Jackie Jackson knows exactly what a good bra can do for a woman.
She knows this based not only on her own experience, but what it has done for hundreds of Mexican woman who now hold their head high as a result of Jackson’s help.
Jackson, who moved from Enderby, B.C. to the Comox Valley, is not only a breast cancer survivor, but the founder behind Cancer de Mama Clinic — an annual group which provides a healing service for those with breast cancer in Nayarit, Mexico.
The clinic helps women by providing free prostheses, allowing them to regain their self confidence along with providing wigs, scarves, hats and clothes.
“Some of the women come out and they are dancing with happiness. It’s so amazing. One woman collapsed in tears,” said Jackson from her Courtenay home. “It is such an emotional thing.”
Following her mastectomy, Jackson — who spent considerable time with her husband in Mexico — met with Dr. Jose Gutierrez and inquired about the availability of resources for women with breast cancer.
“They said that there was nothing in Tepic; the women have the operation and go home. There is no support and they know nothing about prostheses.”
She added many Mexican women also deal with the added stigma of having cancer — looked upon as outcasts who should not be associated with in public, or feel they have to cover their bodies with layers of clothing and bulky sweaters, despite the sweltering heat.
“In 2013 when I went down I met a woman who was crying. Her husband kept her locked away for two years; people wouldn’t have anything to do with her.”
Part of the Cancer de Mama Clinic also includes education, in hopes of demonstrating that women should be treated equally.
While prostheses are covered for women in Canada, Jackson noted there is no medical coverage available for prostheses for Mexican women. While being fitted for her own prosthesis, Jackson was able to gather 20 prostheses to give away.
“The women make makeshift prostheses; they are mostly stockings filled with birdseed.”
Jackson initiated the creation of a breast cancer support group, and a year later, with the help of a medical supply store in Kelowna, was able to collect 59 prostheses and bras to give away.
A makeshift clinic was created at Jackson’s Mexican home where she fitted women and donated bras.
“The women had a very hard time understanding why anyone would just give them something and not want anything in return. The biggest question was if they had to go to my church,” she explained. “I had busloads of women show up at my house.”
The clinic grew, and in 2006, Jackson, along with volunteers, fitted 368 women with bras and prostheses in two-and-a-half days.
“It is amazing to see how happy these women are … a lot of these women have never owned a bra in their life.”
As the clinic grew, Jackson realized it was time to pass it on to a dedicated group of volunteers and medical professionals.
In 2009 when she officially stepped away, the clinic moved into La Penita RV Park with space for hundreds of women. Over the course of a weekend, more than 200 volunteers come together to be fitted with prostheses, wigs, free clothes, have lunch and socialize.
Last year, the Cancer de Mama clinic provided help for 567 women, and Jackson added while the need seems endless, they have never turned a single woman away.
This year’s clinic has already taken place, but Jackson said the need is endless. The clinic is always looking for volunteers, donations of gently used bras, prosthetic bras, prosthetic forms, financial donations and people who can knit or crochet.
For more information on the clinic, visit www.cancerdemamaclinic.com or visit their Facebook page.