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Sisters and Survivors: How Siblings with Cancer Can Help Us Find a Cure

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"I felt like I was destined to have the disease."

Karen Eubanks Jackson, 65, Houston, with sister Kim Kirkland, 48, Bowie, Maryland

Cancer was a disease with which Karen Eubanks Jackson was intimately familiar long before she found a pebble-size mass in her breast during a self-exam in 1993. An aunt and a great-aunt had died of breast cancer, and Karen's mother and one of Karen's sisters were cancer survivors. And yet, after an ultrasound and needle biopsy revealed that the lump was indeed cancer -- stage II invasive ductal carcinoma -- she was in denial. "I immediately felt disconnected from my body, a sort of numbness," she says.

After having a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, Karen realized that women need better ways to cope with a breast cancer diagnosis. Even though African-American women are 12 percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than Caucasian women, they're more likely to die from it. "But there's just not enough talk about breast cancer in our community," says Karen. So she founded Sisters Network, Inc., the only national breast cancer-survivor organization for African Americans in the U.S. It hosts events where survivors can share information about the disease and strategies for preventing and treating it.

Karen's sister, Kim, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Sisters Network. Kim helps plan the group's annual meeting and attends conferences about breast cancer research. When Karen heard about the Sister Study through her work, it didn't take much encouragement to get Kim involved. "I was only 2 years old when Karen left for college, but she's always been my best friend," says Kim, who also credits her older sister -- now cancer-free -- with making sure she gets both regular exams at hospitals that have a strong reputation in the field of breast cancer and second opinions if she has any concerns. "I'm so proud of how she's turned what could have been a tragedy into something that is helping other women," Kim says. "Because of the Sister Study, we are constantly talking about new programs, research, and advancements. It gives both of us so much pleasure to help."

For more information about the Sisters Network, visit or call 866-781-1808.


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