Jeanette Stephens-El was nominated for the award due to her advocacy for breast cancer.
A Moorestown resident since 2001, Jeanette Stephens-El has spent years advocating for breast cancer awareness after battling the disease herself. To acknowledge her efforts, Brenda Hill-Riggins, founder of the Trinity Girls Network, along with MARS Community Development Corporation, nominated her for a Barack Obama Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, which she was presented on March 6.
An award based on philanthropic, community and outreach services, the Barack Obama Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes U.S. citizens and lawfully admitted citizens who have achieved 4,000 or more community outreach hours over the course of a lifetime.
“Most people who know me are aware that my schedule is always full with volunteer activities,” Stephens-El said. “It feels good to be recognized for all the work that I’ve done over the years, which I hope has helped people along the way.”
She added she is deeply honored to be nominated for an award that bears the name of her favorite president, and given the historical nature of his presidency.
Stephens-El has organized breast cancer workshops for various organizations, including support groups, charter schools, college sororities, faith-based organizations and women’s organizations throughout Greater Philadelphia, southern New Jersey and in Delaware. She has additionally given keynote addresses at a Victoria’s Secret regional conference, made opening remarks at the Susan G. Komen 3Day and gave Lunch and Learn presentations for a Latin women’s group, the U.S. Mint and other government agencies.
She continues to share her experience by participating in a clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania, and by working with Susan G. Komen for the Cure Philadelphia in outreach since 2007 as a volunteer Race for the Cure chairperson, fundraising chairperson and community ambassador. Last year, she additionally moderated a Komen national roundtable on breast cancer disparities among African-American women at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and, at the request of the American Association for Cancer Research, she became an ambassador for Spintensity 200. This is an indoor cycling event to bring awareness to the need to support cancer research.
The Oprah Winfrey Magazine recently asked Stephens-El to lead Team O in the Avon 39 Walk Against Breast Cancer in Boston this June. This is a two-day walk to bring awareness to the condition that affects one out of eight women in the U.S.
This work remains of special significance to Stephens-El because she is a 14-year breast cancer “thriver,” a term used at the American Association for Cancer Research to describe someone who has overcome cancer. Despite having won her battle with cancer, the legal secretary at the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia was the third out of her five sisters to be diagnosed with the disease.
“We lost my eldest sister Dorothy to metastatic breast cancer on Sunday, Jan. 8 of this year. She had fought off a couple of occurrences over 26 years,” Stephens-El said. “We always discussed our conditions to ensure we would know what to look for.”
After her experience with breast cancer, Stephens-El was inspired to write her first book, “BCV: Rites of Passage for Breast Cancer Victors,” followed by “10 Tips to Avoid Breast Cancer.” She wanted to share her journey because she still remembers when a survivor from the American Cancer Society shared her experience with Stephens-El after her own breast surgery. Being at such a low point, she believes this woman’s visit made all the difference in her feeling that she could overcome the disease.
“I hate to see people ignore signs that could very well mean breast cancer is lurking, since it is a highly survivable disease. Too many women try to ignore the obvious and wait until it’s too late,” Stephens-El said. “Breast surgeons take extra measures to preserve the breast these days, so mastectomies are not performed as much as they once were, negating the need for that kind of pain and trauma.”
In sharing her messages, Stephens-El has also written the books “T-Time: A Rites of Passage Manual for the Adolescent Female,” “On Eagles’ Wings: Prayers for the President” and a work of poetry named “Rivers of My Mind.” She said writing has been a natural outlet for her since age 7.
“I was politically minded, having an aunt who was a local NAACP president in Bridgeton, and she and my mother included me in the marches and demonstrations of the 1960s for equal rights and equal education,” Stephens-El said. “Accordingly, some of my poetry was political, but after moving to Miami, Fla., in 1977, my poetry led to the co-founding of a writers workshop and several cultural arts groups.”
Moving forward with her work, and as a former publicist for Philip Michael Thomas, the star of “Miami Vice,” Stephens-El plans to work with him on a health and wellness program. She believes Thomas to be the epitome of health, and together they have much to share for all genders in the area of general wellness.
“When all’s said and done, learning to lead healthier lives is what’s most important to me,” Stephens-El said.
Stephens-El is asking for the community’s support in donating to Team O in Boston’s Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer. Donations, which she can furnish tax receipts for, can be mailed to Jeanette Stephens-El, team captain, Team O / The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Participant #742281, 303 Dawson St., #102, Moorestown, 08057.