Jackie Brown | Determination, inspiration

Sistahs founder Jackie Brown was both feisty, caring

Sistahs Surviving Breast Cancer members cheer on the Bucs. Jackie Brown, center, started the group in 2006 to help women facing cancer.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2007)

Sistahs Surviving Breast Cancer members cheer on the Bucs. Jackie Brown, center, started the group in 2006 to help women facing cancer.

Jackie Brown's family and friends say she fought her battle with cancer courageously and along the way, helped others to do the same.

Ms. Brown died on Sept. 29. She was 50.

"She was an inspiration to so many,'' said Cindi Crisci, area patient services representative for the American Cancer Society.

"She was very feisty and she could be stubborn,'' her sister Doris Robinson said.

"Her motto was that she would cry about it and then get up and do something about it.''

In 2006 she formed a group to help other African-American women facing breast cancer. For too long, she said, black women had spoken in whispers about the disease, in euphemisms or not at all. Sistahs Surviving Breast Cancer was a way to change that, providing education, peer support and even a bit of fun.

Born in St. Petersburg, Ms. Brown could read the newspaper by the time she was 3 and instilled her love of learning in her children, her sister said.

"We knew that her illness could ultimately end up taking her life, and so the plan was to get her the necessary help and treatments so she could live to see her son graduate from college,'' Robinson said.

David "D.J.'' Brown, 22, who will graduate from Florida A&M University next spring, said his mother supported him when he transferred from Florida State University.

"She raised me right, so she trusted my judgment,'' he said.

His sister, Sharneka, 25, said "everything else was secondary'' to education for their mother.

"I ran track, and that's what put me through college. She was happy about that, but she would say, if you ever decide that you don't want to run anymore, I will pay for it,'' she said.

In March, Ms. Brown was named Community Service Woman of the Year by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce for her work with her cancer support group. She was on the boards of Gulfcoast Oncology Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

She blamed her cancer on 17 years of work at a now closed Pinellas County nuclear weapons plant and was one of hundreds of former employees seeking compensation for illnesses. After her claims had been denied multiple times, she asked for a hearing before the Department of Labor.

Michelle Ligon, a lawyer who was one of Ms. Brown's consultants at the hearing last fall, said they left understanding that all criteria had been met for the claim. They were disappointed when the claim was later denied on the basis that department standards for granting it had been changed. Ms. Brown appealed and had hoped for a response this past summer, Ligon said.

"I guess the very sad part of this is that she was originally diagnosed with a cancerous uterus, later with breast cancer, and she succumbed to cancer in her brain stem, liver, pelvis and lungs, which resulted in excruciating pain for her in her final days,'' Ligon said.

"It's been a very frustrating, if not a gut-wrenching experience, to watch the ... loss of quality of life of someone so vibrant and so giving to the community.''

Ms. Brown's partner of six years, Ananais Pittman, recalled the first time they met.

"I thought she was a beautiful young lady that I thought I could be with for a very long time, including marriage,'' said Pittman, a home delivery field manager for the St. Petersburg Times.

Addie Wells said Ms. Brown started the Sistahs group with a handful of members who met at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

"But Jackie didn't stop there, and she started visiting other churches and she would stand up and speak. That group was her ministry. We have 40 sisters in our group now. She was a Godly woman,'' she said.

Shirley Terrell said Ms. Brown remained positive.

"Jackie had a belief that cancer was not going to get her down. She fought it every day and no matter how she was feeling, she always thought about how other people were feeling and she sacrificed her time to do things for other people and the support group. She held so many hands and she wore so many hats,'' she said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Sistahs founder Jackie Brown was both feisty, caring 10/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 4, 2008 4:33am]

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