Meet Yolanda! Yolanda is a hardworking woman in the fashion industry. Outside of working in the world of style, she gives back to her community. As a natural born giver, helping others isn’t foreign to her.
See what Yolanda has to share with us about her organization, Mae’s Breath Foundation.
Tell us a little about yourself.
The last 20 years I have indeed re-defined myself as a renaissance woman. My focus to study Fashion Design changed quickly to fashion business once I understood the need to be privy to the full concept the two hold in creating the concept the correct way, all while honing the two thoughts for a successful run. I was quite surprised of the very few people of color who enter into the world of production and technical careers.
I graduated from the renowned Fashion Institute of Technology with the goal to make this work and learn the craft to the fullest. I have degrees in Fashion Merchandising as well as Marketing. Working in the industry gave me the true eye opening reality of its intensity, fascination in what this fashion industry can be. I’ve learned from the best and have been able to take my experience and assist others interested in the industry. I’ve penned my first book “The Ins and Outs of the Fashion Industry- from a Fashion Insider” with great reviews, and have slowly built a reputable name as a Fashion Brand Advisor. I’ve been fortunate to have various opportunities open up that have assisted in building a reputable name for my brand.
When was Mae’s Breath Foundation established? What inspired and motivated you to found the organization?
Mae’s Breath Foundation was initially thought up around the end of 2010. MBF as better known was inspired in memory of my mother Eartha “Mae” Lawson. My mother lost her brief battle with lung cancer on October 4, 2010, and her death has changed my life immensely, by the end of 2010 I along with a few committed friends and family members wanted to speak out and form a forum in advising the public about this unspoken and stigmatized cancer. Lung cancer is one of those diseases many people either vocally or unconsciously feel that if you smoke, then that’s what you get attitude. The day of my mother’s funeral a friend came to me and asked “how did she die” and I replied lung cancer, and her reply “Well, that’s what happens when you smoke….” Her reply along with another’s who shared the same sentiment left me angry, quite frankly I had a huge problem with their response, especially due to the circumstances. What people fail to remember is that good people meet their final chapter with lung cancer, and yes some aspects and decisions made could, can be avoided, but their decisions don’t mean they were/are bad mothers, fathers, sons and daughters- they are were human, and this is Mae’s Breath’s mission which is to bring that dignity that is needed when faced with cancer. After a sudden bout with pneumonia and multi tests run, to receiving final and disturbing news of lung cancer was deafening and my mother succumbed 4 months later after her diagnosis.
There was a need for me to be active and vocal in the way I know how to get vocal, which is ask questions, many of the questions and services I asked, quite frankly were not accessible, and I thought Wow, here it is my community kings county at the time in Brooklyn New York- the melting pot of so many ethnicities that may not have full resources that’s equally accessible for all. I would inquire specific resources on American Cancer Society site for Brooklyn, NY and get the closest resource facility in New Jersey. I didn’t understand how and where can a caregiver or patient could turn to for specific services and guidance within their community.
How has Mae’s Breath given back to the community and help fight against lung cancer?
We’ve given back to the community by attending health forums and churches and bringing awareness to the disease. We have our own support group that is accessible online for those who are too ill to leave their homes and want an outlet to communicate. For 3 years we’ve run our anniversary and have invited lung specialist to speak about new treatments to the disease, as well as handing out our signature newsletter and brochures. We’ve also been affiliated with The Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation in San Francisco. Last year we displayed the very first Creative Arts Series, where we have contestants take part is displaying their art in giving awareness to lung cancer. We held a tee-shirt design competition depicting this form of art and awareness. The winner Janice Laila Smith Was presented with our first trophy, $100 and her designs were featured on our blog and website, along with local press coverage.
Experiencing what your mother was going through, how did you manage to stay strong and stick by her side?
It was very difficult seeing my mother at this place of weakness and despair and when she died after a short fight, I got active and quickly wanted to do something. I did not want her life to be in vain. Forming Mae’s Breath has been very cathartic for me, though we’re working in little steps, this form of advocacy has been a positive experience as we continue to mourn her death, yet encourage others who too have had to experience this cancer.
How would you encourage those who have family members suffering, or may be suffering themselves with lung cancer, to keep strong and positive?
I would say for those with similar stories to mine, to be strong for those suffering with this illness. My mother was adamant with saying she didn’t want to be a burden and that was further from the case, but I think those ill don’t want their family to be in despair over what is happening to them, but how can you not; with that said, It’s important to be strong and provide that loved one with encouragement. It’s difficult because everyone goes through life situations very differently, but it’s so important to be positive and ask questions of your health care provider, and if you get lack luster results, really dig in and make the earth rumble by reaching higher levels if needed to get those questions answered. There are a lot of resources of here, but unfortunately, you may need to dig a little deeper to get those answers- stay strong!
Yolanda, you are a very inspirational and strong woman. As a survivor of multiple myeloma, how did you stay grounded throughout experience?
I was diagnosed officially about the end of 2008. I didn’t tell my mother until the end of 2009, and then to lose my mother the following year after. I tell you it has been very rough, But it must be the God in me, because the transition of my story is living testament that there’s a light in all of us to stay focused and with faith you too can get through whatever colossal adversities faced. I have learned to deal with everything by staying constantly busy, I don’t forget about my disease, nor losing my mother, but I have this lifeline and diligence of perseverance that truly has allowed me to sustain in all that has been faced.
How do you remain positive in everyday life?
I remain positive just being given yet another day to do it again, and each day try and get it right better than the last. I look at life differently now and I try and stay encouraged. I also have a great network of friends as well as my husband who are my cheerleaders.
What do you hope readers take away from this interview?
I hope your readers take away the urgency of grasping life no matter what curve balls are thrown your way, finding a way to still live and learn from it. Life will bring us happiness and sadness and learning to maintain through the storms is crucial.
Where can we learn more about the Mae’s Breath Foundation?
You can learn more about us through the following links:
Facebook: Maes Breath
Last words from Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo…
Life is what you make it. It’s short, active, unsettling at times- but indeed short. Live it and live it well!
Mae’s Breath was created out love and want to help others understand the truth about lung cancer. With the passion of the love for her mother and inspiring others, Yolanda has changed many lives. Bringing up awareness and many support groups, her organization has informed many individuals about the disease. Whether someone if suffering or has a family member dealing with cancer, they are able to learn the in’s and out’s of lung cancer. For those are dealing with lung or any form of cancer in their lives, or with love ones, stay strong. Keep positive and learn all you can about the illness. It’s best to be aware of what’s going on. Keeping a positive environment filled love and happiness will help get through those trialling times.