Her Own Giving Tree
By Emma Comery
Jackie Black was six years old when she hit her head on an oak tree. She didn't know it in that moment, but said oak tree would save her life.
“I was playing hide-and-seek on the playground,” she remembers. “If I hadn’t bumped my head, we never would have known.” In 2006, Jackie’s mother picked her up from school and, fearing a concussion, took her to the pediatrician. The ensuing CAT scan revealed a tumor the size of a grown man’s fist inside Jackie’s brain. It was grade three anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer with no known cause and no known cure.
Two major brain surgeries, 33 radiation treatments, and eight years later, Jackie was finally – finally – declared cancer-free. “I was in the kitchen when the doctors called my mom and I jumped out of my chair and started running around the table shouting, ‘No more cancer! No more cancer!'”
Yet, even as a child, Jackie recognized that the fight against brain cancer was not hers alone. “I saw all these children in the hospital who were way worse off than me,” she recalls when thinking back to the time leading up to Ready or Not Foundation. “It was horrific. That’s what made me want to start the foundation.”
Before Jackie even entered remission, she and her mother founded the Ready Or Not Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to raising awareness and funds for pediatric brain cancer research. For Jackie, it was vital that 100 percent of every dollar contributed go directly to support pediatric brain cancer research. To date, the foundation has raised over $2.2 million, and contributed every penny to the Glioma Research Project at Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston.
As the foundation’s spokesperson, Jackie has directed its vision, helped organize fundraising campaigns, and shared her story through speeches at countless events. “I used to get up on stage and be really shy. Then, about two years ago, I made my first really good speech. I present my story so that people can understand the reality of what people with brain cancer go through every day.”
At 20, Jackie is outgoing, stylish, and open-hearted. If you passed her on the street, you might take her for a girl with a picture-perfect life. You probably wouldn’t guess that she spent most of her childhood hooked up to an IV. You probably wouldn’t guess that she can’t feel hot or cold on the entire right side of her body.
Although the tumor that hijacked Jackie’s brain was successfully removed, it left its mark in the form of long-term symptoms like PTSD, epilepsy, and short-term memory loss. “I’m just like Dory,” she explains, citing everyone’s favorite forgetful fish from Finding Nemo. As for the seizures, they began in high school and often occur multiple times a day, lasting up to an hour and a half each time. “I’ve already had two today,” she says. “Unimaginable” is the word that comes to mind.
Cancer’s long-term effects may be exhausting, annoying, and inconvenient as heck, but they aren’t stopping Jackie. She is currently pursuing her degree in music and working towards a career in opera. Her biggest goal, however? “Finding a cure,” she says emphatically. Which is why she’ll soon step up as director of the Ready Or Not Foundation. An unstoppable warrior, artist, and advocate, she hopes to explore the world outside of Texas and effect change in cancer research on a global level.
Corpus will always be home for her, however. This is where her family is, where her life-saving oak tree used to stand. “They cut down that tree,” she remembers. “It’s a stump now. One day I’ll go back and sit on my stump.”
Ready or Not Foundation
Best Dressed Style Show & Luncheon – September 19, 2019 || Tickets available at readyornotfoundation.org
Photos taken on location at Bien Mérité