By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
As one of the most diagnosed forms of cancer known to individuals throughout the country, breast cancer, which knows no boundaries, affects millions of women, men and families every day.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Concordia University in northeast Portland has dedicated itself to bring education and awareness of the disease to the community. This month, the college features the exhibit “Crowned Jewels,” a pictorial essay of Northwest African-American women whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer.
Located throughout the first and third floors of the new George R. White Library, the display, created by Reba Allmon in 2006, has images of 18 Northwest women wearing their finest hats.
“When you go through chemotherapy or radiation, you generally lose your hair,” said Lynnette M. Jackson, one of survivors pictured within the exhibit. “The hats are part of the crowns.”
Jackson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 at the age of 46, has undergone a mastectomy, chemotherapy and several reconstructive surgeries.
Although there was no history of breast cancer within her family, Jackson said she remembers the day she found out something might be wrong when her nurse practitioner, at her annual gynecological checkup, noticed her areola looked pronounced.
After she immediately arranged for a mammogram and biopsy, medical professionals soon diagnosed her with breast cancer. “I was in shock,” she said.
Eight-years later and after many stages of both recovery and discovery, however, Jackson said, “she is truly grateful and thankful for the encounter.”
“I’ve been blessed with a new appreciation for life,” she said.
Jackson said she is excited to be a part of the exhibit and one of the African-American ladies highlighted to be a crowned jewel. “Just being asked acknowledges the importance in connecting a variety of women,” she said.
According to Jackson, the heightened awareness about breast cancer is important.
“As African Americans, we have a tendency to not seek preventative health maintenance,” she said. “So my thing is, it is okay to want to know to be prepared, be aware and equipped with the knowledge ultimately to take care of yourself and be well.”
She said when she first heard of her illness, she realized a person can either retreat or speak out. “I chose to speak out to men and women, and not just African Americans, but everyone.”
This week a reception event of the art exhibit, put together by Rev. Renee Ward, was held on Monday, and made possible by Concordia University’s Arts and Culture program in partnership with Ward’s Chrysalis Ministries and other community associations, including Portland Center Stage.
“These are all Northwest African-American women whose lives were touched by breast cancer,” said Linda Church, another breast cancer survivor and the director of the Arts and Culture Program at Concordia University. “The whole point of doing this exhibit here and now is because we are an institution of education and we are dedicated to our surrounding community.”
The reception was filled with individuals from throughout the community whose lives have been changed by breast cancer. Dressed in pink, Church was one of many attending wearing a local tailored hat, in honor of the brevity and courage of the survivors, like her, of the disease.
The purpose of the program, she said, was to educate and inspire with the visual arts because it is a different process of learning than simply opening a book, which is why she is so excited to support women who have made an effort to help educate the public of breast cancer.
“We learn from each other,” said Church. “More than we can ever learn on our own.”
The American Cancer Society and Multnomah County attended the ceremony to outreach and provide information to the public with display tables, which will be available throughout the entire month.
“The point is to get the word out,” said Church. “This visual exhibit is very engaging. I like seeing and creating avenues where people are excited and pulled in by what they see.”
Although she lost a breast during treatment of cancer, Jackson said she couldn’t find the words to express the amount of joy and appreciation she has gained from the experience, and she spoke of her grandchildren.
“I thought I had become a woman with the birth of my two sons,” she said. “It wasn’t until I had to make profound and altering decisions about my physical body, along with the loss of my hair, that I entered into woman hood.”