The Dallas Examiner
Stafon Harris-Jackson, creator of the CNJ Cancer Foundation, has known an excess of illness, pain and loss in her 47 years.
“I received an emotional blow when my two-year-old daughter, Cherae, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma in July 1998,” the Arlington resident wrote in a biographical statement, describing the dramatic effect cancer had upon her family.
“She received her wings in September 1999, at the tender age of three.”
Additionally, Harris-Jackson has had to cope with the murders of her father and her brother in separate acts of violence, as well as the end of her marriage, and weathering a crisis of doubt in her Christian faith while working and raising her surviving daughter, Kaila.
Then, there has been the battle for her own physical wellbeing.
“On April 19, 2010, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was shocked, because I was 40 years old at the time, and healthy, or at least I thought I was,” she wrote.
During a recent interview, she opened up about her illness.
“Within the last … five to 10 years or so, colon cancer has been on the rise in our African American community,” Harris-Jackson pointed out. “It’s 45 percent higher in African Americans than any other group out there. We are to get our screenings at age 45. Thirty-three percent of us are not getting our screenings as we should.”
She indicated that her message is especially urgent due to a substantial rise in colon cancer rates for Black women.
Symptoms include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, blood in stool, abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, or unintended weight loss, according to the American Cancer Society – none of which Harris-Jackson experienced.
“I had perforation of the colon,” she remarked on the unusual way her cancer was discovered after medical personnel found that part of her intestine had broken loose internally. The single mother revealed that her daughter found her late at night at home, slumped over on the floor in pain, after a bout of what she initially thought to be food poisoning.
“I ended up in the hospital and woke up two days later to a doctor telling me that I have colon cancer,” she said. “All I could think about was, I wanted to go home. That’s the first thing that came out of my mouth.”
She soon after recalled the ordeal that Cherae had undergone.
“It was hard for me to think about it,” she confessed. “It was hard for me to wrap my mind around it.”
After a grueling, yet ultimately successful, fight against the stage IIB disease, Harris-Jackson was traumatized to learn her physical battle had not ended.
“In 2013, my colon cancer had returned,” she wrote further in her biography; the cancer had metastasized to her ovaries.
In a more weakened state she had to deal with the biological toll of IVs, surgery, chemotherapy and spending day after day in a hospital. That was only part of her struggle.
“I could not work, which meant that I could not pay my bills. I was in a terrible situation, yet I remained determined to kick cancer’s butt,” she penned.
Despite her discomfort and her weariness of being ill, the reappearance of Harris-Jackson’s cancer gave her a mission.
“… God is not picking on me, and God is not picking on you if things keep happening to you,” she explained. “God is strengthening me, for me to be able to stand up in front of people and help people, because without my voice and without my standing up and taking my tragedy, and turning my tragedy into a testimony …
“That’s my whole goal, is to be able to help somebody else not go through and experience what I had [gone] through because I’m giving you the knowledge and the understanding and the awareness that’ll be able to give you some signs to go get your screenings.”
With that concept in mind, Harris-Jackson created the nonprofit CNJ Cancer Foundation in 2014. She noted that the foundation’s website will be online within a couple of weeks.
Until that time, she has been making public appearances at functions as her health allows. Some of the goals of CNJ – the initials of Harris-Jackson’s deceased daughter – are to provide various forms of support for those with cancer.
“Financially, I was struck,” she said of the monetary ills she endured during her second round of cancer treatment. “I didn’t have assistance to help me pay my mortgage. I didn’t have assistance to help me pay my electricity.”
She confirmed that the state rejected her request for financial help because the combined earnings from her job when she was able-bodied and the health benefits from her employer during her sickness placed her beyond the maximum dollar amount that would qualify her for help. A church she turned to for housing aid during her crisis would only assist if someone else put up a part of her mortgage money first.
Harris-Jackson is determined to make sure financial assistance for those fighting cancer will be available through her foundation. Emotional counseling and sharing information will be another component.
“This is my journey but it’s not about me. It’s about community,” she affirmed. “It’s about me getting the word out about childhood cancer, colon cancer, so to save these kid’s lives and give the awareness to these other mothers and fathers that have absolutely no earthly idea what’s going on with with their baby.
“[And] especially get our African American community [involved] because of the fact that we don’t go to the doctor like we should because of the fact that we may not have insurance. But [to] be able to give them some kind of referral, and give them some hope, and give [them] some companies or some corporations out there – some assistance, that you’ll be able to get even if you don’t have insurance.”
The mother and survivor continues to do her best to get along physically.
“My last lab work did not come back so well,” she offered, and shared that a biopsy on her liver was in her future.
Still, she insists, “I just know that I’m ready to fight whatever it is that may try to come up upon my body.”
Her mind also continues to be focused upon those who she feels she has been anointed to serve.
“Colon cancer is 90 percent beatable if you get your screening,” she voiced as a reminder. “By the time we start feeling our symptoms and know we have colon cancer we’re already in our second and third stages.”
Just as Harris-Jackson understands illness, pain and loss, she too remains intimately familiar with hope, positivity and crafting a communal solution from personal despair.
“‘God’s got me,’ that’s what my daughter use to say,” she later recalled. “And God’s got me, too.”