“My mom is my everything,” Jazmine Sullivan says of her mother, Pam Sullivan. She’s the singer’s co-manager as well as her biggest supporter and constant confidant. She’s always there, including in the background as Jazmine talked with us about their relationship over Zoom.
“The reason that I’m here and I’m doing what I’m doing now is because she believed in me at times more than I even believed in myself,” she says. “She always saw me in my best light. So I love her and I’m just so happy that she’s still with me.”
Pam was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, and the news would substantially change the nature of their mother-daughter relationship, as well as Jazmine’s outlook on health and wellness. She would make sacrifices to support her mom, including going vegan with her. She also found herself driven to help other Black women not go through the same battles. The singer did her research, learning that Black women with breast cancer are around 40 percent more likely to die from the disease compared to white women in the U.S., and wanted to advocate for equitable care. So she’s partnered with pharmaceutical company Novartis to make that happen. She’s become an advisor for their initiative, More Than Just Words, a multi-year effort to promote health equity when it comes to breast cancer care.
In addition to supporting the much-needed initiative, Jazmine is also hoping her advocacy will encourage Black women to speak up about the necessity of annual screenings and mammograms, especially within families.
“We’re worried about a lot of other things, about our families, our kids, our men, relationships, the church, everything, community, but we don’t take care of our health,” she says. “That’s why this campaign is important to me because I want to stress Black women taking care of themselves.”
ESSENCE: Before your mom’s diagnosis, did you have any other women in your family who had been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Jazmine Sullivan: We actually did. Her sister had breast cancer and even some of her aunts had breast cancer, but we never really spoke about it in our family. I think that’s what happens in a lot of Black families, it might be stuff going on, health things, but we don’t actually talk about it. I think some of it is just being fearful of getting that information and what to do. It’s a lot of disparities, like we don’t have access to the same type of health care. So there’s a lot of factors, but what I think is really important about the More Than Just Words campaign is that they are trying to figure out what the issues are so that we can lessen the health disparities. To hear the numbers is jarring. It’s like, “oh my gosh, I can’t believe that Black women are maybe 40% more likely to die from breast cancer.” That’s crazy to hear. Novartis is doing everything that they can to try to lessen the disparities. I’m about that. I’m about Black women.
We’re trying to get Black women to go get screenings and get tested because our main fight in this is early detection. In order to do that, you have to go and you have to find out what’s going on with your body.
Your mom’s diagnosis was certainly a life-changing thing. You guys are very close and I know, I’m sure, watching her go through this health crisis probably impacted the way that you look at your own health. Can you speak to the changes that came about that were inspired by her experience?
Yes, definitely. My mom’s diagnosis made me look at my health in a different way. Obviously, I wasn’t going through it myself, but when breast cancer happens to somebody in a family, it really kind of happens to everybody. So I was like, what do we have to do as a family to get through this? We made a personal decision to become vegans and change our lifestyle, just become more active. It was actually an easier transition than I thought it would be because I was a meat eater, baby. I was eating pork and bacon and everything else, but I had a different motivation. When I had that motivation, all the things that I loved weren’t as important as keeping my mom here on this earth. I gave it up way easier than I thought. I love meat, but I don’t miss it. If I’m around it, obviously, the smells and stuff like that, but it’s not something that I yearn for [like] when I was eating meat. If you’re eating it, you kind of want to keep eating it. But it’s been good. It’s been really good for us.
How is your mom doing these days?
My mom is doing so well, she’s back to herself. She is running the show as always, she’s actually here. She goes with me a lot of places now since COVID restrictions kind of let up a little bit, because for a while actually, I wasn’t seeing her to be on the safe side.
I didn’t want to be around her, I didn’t want to take the chance, but she’s been going with me everywhere lately and I’m so happy about that. Because COVID has been crazy, going through it has been crazy and it’s also been crazy, obviously, with breast cancer and people getting screenings and stuff like that. So that’s another thing where we try to urge women to set your appointments up now and go out so the health disparities don’t widen because it’s been crazy for every part of life.
That’s good. And with everything going on, with the pandemic and with your mom’s experience, you guys were already close but how did you end up finding yourself valuing her more?
It makes you appreciate the time that you have. So it’s like, every second that you have, you want to just live in it and just truly experience it and soak it up because you just never know. Tomorrow, the people that you love the most could be gone. Today, the people that you love the most could be gone. I found myself actually yesterday, I was a little irritated at her because and I caught myself. I was like, “Jazmine, your mom is on this earth with you. She’s alive right now. You could touch her, you could speak to her, you could talk. She could be irritating, she’s still here to even be that.” I appreciate the fact that she even is still here. There’s a lot of people who just don’t even have that access to their people. They wish they could have those moments where they feel a little perturbed with their loved ones, and I still have that. So it makes you really just appreciate the people that God put in your life and just appreciate every moment. And I really do.