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Jazmine Sullivan wants to help more Black women survive their battles with breast cancer.
Earlier this year, the 34-year-old revealed that her mother, Pam Sullivan, was in remission after being diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2019. Bringing her mom on stage with her to accept her Album of the Year Award at the 2021 BET Awards, Jazmine tearfully said her mother’s health was her real prize.
Now, the “Pick Up your Feelings” songstress has partnered with Novartis as an advisor for the healthcare company’s More Than Just Words initiative. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women and are more likely to be diagnosed at a later and more aggressive stage. More Than Just Words seeks to address these racial disparities and take actionable steps toward more equitable care.
“...Reading that Black women may be 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer was jarring to actually see the numbers,” Jazmine told REVOLT. “But, I think it’s good to see them because it lets you know exactly where we are and that we need to do more.”
With the initiative, Jazmine is hoping to open up a dialogue with fans, followers and her own family about health, inequality in care and how her own life changed when her mom was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. Right now, people who want to learn more can find information and resources at MoreThanJustWords.us.
In her chat with REVOLT, Jazmine opened up about her own experience after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, how Black women can prioritize their health, new music on the way and more. Read the full interview below.
Your mom completed chemotherapy this January, which is amazing. How has she been doing since then?
She has been doing wonderfully. She’s been with me every step of the way. Now that the world has kind of started opening back up since COVID-19, she’s able to travel with me and do the normal stuff that we used to do.
You revealed to fans last May that your mom had been diagnosed with cancer and you shaved your head with her in solidarity. What made you want to publicly share with fans what was going on?
I felt like it was important to share. It was such a hard thing to experience and I wanted to give hope to people who are going through it, and I felt like sharing my story was the way to do that. So, I just put it out there and let them know what was going on. Hopefully, them seeing the things that I wrote about it and the things that we went through could help ease, if they had been diagnosed, help ease that a little bit.
I remember, at that time, you telling fans who were battling cancer or family members of someone battling cancer that they weren’t alone. Is that an important message for you to get out in this campaign as well?
Definitely. I feel like that’s the biggest thing you can do for anybody who’s experiencing breast cancer is to just kind of just surround them with love and surround them with support and optimism. That’s what we did with my mom, just let her know that she’s not in this by herself and we’re gonna be there with her every step of the way, and I just wanted to do that for other families. So, being with this campaign, More Than Just Words, was really, really important to me because I’m reaching families, and I’m reaching women and Black women, and letting them know that we can get through this, and trying to let them know what they can do to get through it.
When did you learn about the racial disparities in breast cancer and breast cancer healthcare? Was it after your mom was diagnosed or was it something you were always aware of?
I think as a Black person you know that there are disparities in many parts of our lives. Not just with healthcare, but with the education system, the judicial system, income, housing, everything. But, I learned the actual numbers through the More Than Just Words campaign. Reading that Black women may be 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer was jarring to actually see the numbers. But, I think it’s good to see them because it lets you know exactly where we are and that we need to do more. So, this campaign has some of the top leading experts in healthcare working to create solutions to drive health equity in breast cancer and I’m happy to be a part of it. I just want to stress to Black women to really take care of ourselves. Go get your screenings. Go get your mammograms. It’s so important.
What are some of the things you’ll be doing with the campaign to encourage early screenings and call for more equitable care?
Just having these open conversations — even within my own family. Breast cancer was a thing in my family. My aunts had it, my distant family had it. But, I feel like Black people, we don’t really talk a lot about our health and our health history. So, having conversations like this is very important. I speak a lot about Black women in my music and sharing our stories, and this is just an extension of that. Letting Black women know exactly what the deal is, and that’s what we’re doing with this campaign.
Unfortunately, like you said, racial disparities in healthcare go beyond breast cancer. Maternal healthcare, for example, has serious disparities for Black women. Now that you’ve partnered with his campaign, could you see yourself becoming an advocate for other areas of healthcare, as well?
Oh, definitely. I would love to. Of course, this one is near and dear to my heart because I have personal experience in it and my mother has gone through it. So, for right now, breast cancer and trying to bring awareness to Black women about breast cancer is first and foremost in my heart.
What are some ways that people can bring awareness to this and get involved?
First and foremost, please go to the website MoreThanJustWords.us. A lot of this information that I’m telling you I found out through the campaign. Also, if you go on the website, you’ll see that a lot of the advisors are Black women. I feel like you can’t help Black issues unless you have Black people at the table — letting you know how we feel, what we’re experiencing and what we go through. I also just saw that an advisor, who’s a doctor, listed the specific questions that you should ask your doctor. There’s so much information on there to help us really survive breast cancer and learn more about our health.
Are you planning to hold any conversations about this with fans on social media?
Definitely, I’m gonna do whatever I can. Like I said, the conversations are so important. I’m not a big social media person, but for this I will be because I care so much about Black women, and making sure that we’re here on this earth to continue being magical and spreading our light. Sharing our gifts, our wisdom and everything. So, I’m all in because I really feel like I’m fighting for us and I want the best for us.
Through this initiative, what are some things you’ve learned that women can do to detect breast cancer early and prioritize their health?
Well, number one, I know that as women we usually put ourselves last and our health last. We take care of a lot of other things first. So, we have to kind of get into the mindset of: You are important. You are the most important person in your life. So, put yourself first and take care of yourself. Make that phone call. I know COVID has stopped a lot of women from actually getting mammograms and screenings. I believe I read that women getting screenings and mammograms has gone down 90 percent. So, we have to really prioritize ourselves. Go out there. Put your mask on and do what you have to do.
You released your award-winning EP Heaux Tales earlier this year and dropped your single “Tragic” this summer. Are you working on anything new?
I am working on music as we speak! I got some features coming out. I’m trying to just go full-force ahead. After a diagnosis of breast cancer in your family, you just appreciate life so much more. I’m excited about my life and continuing to share my gifts, and I’m appreciative that I still can — that people still want to hear from me and that I’m able to do what I love.
Definitely. And I feel like my life has more meaning with what I’m doing now. The fact that I’m thinking about other people besides what I’m going through. I feel so fulfilled knowing that I could possibly influence Black women to go and get these screenings, get these mammograms and hopefully save their lives.