Reporting, writing and photos by H.L. Comeriato

Originally post on 3/17/2021 by The Devil Strip

Lavar Jacobs is a man on a mission.

On a bright afternoon in March, he sits at the head of a long conference table, a few dozen T-shirts, hats, hoodies and baby bibs piled in front of him. Across the hall, canned foods line the shelves of a small kitchen.

For more than a decade, this space at 937 Kenmore Blvd. has been part of Jacobs’s vision.

In 2009, Jacobs’ mother, Kim, died of breast cancer. Every day since, he’s worked to honor her life and memory by serving and supporting women through cancer treatment and beyond.

“After she passed away, I used to go to the American Cancer Society walks every year, which is very nice and they’re doing amazing things. But I’ve always had an entrepreneur spirit,” Jacobs says. “I felt like I could do more work if I really locked in and did something on my own.”

In 2014, Jacobs founded Not Just October, a non-profit designed to raise awareness, encourage education and offer wraparound services for women and their families from the moment they receive a breast cancer diagnosis.

On May 1, the Kim Jacobs Breast Cancer Resource Center will hold its grand opening. Jacobs says the space will be open to women facing a breast cancer diagnosis and in need of anything from counseling and financial advice to a massage or a wig fitting.

“It’s hard to explain,” Jacobs says. “And some people might wonder why I put so much of my time and my finances into the community and what I do. But I just know that every single moment I invest into this I invest into my mom.”

What do families facing a breast cancer diagnosis really need?

When it comes to services and resources, Jacobs says it’s often the simple things families need most. So he uses local businesses to make sure women facing a breast cancer diagnosis can have their lawns mowed, their carpet cleaned or their snow shoveled.

“I just remember every little thing we might have had an issue with when my mom was going through it,” Jacobs says, “and that helps me know what people want.”

When a woman who received a recent cancer diagnosis called Jacobs about getting a new pair of glasses, Not Just October was able to cover the cost of her prescription and deliver a new pair right to her door.

“Her prescription was like $300, so we got her glasses and delivered them. It’s just small things,” Jacobs says. “In the grand scheme of life, it may seem small. But to a woman who’s going through the hardest battle of her life, it’s huge.”

Jacobs also plans to host financial and health insurance consultations,

counseling, group meetings and therapy for women and their families.

“I plan on having one family night per week. It’ll be one family and we’ll feed them and they can come and we’ll probably play a movie,” Jacobs says. “There’ll be a nurse on site if they have questions. There’ll be a doctor on site. It’ll be appointment based. So there will be days when the doctor is here, and you’ll be able to schedule a time to talk with the doctor.”

According to a 2019 report published by the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among Black women in the United States.

Between 2012 and 2016, breast cancer death rates were about 40% higher among Black women than they were among white women, largely due to late-stage detection.

That’s why producing educational content is a big part of Jacobs’s vision for the Center.

“It’s not uncommon to find a lump,” says Jacobs. “We should encourage women not to be afraid. Sometimes they’ll find a lump and say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a lump. I’ll just go about my life.’ But it’s important, because early detection is key. If you find a lump, go to your doctor immediately. They might find it early, get it all taken care of, and you might never have to go through chemotherapy or radiation.”

Encouraging Black women to administer self-tests — and helping them find access to mammograms and other preventative care — is something Jacobs says he’s proud of, and hopes to continue.

‘She was always there for me’

Jacobs was just 20 years old when his mom, Kim, received a breast cancer diagnosis.

“We had a really close relationship,” Jacobs says. “We used to lay around and watch soap operas. She loved All My Children and General Hospital. She could cook. She cooked really good lasagna. She was always there for me,” Jacobs says, smiling. “She’ll defend me until the end, even if I’m wrong.”

Jacobs says his mom passed along her creativity, kindness and grit. “She also had an entrepreneur spirit. She had a little [craft] store where she [made and] sold jewelry. She did cross stitch and quilts and things like that.”

With the grand opening of the Kim Jacobs Breast Cancer Resource Center quickly approaching, Jacobs says he expects the moment to be an emotional one.

“It’s very bittersweet,” Jacobs says. “There’s certain things that I wish my mom could take part in. The fact that she never met my wife and she’ll never meet my kids? That’s very difficult. But I know she’s around.”

Opening the Center in her honor has helped Jacobs feel close to his mom, even more than a decade after her death. But arriving at this moment hasn’t been an easy journey.

When Jacobs’s wife left for California in December to work on COVID-19 assignment as a registered nurse, Jacobs took on parenting their two sons. By day, he drives a bus for the Akron METRO Regional Transit Authority. By night, he works on building out the Center’s resources — whether that’s packaging hoodies and T-shirts or answering calls from families with new cancer diagnoses.

In between, he picks up his 1-year-old son from daycare, and meets his 12-year-old at the bus stop.

“It’s not for everybody,” he says. “And it’s hard. I’m so busy. I’m tired.”

But Jacobs says those busy days are a small sacrifice — especially in the weeks ahead of the resource center’s grand opening.

Jacobs says he hopes the Kim Jacobs Breast Cancer Resource Center will help bring something good to Akron’s Kenmore neighborhood, and act as an example of service and community — for his own sons, the neighborhood and beyond.

“That’s what powers me every day,” Jacobs says. “That’s what energizes me, when I know I can do something good for someone.”

“I took a huge risk to do this, so I don’t minimize this moment,” Jacobs says. “We’re at the mountaintop. But there’s another mountain over there, and we’re about to climb that one too.”

To make a donation to Not Just October, visit notjustoctober.org.

If you or someone you know have been diagnosed with breast cancer, contact Lavar Jacobs at (330) 760-9956 to learn more about the Kim Jacobs Breast Cancer Resource Center.

H.L. Comeriato covers public health at The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach them at HL@thedevilstrip.com.

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