v4n4 - Women Take the Lead

CURE, Winter 2005, Volume 4, Issue 4

The first cancer-specific voices heard in the country were women who organized and vocalized about breast cancer in their communities, stepping forward to fill voids not addressed.

[Stop the Silence] When Karen Jackson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 she found a lack of “sisterhood” in traditional support groups. She also became aware of the startling national statistics about African-American women and breast cancer, prompting her to create the Sisters Network (www.sistersnetworkinc.org), an organization committed to increasing local and national attention on the devastating impact breast cancer has in the African-American community.

As the first African-American breast cancer survivorship and education organization, Sisters Network has spread across the country with 40 affiliates. Jackson developed several national outreach initiatives, including the Gift for Life Block Walk to educate women and encourage prevention and the Stop the Silence campaign to create a dialogue about cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Sisters’ outreach initiatives continue to promote the importance of breast health through personal empowerment, support, education programs and research. In 1999, Sisters broke new ground by hosting the first National African American Breast Cancer Conference to specifically address the impact of breast cancer on black women. With the eighth conference scheduled for April 2006 in Houston, the conference attracts more than 500 participants.

[Singing Truth] The emotion-filled strains of “No One Else,” a song for breast cancer patients, reflect Latina singer Soraya’s philosophy about her personal battle with the disease.

“In my darkest hour, when I could barely see, I found the essence of a woman I never dreamed that I could be,” sings Soraya, who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 31 in June 2000, two weeks before she was to begin a national tour promoting her third album.

The singer put her career on hold to fight the disease, undergoing a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction. Since her recovery, Soraya has focused on breast cancer awareness efforts, particularly among Latinas who have higher mortality rates because they are less likely to get mammograms and seek medical help. Ironically, Soraya agreed to serve as Latina spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1999 just a few months before she was diagnosed. For Komen, she has participated in awareness campaigns in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica and Central and South America.

“I am walking out of this experience as a better woman,” says Soraya, who lost her mother, grandmother and an aunt to breast cancer. “That is my message to every woman who must endure this disease. It is possible to get your life back. It may not be the same life, but it is your life and it can be a quality life. Keep your self-esteem high.”

For her work, Soraya received Billboard’s 2004 Spirit of Hope award. In 2004 her self-titled album Soraya earned the Latin Grammy in the new singer-songwriter category. Her newest album El Ota Lado de Mi (The Other Side of Me), a journey of genres and cultures, received a 2005 Latin Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Album.