creating the community she needed. She founded Sisters Network Inc. in 1994, the country’s first and only national breast cancer organization focused on helping Black and African American women who have been diagnosed with the disease.
She, and the women she’s connected to, have been speaking their truth ever since.
Nearly three decades later, Jackson, now a 28-year cancer survivor, remains on the Sisters Network board of directors as both its founder and CEO. The organization, which has more than 25 affiliate chapters across the country, is now run by other breast cancer survivors, and continues to educate and support Black and African American women, as well as encourage them to speak up about their health.
Jackson says she founded Sisters Network with the intent to support Black and African American women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as educate the community about the disease. “Facing breast cancer alone does not help your diagnosis, but having support … gives you hope and gets rid of fear,” Jackson says. “We were able to provide that.”
Over the course of nearly three decades, Sisters Network has evolved into a national organization invested in “boots on the ground” work, and continually works with breast cancer survivors to spread information and awareness to other Black and African American women.
Services they provide
In addition to emotional support and connection, the Sisters Network Karen E. Jackson Breast Cancer Assistance Program offers financial support to women who are actively receiving breast cancer treatment. The program provides financial assistance that can be used on rent and utilities, as well as mammogram and ultrasound support.
Sisters Network also offers mammograms for the purpose of early detection to women who are uninsured. You can visit their website to learn more about the program and how to apply.
On their site, you can find several educational resources, including brochures on how to give yourself a breast exam and what you should be asking your doctor.
They’ve also posted past webinars covering topics ranging from clinical trials to why more Black women are receiving a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis.
Sisters Network will soon be gearing up to host their 13th annual Stop the Silence walk this April. Each year, thousands of participants come together in Houston to honor the Black and African American women in their communities who are battling breast cancer at this 5K walk/run.
“People come from all over the country,” Jackson says. “It's an educational opportunity, it's a fun opportunity, and it helps raise money for the organization to do the work that we do.”
Also coming this spring: Sisters Network’s Pink Power Tour. This will be the organization’s second tour, focused on educating Black and African American women about triple-negative breast cancer and its impact on their community. The tour will run from April to October and visit five cities — Charleston, South Carolina; Orlando, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Montgomery, Alabama; and Washington, DC.
For more information about the Pink Power Tour, the Stop the Silence walk, and other Sisters Network events, as well as how to register for them, you can visit their events page.
“Make your health a top priority,” Jackson says. “There is no reason that any of us should be walking around without knowing that our health is a top priority over anything that we're doing. Without [your] health, your money can’t help you, you can't get around, and your house? What good is it if you can't enjoy it?”