The Relax is Yahoo Life’s wellness series where experts, influencers and celebrities share their approach to wellness and mental healthfrom self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Since the 2008 debut album of singer Jazmine Sullivan fearless, she has built a reputation for moving people with her music. One of those enthralled by Sullivan’s art is former resident Barack Obama, who recently featured Sullivan’s hit “Pick Up Your Feelings” on his playlist summer 2021.
Sullivan is now lending her voice to a cause that has become personal: breast cancer awareness. Sullivan’s mother was diagnosed with the disease two years ago, which shocked her world, but also motivated her to help others.
“After going through that with her, I wanted to help other women who may not be going through what we went through, or help them on the journey as they go through [it]’ she tells Yahoo Life. “It’s so crazy because I told my mom early in her diagnosis that I believe God would help her through this so she can be a blessing to other people. So I’m so happy to be able to do this and be a blessing — especially to black women, because I love us.”
Statistics show that black women are 42 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. It’s an issue Sullivan is drawing attention to by partnering with Novartis on their More than just words campaign. Here she talks about racial inequalities in medicine and how she prioritizes her own health.
Why is it so important to address racial inequalities in breast cancer prevention and treatment?
I think a lot of black women don’t really know the numbers…I didn’t know before this campaign. And I believe that once we have clarity about what is really happening, we will take better care of ourselves and make our health and ourselves a priority. My goal here is to make sure that black women take care of themselves – not just everyone, not just the kids, not just your husband, not just the community – but to make yourself a priority because you really don’t care about anyone else. can help until you help yourself.
How can people move from discussion to action when it comes to addressing these inequalities?
They can on the [More Than Just Words] website; there is information on how to actually talk to your doctor and the questions to ask as a black person. So there’s so much the campaign helps us do. And then my role is just to have and continue these conversations. I had personal conversations with my girlfriends to make sure they were good. It starts at home first and then you branch out a bit. So people should just start in their circle and they start reaching out and helping other people.
How have you been able to support your mother after her diagnosis?
My mother is everything to me; she is the reason i sing because she believed in me early on and i believed i could be anything i wanted. She now joins me on many things, especially as the COVID restrictions kind of held up. But I just support her by encouraging her to live her best life [and] take care of themselves. We became vegan very early in her diagnosis. So we take better care of our health and just try to do everything we can do together. We’ve grown so much closer since she was diagnosed and so I’m just really happy that she’s still here on this earth and that we’re building this partnership together. It just gives us satisfaction to be able to help other people, especially black women. And with more than just words [we’re] doing the work to create solutions, drive health equity with breast cancer, and help black women get screenings. And that’s very important to me and I’m glad I could do that with my mom.
Why is it important to take care of your mental health when supporting a family member after a difficult diagnosis?
Breast cancer changes everything in your life. I actually started seeing a therapist and I take care of my mental health because that’s something you just kind of have to figure out. I’ve looked up so much since then [starting] therapy and getting that pain and everything I’ve been through.
What measures have you taken to minimize your risk?
Setting up my own mammogram, talking to my mom about our family history. What was crazy is that she actually has a sister who has had breast cancer twice. So it really shouldn’t have been as shocking as it was in our family, but I feel like a lot of families don’t really talk about it. And that’s the problem; we don’t discuss our own family history with health, [which] became important to me too [and] that seeped through in the conversations I have with my friends.
How do you prioritize your own mental and physical health?
I became vegan two years ago with my mother; we decided as a family that we wanted to take better care of ourselves overall. And so we cut out meat, got me to do some kind of exercise… all of that has helped us feel better as individuals and just connect as a family.
Do you have any little self-care rituals you use to brighten your day?
I’ll do a face mask. Sometimes I like to light candles and just chill. My therapist helped me to really look inside and breathe. Often we just move so much that we don’t have a chance to be still with our thoughts and really [think about] what it is that we really feel. So I start doing that. journals. i write songs; I would say it has always helped me.
Do you have a mantra that you follow?
Nothing specific, just a daily reminder to put myself first, to love myself, to take care of myself, that I deserve the best in life, that I was already destined to take on whatever I face . Sometimes life comes to you quickly and you’ll think, Oh my God I don’t know what to do. And then you take a second and [think], Basically I have all the tools I need to get through this. So just let me calm down and I can get through it because I was destined for this anywayj.
What brings you joy?
What honestly gives me joy is just living. It’s cliche, but the fact that my mother is still here on this earth… there is nothing more precious than life itself. And I don’t need a lot of frills. I don’t need many accolades. I don’t need any of that. Just the fact that I’m here and my mother here and my parents here. We can still laugh and just see each other, [and] that means the most to me.
Breathing is a blessing. We really need to remember that – whatever we’re going through, the fact that you’re here, you can get through it. If you’re still here on this earth, you can handle it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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