Why I Reach & Raise: Empowering others, with Jewel Ajibade
When Jewel Ajibade was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2005, she was like many women who find themselves lost in medical terms and information about breast cancer, testing, and treatment. Jewel turned to her friend Amy Lessack, a patient advocate and long-time volunteer and supporter Living Beyond Breast Cancer who died of metastatic breast cancer in February. Amy connected Jewel with LBBC, where she found helpful content about her diagnosis and treatment along with stories from others who have shared their experiences. When Amy started Thrivin’ and Survivin’, a team to raise funds for LBBC’s signature fundraising program, Reach & Raise: Yoga for a Reason, Jewel joined her.
As teams work to raise support for the 20th anniversary of Reach & Raise, happening virtually on May 16, we spoke to Jewel about what she found at LBBC and what has brought her back to Reach & Raise for over a decade.
How did you get connected with Living Beyond Breast Cancer?
I was connected through Amy Lessack. Amy and I have known each other since the late 1980s, when we worked together.
When she got her diagnosis, she got involved in Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Then, when I was diagnosed in 2005, she connected me with Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
And how did you start participating in Reach & Raise?
Through Amy. She had participated for years and brought me along. When it came to breast cancer, we were like partners in crime. We showed up at events and conferences. I don't think I ever did yoga until Reach & Raise. Amy told me about it and I went. We formed our own team in 2012, but it was 2007 or 2008 that I started participating in Reach & Raise and we would just go and claim our spot on the steps and do it. Then different people were like, "Oh! I want to come!” So we decided, if we're going to raise money then we needed a team, then we had to come up with a team name, but we wanted a name that empowered how we felt. We said we were Thrivin’ and Survivin’ and it stuck.
What did you enjoy about the experience?
I probably only do yoga once a year, but I find it very empowering to be with 1,200-plus people on the art museum steps, many of them breast cancer survivors in different stages. Having had it myself and with a mom who had it, it's a beautiful sight. You don't have to have a lot of yoga experience.
My mom had breast cancer, but at the time she was being treated, I was newly married and a new mom, so I didn't really know anything about breast cancer. There wasn't an LBBC for her. She muddled through on her own. Then, when Amy introduced me to LBBC, they provided me with information and resources to navigate my journey. They had information for women of color, which was important. Then, going to different conferences and seeing people like yourself.
Why is it important to you to participate Reach & Raise every year?
To empower others, to show others they are not alone in this fight.
I'm someone who’s willing to tell my story, because I find there's two different types of breast cancer survivors. There's one that will just babble, like myself, and tell you their story and show you their scars, and then you have the other breast cancer survivor who's afraid. They don't know where to go, they don't know what to do, which was my mom. She was afraid and she didn't know what to do, and I wasn't there to help her.
When I got breast cancer, Amy was there to help me, to walk me through, to tell me what to expect and share helpful advice — don't over-read, don't overdo this — different things that I think people need. And that is what LBBC does. They're there for you to ask the questions.
I remember when I first was diagnosed they had a chat room and different people would go in and ask questions, and it made me feel comfortable because I was like, "Oh! I have that!"
I want people to understand that even though we have people who have passed away from breast cancer, that you have to know your options, you have to have your knowledge, you have to know where you can reach out to get different support and services. I have lymphedema, and I was provided information to get massage therapy for that, then find the proper glove and sleeve, and once I was comfortable I graduated to LympheDIVAs, to the glamour sleeve. But if I didn't have LBBC and other friends who had cancer, I wouldn't know that.
Anything you else you would like to add?
I just think LBBC's a wonderful organization, I'm glad they're there. Anytime I know of anyone who has breast cancer, or someone within their family, I always give them LBBC’s information, I just feel they're one of those quiet organizations, but I do feel that they are very impactful. I was honored with their Going Beyond Award at the Butterfly Ball in 2015, so that is something I hold close to my heart. They recognize people who are trying to make a difference. The sad part about it is that since I've been involved with them in 2006, a lot of my friends have passed away, so it's got its plusses and its minuses. As Amy would always say, it's the sorority you don't want to join, but the best group of women you will ever meet.
Jewel Ajibade, 59, was diagnosed with early-stage, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in September 2005, but learned in early 2006 that the disease was metastatic. She lives in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two sons. She is co-captain of Thrivin’ and Survivin’ raising funds for Reach & Raise: Yoga for a Reason, happening on May 16. Learn how to register, join a team, or start your own at reachandraise.org.