In January 2003, Sarah Jackson, Bobby Jackson’s mother, died after a long battle with breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second-most common form of cancer among females; 13 percent of American women are diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. An average of 40,000 U.S. women die each year from breast cancer.
Bobby Jackson discusses the role Sarah Jackson played in his success and explains why he supports breast cancer research and awareness. The 36-year-old is a substantial contributor to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which is dedicated to research and treatment, and works to discover a cure.
When you’re a professional athlete, there’s never a good time to be injured. For Bobby Jackson, though, the broken knuckle he sustained in a game on Christmas Day of 2002 proved to be what he now calls “a blessing.” After being forced out of the Sacramento Kings’ lineup due to the painful injury, Jackson was able to visit his mother at her North Carolina home and care for her during the final two weeks of her life.
Sarah Jackson – who raised Bobby and his twin sister, Barbara Ann, in rural North Carolina as a single mother – worked long hours at her two jobs as a hotel manager and house cleaner to support her children. As a result, young Bobby vowed that he would be successful someday, allowing his mom to never have to juggle multiple jobs again.
Bobby achieved that goal in 1997, when he became a first-round NBA draft pick and bought Sarah a new home and car. Six years later, in January 2003, Sarah needed Bobby to help with something more urgent: to care for her during the final stages of her battle with breast cancer.
“My mom was from the old school,” Bobby remembered. “She was the nicest, most caring person, but she was also a disciplinarian and didn’t take any nonsense from anyone. She was my backbone. I get my toughness from her. I grew up without a father – I knew my dad, he just wasn’t around – but I saw how tough my mother was and that was instilled in me as a kid.”
“It was so difficult seeing her go through what she did (in the weeks prior to her death) because you knew she only had a certain amount of time left to live. She was struggling so much. I did some of the things for her that she did for me when I was a child. If I didn’t have a chance to be there by her side like that, I don’t know if I could’ve dealt with it or accepted what happened. I thanked the Kings for letting me go home for those two weeks, to spend time with her.”
Sarah’s death, along with the passing of Bobby’s maternal grandmother due to breast cancer, spurred Bobby to become heavily involved in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. In addition to serving as a spokesperson for the organization, Jackson has raised money by organizing countless events, including the annual Bobby Jackson Weekend in his hometown of Salisbury, N.C. Each summer, Jackson hosts bowling and golf tournaments, a youth basketball camp, and a celebrity All-Star game, with half of the proceeds benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation (the other half is donated to local Livingstone College). “It’s important to me because I never knew how serious breast cancer was until it happened to my family” Jackson says. “My grandmother had passed a year before my mom from breast cancer. Breast cancer is hereditary and it’s in our genes. That’s the scary thing about it, because I have three daughters and nieces. It’s important to me to educate people, give them the knowledge about it and make them aware of breast cancer.”
“I tell my wife to get a check-up every six months. My mom didn’t believe in check-ups. Like I said, she was from the old school. I think that got the best of her, because the cancer was so far along (when she was diagnosed) that they couldn’t do anything.”
“When I made it to the NBA, I always made sure there was money in her bank account, so she didn’t have to worry about anything. So she had whatever she wanted. The thing was, my mom was the type of lady who didn’t ask for anything from anyone – even from me. I had to do it on my own, because I knew if I didn’t do it, she wouldn’t ask for it.”
“I’ve always wanted to show her how much I appreciated everything she did for me.”