Right before turning 40 in 2019, Angel Whorton discovered a lump in her breast and soon learned that she had triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form that does not respond to hormone therapy. She was stunned.
“I’m listening, like she could not have said that. It’s not possible,” Whorton, now 41, of Akron, Ohio, told TODAY. “I was so in denial. I don’t have breast cancer. This is crazy.”
Doctors wanted Whorton to start chemotherapy immediately and she felt overwhelmed by how quickly everything was happening. Then she received a message from Lavar Jacobs, founder of a nonprofit organization called Not Just October. While she didn’t respond right away, Jacobs kept checking in to help. Finally, she and her family accepted his offers.
“We had somebody come in and clean the house for us, deliver groceries,” Whorton said. “Lavar was right there for anything we needed.”
He also provided an emotional support that bolstered Whorton and her family.
“He has a calmness about him. He champions you along the way,” she said. “He also checked on my family. A lot of times when cancer fighters are going through it, people give us all the attention. They forget about the caregivers.”
And, Jacobs provided Whorton’s family with Christmas presents in 2020. Whorton was in the middle of breast reconstruction after her double mastectomy and her husband was experiencing long COVID-19 after being in the intensive care unit on a ventilator.
“It allowed my kids to feel special and thought about,” she said. “When Lavar came by he’s like, ‘This is to give you fuel to fight. So you will be OK’ … That’s the type of support that he gives.”
Not Just October
Jacobs is the founder of Not Just October and the Kim Jacobs Breast Cancer Resource Center in Akron, Ohio. When Jacobs was just 23 years old, his mother, Kim, 49, died of breast cancer. He always wanted to create a lasting legacy for her.
“Me and my mother, we were best friends. We were always together,” Jacobs, 34, told TODAY. “I had the idea (to honor her) soon after she passed.”
At the time, though, Jacobs was young with little idea how to start a nonprofit. After he married his wife, Deontra in 2014, she helped him start Not Just October.
“I had the idea to start a nonprofit organization that would honor my mom,” he said. “I knew it will be something that I do forever.”
Like many others, Jacobs spent October raising money for breast cancer. But he recalled how women like his mother felt forgotten during other months and that inspired the nonprofit’s name.
“As soon as October is over, everybody will fold up their pink shirts and go about their regular lives,” he explained. “There’s still women right now dying from breast cancer and every month, they’re battling breast cancer. So it’s bigger than October.”
Not Just October supports people with breast cancer by hiring cleaning services, snow removal, tutors and helps pay bills, for example.
“(We) alleviate any problem that a women who is currently battling breast cancer has,” he said. “We provide several resources, free of charge.”
When Kathleen Cole learned she had stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma in August 2019, right after losing her job, she didn't know what to do. When Jacobs showed up to surprise her with some gifts and a check for her bills, she felt such relief.
“That was a huge surprise,” Cole told TODAY. “That was absolutely wonderful.”
Receiving money helped ease some of Cole’s stress.
“Every month I had to worry about how am I going to do it? I just got to keep praying to God that he’s going to provide,” she said. “I believe he did. He just pulled me through.”
While Not Just October provides services to people with breast cancer, Jacobs also wanted a place that offers more so he started the Kim Jacobs Breast Cancer Resource Center. Every six months, women can visit and receive a custom wig. Women can also receive massages, enroll their children in tutoring services, receive a facial, get their makeup done, shop at the food pantry and join a support group.
“One thing about battling cancer is it tears you down. You might not feel like you’re as beautiful as you were,” Jacobs said. “We want you to feel beautiful, as much as possible. We just want to build the women up and that might be something that isn’t taking place in health care.”
What’s more, Jacobs is dedicated to raising awareness of breast cancer and mammograms. That’s something Whorton said is missing for many.
“What Lavar brings to our community, the African American community, is very lacking,” she said. “He’s bringing to the Black community awareness of breast cancer through his mother’s story. She’s giving us the education we need to beat cancer.”
A son’s lasting love
When Jacobs was in his late teens, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent treatment and was cancer-free, but it returned five years later. Kim was private — she didn’t share too many details with her son. When it returned she had started chemotherapy, but eventually stopped treatment.
“Her doctor actually told us that my mother didn’t want to continue with chemotherapy and also that the cancer had spread throughout her body,” he said. “That was terrible, honestly, because the doctor told us how much longer he thought she had to live at that point. She was guaranteed to die.”
The doctor said Kim had about six months, but she passed away sooner. Her memory remains strong for those who knew her.
“She just made a large impact on anybody that she met,” Jacobs said. “She was outgoing and had a good personality.”
One of the joys that has come from Jacobs’ legacy work is that he continues learning more about her.
“It’s always amazing when other people talk to me about my mother,” he said. “I love meeting people who knew my mom.”
He believes his advocacy work helps others learn about how wonderful his mom was:
“I want people to think that my mom raised me well and to know the love I have for her and the impact that my mother — one woman — is going to have on the whole world, through her son.”
CORRECTION (July 7, 2021 8:55 a.m.): An earlier version of this story had a misspelling of Whorton and Lavar.