Gail Jackson is trying to adjust to a new life after winning her fight against breast cancer.
After the devastating loss of her husband, Robert Lee Jackson, to colon cancer, the long-time Gadsden County School District employee had to summon the courage and strength to overcome adversity.
Knowing the history of breast cancer in her family, Jackson received mammograms every year. After an annual checkup, she received the diagnosis she had been dreading.
“I found out about my diagnosis in November 2019,” Jackson said. “I kept getting my mammogram every year faithfully. I remember the doctor calling me at ten at night while I was in the hospital room with my husband. I knew something was wrong.”
Jackson, who had no symptoms, was informed that cancer had been detected in her right breast. She recalled her mental state at the time.
“I was numb to the fact and I was in shock,” said Jackson. “I was trying to figure out what did I do wrong, I exercised and I ate right. At the time, I really was just going through the motion. I couldn’t talk about it.”
Putting her family first, she didn’t tell them her health was at stake. Everyone was dealing with her husband’s terminal illness.
“If I could’ve done it, I would’ve gone through it by myself; I really would have,” Jackson said. “I did not tell my family because we were facing the death of my husband. I didn’t want my family to worry about me. I just felt like they had to deal with losing him, then they have to worry about me, and that’s too much on anybody.”
On the day Jackson’s husband died, she broke her silence and told her youngest brother, Shontel Rittman.
Rittman described Jackson as a very supportive and selfless person who is the glue that keeps their family together. Their roles changed as she grieved and battled her illness.
“Family is very important to Gail and she is very supportive in everything anyone in our family is involved in,” said Rittman. “With everything that she’s gone through the past few years, our roles have reversed. Her battle with breast cancer came at a very tough time. She was privately fighting this battle, informed us of her diagnosis after her husband passed. All of this weighed very heavily on her.”
Jackson was determined not to quit. A month after she buried her husband, she had a double mastectomy. Jackson’s daughters described their mother’s strength during and after her battle with cancer.
“She was selfless as she went through her cancer battle,” said Roshannon Jackson. “She remained concerned about others and put others before herself. She showed faith over fear. Now, she continues to be strong in her faith and motivate others. She is an authentic, caring, humorous, and special lady that deserves so much. I am blessed that God placed her in my life.”
“It was tough because we had just lost my dad when she was diagnosed,” said Bianca Jackson. “Some days have been better than others, but she’s still here with us and for that, I’m so grateful. My mother is a fighter. She is my best friend and the sweetest person that will give you the shirt off of her back. She always has a smile on her face and is truly one of the strongest people I know.”
Jackson and her family are grateful for the outcomes of her battle and outpouring support. All of her tests have come back negative, and she remains cancer-free.
“Thank you to my extremely supportive family, work-family, and friends. Although I tried, I could not have fought this battle alone,” said Jackson. “I want to thank FAMU for recognizing me as an honorary breast cancer survivor while supporting a great cause.”
Recently, Jackson had the opportunity to run out on the field with the football team and was recognized as an honorary breast cancer survivor during a FAMU home game.
Jackson wants to encourage others who are fighting the battle and survivors to continue to strive to stay in good health, get counseling if needed, and stay motivated. She encourages men and women to receive an annual mammogram.
Jackson is currently a psychology student at Flagler University and has been working for the Gadsden County School District for almost 40 years. Her courageous fight has positively impacted the lives of many people. She is committed to celebrating “31 Days of Pink” every October and raising awareness about breast cancer.