Breast Cancer Awareness Month may be in October, but every day is the time to educate yourself on the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among Black women (out-beating lung cancer, colon cancer, and rectum cancer). Often times it is said that breast cancer can only be found in women over the age of 40, but that is far from the truth! 

One woman, in particular, who can attest to this grave misconception is Jennifer Jackson. By the age of 33, Jennifer was living the life every woman dreams of — a life full of happiness and love. Less than one year after getting married to the love of her life, she is informed by her doctor that she has breast cancer. At that moment, the joyous world she spent her life building came crashing down. But true to her strength and perseverance, Jennifer refused to allow the disease to consume her life. She started a blog, The Young & The Breastless, where she turned this devastating reality into a positive one. Through her writing, Jennifer found a voice to share her story of motivation and triumph. 

Breast cancer is as much a physical fight as it is a mental fight. I had the pleasure to speak with Jennifer about her phenomenal journey of conquering breast cancer, what it means to be a survivor, and how she vows to forever inspire other Black women who may also face the disease to fight with courage, humor and grace. Check out the exclusive interview below: 

Photo: Jennifer Jackson

21Ninety: Why do you want to share your Breast Cancer story?

Jennifer Jackson: I want to share my story because there are not enough young women of color sharing their story. Many of us in the Black community are so private about things that we should be more comfortable with being transparent about. You never know who you can help or inspire by sharing your story. When I started my journey, I felt so alone. I had a ton of family and friends by my side but I wanted to talk to people who could relate to what I was going through and that looked like me. Hopefully, my blog will connect other young women of color and show them that you can fight this awful disease and WIN. This doesn’t have to be a death sentence and it can AND will transform you in so many beautiful and positive ways that you never imagined. It takes a while to transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly, but when it happens, it is so worth it.

21N: Congratulations on approaching your 1-year anniversary of beating cancer, what stage did you catch the disease?

JJ: I caught the disease at Stage 2B. I was told initially that I was stage 1A but after my double mastectomy, my surgeons discovered that I was a little further along than what they'd originally diagnosed me. 

21N: Are you the first in your family to encounter Breast Cancer?

JJ: I am the first in my family to be diagnosed. Many women think that if it doesn't run in your family, you're in the clear. Breast Cancer has no specific target. You can have no family history or be the most physically fit and healthy eater and it can still come after you. It's sad to think about but it's the truth.

Photo: Jennifer Jackson

21N: The common misconception associated with Breast Cancer is that it’s a disease that only women over 40 can encounter, how can we work together to eliminate that myth?

JJ: I am the myth debunked. Breast Cancer doesn’t always happen to women 40+. I was diagnosed at the age of 33. It also doesn’t always present itself in the form of a lump. I had bloody nipple discharge. We need to educate, inform and share our stories. I’ve taken my platform, The Young & The Breastless, to share my experience and do it in a way that is lighthearted, humorous and honest. It has allowed me to connect to women my age who share my experience and even the readers who are uninformed and are reading to get a better understanding of the process. A lot of young women don't think that Breast Cancer is something they have to think about in their 20’s or 30’s, but the reality is that women are being diagnosed more and more at a younger age. We must stop looking at this disease as something that only women who are 40+ have to deal with. Our healthcare system plays a large part in promoting this myth and it is going to take Breast Cancer survivors and them to help dismantle this myth. It is a must that insurance companies offer to pay for mammograms before the age of 40. 

21N: Have you always been a writer — or did you discover your talent following your diagnosis?

JJ: I started writing in a journal at the age of 6 or 7 years old. Writing has always been so therapeutic for me. I enjoyed creative writing a lot in my early childhood because it allowed me to use my vivid imagination and be expressive. I stopped writing for a really long period and since being diagnosed writing is a passion that came knocking at my door again.

Photo: Jennifer Jackson

21N: After reading your piece, Dear God, It’s Me, Jenny, I became an instant fan of your work. I’m particularly drawn to your warm, humorous and illustrative style of writing. Is there a piece of yours that you deem your favorite?

JJ: I wrote a piece for Gladiathers, Fighting Like a Girl: My Battle with Breast Cancer, that I think is tied with Dear God, It’s Me, Jenny. It encompasses my journey and my transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. 

21N: What is the significance of the macaroons, balloons and lipsticks in your "inspo" section?

JJ: Those are all things that make me happy. My lipstick is my “war paint”.  When I had my breasts taken from me and not one single hair on my body, lipstick was something that I used daily to still help me feel beautiful and powerful.

Photo: Jennifer Jackson

21N: You mentioned you hope to share your story by hopefully making people laugh and feel inspired, who are some comedians, storytellers, public figures, etc. that inspire you?

JJ: I really love any woman who allows themselves to share not just the pretty parts of themselves but the not-so-pretty parts too. Life can be hard. We all have more in common than we think. Being able to be open and transparent with other women to inspire, encourage and uplift them are the women that I admire most. Everything doesn’t have to always be so serious. Amanda Seales, Ali Wong, and Gabrielle Union all have the characteristics that I try to exhibit in my writing: honesty, rawness, humor, and ingenuity. It draws people in and makes them want to listen. 

21N: Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

JJ: I just want to write and share my story full-time. I love it. I keep seeing so many signs that this is the direction that I should go in so, here I am, writing and sharing my story in a real but humorous way and hopefully inspiring women along the way. 

Photo: Jennifer Jackson

21N: Do you have any advice for cancer survivors — or women currently battling the disease — on how to make their voice heard?

JJ: My advice is for women faced with this disease is to feel all of the feelings. The anger, despair, fear, hopelessness… all of it. Allow yourself to feel all of it. But also, make sure not to allow it to completely break you down. To quote Mark Nepo, "To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken.” Hopefully, you will get to a stable enough place that will enable you to hold on to what is positive in your life, allow it to push you through and encourage you to use your voice to share your journey and your triumph.

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