October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer among women. Despite the slight decline in the mortality rate due to early detection and improvements in treatment, Black women are at a 40% higher risk of dying than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Fourteen-year breast cancer survivor Dr. Jacque Colbert, who has a doctoral degree in Management and Organizational Leadership, is part of what she calls a “sisterhood” of women who defeated cancer and has worked relentlessly to give back to women suffering from it.
If detected early, breast cancer is curable. Through her nonprofit Sipping PositiviTEA, the Houston-based global human resource leader has implemented annual fundraising, fashion shows and galas focused on raising funds for the cure and helping support post-care needs for survivors.
Last year, Colbert raised $11,000 in funds and $10,000 was donated to The Rose, a nonprofit helping the insured and uninsured receive necessary testing and treatment, and $1,000 to support “Angels Fighting Cancer.”
On Oct. 22, Colbert will host her next fundraiser at The Bougainvilleas in Houston at 7 p.m. The Defender spoke with Colbert to learn about her experience.
Defender: Take us back to the beginning of your breast cancer journey.
Jacque Colbert: I was diagnosed in April 2008. I consider myself a healthy person. I’m a military veteran. I spent 4 ½ years there. Two weeks before feeling something was wrong, I had a complete physical by my medical practitioner, which included a full breast exam. I was told that I was clear. A week later, I felt a lump in my left breast. It was odd. I’ve always been attuned to my body. I called my doctor, and told me nothing couldn’t be wrong. I became persistent and dogmatic. I became an active participant in my survival.
I kept beating the drum to be seen and heard. I wanted a mammogram done, and it took another month before that happened. I was shy of 39 at that time. The official age was 40 years old to receive them regularly. Mammography takes about 30 minutes, but I ended up being there for about two hours. I had a barrage of radiologists come in, and that was when I was told something was wrong. They called my doctor immediately.
I was a single mom raising my daughter, and I started my doctoral journey as an executive at Dell Technologies. I had so much to look forward to. The news was abrupt. But I’m thankful that I learned at an early stage and had a biopsy done, followed by a lumpectomy.
Defender: Did you later find out if this was hereditary?
Colbert: I started asking and thinking about my family tree, not knowing or ever being told of anyone on either side of my family with a history of breast cancer. I got the genetic test done to validate if it was in my genes, and it returned negative. I kept asking myself several things. I’m a pescatarian. I work out five days a week. It wasn’t making sense. I decided to stop focusing on the negative because this experience was something I should be learning and teaching out of the despair of my pain.
Defender: How was the healthcare and treatment process for you?
Colbert: I’m thankful from a traditional medicine perspective. I had excellent traditional healthcare available to me. Being of Caribbean descent, I value nontraditional medicine. I went through a year of chemo, followed by 35 rounds of radiation. I supplemented a high dose of nutraceuticals to keep me well and whole during my treatment. I’m passionate about this body of work from a nonprofit perspective because there are things that aren’t covered when discussing holistic healthcare.
One of the drawbacks of chemotherapy was lymphedema or the extreme swelling in the arms and legs. One of the most challenging things I deal with is neuropathy or numbness in my fingertips, making it hard for me to find clothes or clean. One of the things that were helpful to me that were not funded by regular healthcare was the Susan G. Komen Foundation in Austin at the time. They offered six months of housekeeping service to help me through the day. It took a whole year before I was cancer free.
Defender: What can Black women do to prevent this?
Colbert: Number one, we need to discuss this more and not be ashamed of our bodies. Number two, get comfortable with saying that we’re not superwomen. We need balance and a better work-life balance. Number three, learn how to say “no…” I believe stress was a significant factor in what induced this cancerous tissue in my body. In the Black community, we are constantly under stress due to many competing priorities. Number four, we got to put our money where our mouth is. Vote for the appropriate politicians and leaders with the right mindset about holistic care.
Defender: What changes to your lifestyle do you see now than before when you had breast cancer?
Colbert:It’s the amplification of my lifestyle. I choose to be positive. I serve my community, but I make sure I create time for rest. I’m consistent in ensuring that I stick to my mammograms, constantly researching and engaging with others. I believe we sit silently and suffer when grateful for our life. We need to prioritize ourselves first.
Defender: Talk about your nonprofit. What solutions does it provide?
Colbert: It didn’t start as a nonprofit. It began with positive psychology and creating services and products that were visual indicators of positivity. I want to raise as many funds as possible to help the underserved so they can at least get mammograms for free. Then, I want to ensure those things that aren’t covered through traditional healthcare, such as housekeeping services, lymphatic drainage treatment, or neuropathy support. We also support men who wouldn’t ordinarily have these available to them.
Defender: Let us know about your upcoming event.
Colbert: This is the premiere fundraising fashion show and gala aimed at amplifying and uplifting what we’ve been doing for four years. We are bringing in the best of H-Town. It combines food, fashion, friends, family and fundraising. We need to help our survivors at every stage of their process.