Never Underestimate the Power of Family: How One Family Took Loss and Turned It into Something Much Greater – The story of a Komen Grantee

Olivia Bonevento is a featured guest blogger for Komen CSNJ.  She lives at the Jersey Shore and is currently a student at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.  Read more about Olivia on her personal blog – oliviabonevento.wordpress.com.

Family is important- there is no denying that. There is nothing greater than a love that a family has for each other. I have seen this especially through the last few months that I have worked for Komen Central and South Jersey — when I interviewed survivors at the Race for the Cure, the majority of them said that their families are what kept them going in their toughest times. Family is the glue that holds people together, especially in their times of struggle. The Clark family is a prime example of this.

clark-family-pic

Members of the Clark family.

The Clark family had their share of experience with breast cancer. The family lost two sisters (Brenda and Barbara) nine months apart, and their mother and grandmother both died of breast cancer previously. A third sister, Darnetta, was diagnosed as well, and has been in remission for 10 years following a double mastectomy. This family has also been infiltrated with other cancers- a fourth sister, Jackie, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Four out of the five Clark sisters were stricken with cancer at a young age, and the family had a hard time clinging to hope. When would it end? They truly didn’t know. But there was one thing they did know- that they had to band together as a family to further breast cancer awareness and education. Cancer is no joke- it doesn’t discriminate. There is no age or ethnicity that is immune. The family learned that they had to be proactive with their health and educate and empower not only themselves, but others as well. That’s how they started The Clark Family Breast Cancer Services in 2005. They are a grassroots foundation, meaning they started with nothing. In the years 2005-2007, they weren’t completely sure of what direction they wanted to go in. However, in 2007, they had a volunteer write a grant for Komen CSNJ to fund their educational outreach program, and it was accepted.

Clark family members at the 2016 Komen CSNJ Race for the Cure.

Clark family members at the 2016 Komen CSNJ Race for the Cure.

In 2007, the program only served Camden County. They looked at programs that were working, such as the Witness Project and other evidence-based programs to get their ball rolling in the right direction. The Witness Project is all about serving minority women- it was religious based, and it revolved around going to churches and talking to the women in these churches about their experience with breast cancer. This let the Clark family know that there was a large need in the minority communities, African American and Latina communities specifically. They have now branched out to two more counties- Burlington and Gloucester. Many people in these counties have a hard time getting access to healthcare and the basic resources they need to stay healthy. The Clark family travels to these communities to educate women and men and help them realize the importance of mammograms and other screenings.

They pride themselves in being a family-based program. Their program is unique because the family members are the ones who go out and speak- I spoke to Maria, the wife of the brother who lost his sisters to cancer. While her specific role is educating women, she finds the most important part of their program is having the survivors in her family speak, and having her husband speak. “When women see a man at the breast cancer table, or a breast cancer event… they are confused.” She says, “But my husband’s role is extremely important. This subject is, and always will be, extremely emotional for him—he always says in his speech that he protected his sisters from everything—boys, bullies… when he was around no one touched his sisters. But he couldn’t protect them from cancer, and that’s something that is hard for him to accept”. Maria wholeheartedly believes that their program strikes a chord because it is so family based. “We know what is happening to them, because it has happened to us and then some” she says. “We want to emphasize that we know how you feel, and we know how to help. If we can prevent this from happening to a family or help them to realize what options are available to them, we have achieved something”.

Their mission statement reflects this, saying that:

The mission of the Clark Family Breast Cancer Services, Inc. is to educate, motivate and support, not just the individual diagnosed with breast cancer, but their entire family as well.

Through Education, we spread awareness.

Through Motivation, we uplift their spirits.

With Support, we will stand by them every step of the way.

They also emphasize that early detection is key. This mission, Maria says, would not be possible without help from Komen.

Komen CSNJ funds The Clark Breast Cancer Family Services through their Community Grants program. Komen CSNJ fulfills its mission of eradicating breast cancer forever, in part, by offering grants to non-profit organizations that provide breast cancer detection, support and educational awareness to men and women in need living in its 13-county service area. Over the past 23 years, Komen has invested more than $17 million in local breast health and breast cancer‐related services. Maria’s family program is just one of the organizations that has been helped by this grant program. They are, to this day, yearly grant recipients. “When we started in 2005, we had no direction. Komen gave us direction.” Maria says, “Komen’s grant has helped uninsured women get free mammograms… it has provided us with the funds that allow us to travel to communities… without (Komen Funding) we wouldn’t have been able to do as much or be on board for 11 years and have significant success.”

When Maria was asked to tell a story about the biggest impact their program has made, she says that there are too many to count, but it always is special when they get phone calls or thank you letters. “One girl pointed to my husband and said: “You saved my life, you didn’t give up on me… you hounded on me… you told me about your sisters… you inspired me to get a mammogram and I was diagnosed early… and I’m still here because of early detection.” Her saying that made my husband so happy, made us realize that we are actually making a difference. That’s pretty humbling”.

Maria would like to tell the families that are suffering right now that they are not alone. They need to support one another, but also know there are other forces in the community that can help you.

Maria and her family’s educational outreach program is only one of the amazing organizations that Komen CSNJ funds every year— click here  to learn more.