Adoree' Jackson draws inspiration from mom, a cancer survivor

The winter break during Adoree' Jackson's sophomore year at USC in 2015 was supposed to be just another two-week visit back home in Belleville, Illinois, before he had to pack up and return to Southern California for track season. Instead, Jackson got news that would forever impact his way of looking at life.

Led by his father Chris Jackson, Adoree's family gathered in his room to tell him that his mother, Vianca, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Vianca received the news in May, but didn't want to tell her son about it until after the football season. By that time, she had defeated cancer thanks to chemotherapy, lumpectomy and prayer.

"I had just got done playing in the bowl game, then I came home," Jackson said. "It was weird because everybody came to my room. My dad was in there, my brother was in there and my mom started talking to me. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't think it was to that extent.

"To hear her say that she was through with it and now she's done, it was like a roller coaster. I went down because I was sad, but then I came back up when she said she was done with it. With how positive she was, you would have never known."

The Tennessee Titans' second-year cornerback is admittedly a mama's boy -- she used to call him "He-Man" before affectionately changing his name to "Sweet Pea." To honor her, he is taking part in the "Real Men Wear Pink" campaign as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness month to highlight the importance of early detection, which played a big role in Vianca's successful treatment.

She found a small mass during a self-exam, but her medical background led her to think it was merely fatty tissue. A few months later the mass grew and she knew she had to see a doctor immediately. Had she not done the self-exam, she might have been diagnosed too late.

"When you do your home exam, you know what is abnormal," Vianca said. "I stress highly to please get yourself checked out as often as you can, as well as your own check."

The "Real Men Wear Pink" campaign is something Jackson felt compelled to participate in, not only because of Vianca's battle, but because of the influence women have had in his life.

"I understand that as a man, there's always a woman in your life that makes things go smoother," he said. "I can remember when my mom went to go visit family in California and it was just me and my dad. Him having to try and do my hair and all those things. You can see the difference between everything being smooth sailing when my mom is there [compared to] when she isn't."

Jackson also was especially close to his grandmother, Annie, who died in April 2017. Because both of his parents worked, Jackson spent a lot of time with her.

Chris Jackson recalled one time when Annie broke her hip and Adoree' came to visit her. She was so excited to see her grandson, she managed to get up and walk only two days after surgery.

But the most telling example of how close Adoree' was to his grandmother came just before the 2017 draft, the same draft in which the Titans selected Jackson with the No. 18 overall pick.

"She was in the hospital on her deathbed, it was like she was waiting on Adoree,'" Chris said. "I told him he needed to come to see his grandmother. Adoree' came to the hospital and visited her. It was the biggest smile that came to her face. After that, she told us to take her home. She was going to the draft with us, but she didn't make it."

That strong family bond made Jackson's decision to attend college in California more difficult initially. Among the many things he missed from home was the Saturday breakfast that consisted of rice and sugar with bacon that he would always ask his mother to cook for him.

"That transition, it sucked because I was away from my family and friends that I knew since I was a kid," Jackson said. "I had to transition from the lifestyle that I was living, the food that I ate, the music, everything. Everything my mom taught me at that point helped me. Then going into college and now in the league, I understand not having people around me and am able to handle myself."

His close relationship with his parents remains strong because of the things they've been through together. While he was at college, his mom used to send him daily scriptures to ponder as he went through his day.

Faith has always been a huge force in the Jackson family and helped them deal with Vianca's diagnosis. She also instilled a self-sacrificing attitude in her children, always putting others first -- especially when she was battling breast cancer.

"No matter what you go through, you must not focus on what you go through. You care for somebody else, do for somebody else, and pray for somebody else," she said. "I've always taught my children to put God first and do the right thing, because He will take care of everything."

Jackson has always had an upbeat and playful mindset, something he says is a product of Vianca's positive attitude.

Chris says he knew Adoree' was athletically gifted at a young age when he caught him jumping over their California king-sized bed to dunk on a mini basketball hoop. The Titans have a small basketball net in the locker room where the players take turns shooting hoops, and Jackson is always trying to dunk on it from long range like he did as a youngster jumping over the bed.

For Jackson, his mom's bout with breast cancer is all the more reason to have fun and smile every day.

"I appreciate life," he said. "My mom showed me that life is too short and never take it for granted. Appreciate everything you have in life. Her going through what she went through, it opened my whole family's eyes. The person she is, she's always upbeat and positive. Me being around her so much, it's natural for me to have that. She always talks about, 'laughing is healing.' That's my mom. She has a smile on her face. If she's upset, you wouldn't know."