Special Segment: Faces of Strength

October 21, 2009 10:42:44 AM PDT
This year alone, nearly 200,000 American women and 2,000 men will learn they have breast cancer.But many will survive thanks to early detection and advances in research and treatments.

These brave women and men come from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Their stories are compelling and unique, yet share a common thread. Through strength, grace and determination, they are surviving and thriving. Thousands live here in the Chicago area.

Hearing the words you have breast cancer can turn your world upside down.

Susan Axelrod heard those words 10 years ago. Her husband David is President Obama's senior advisor. Susan is well known in her own right as a fierce advocate for epilepsy research. She credits her focus and dedication to helping others with actually helping her get through breast cancer.

"My cancer was 10 years ago now. Most of my time, it isn't a part of my day to day life. To think of myself as a breast cancer survivor, it doesn't come naturally. I have to be reminded that I had gone through this," said Axelrod. "Sometimes I think I'm in denial, I don't know, I think it's just a matter of getting on with my life and the things that have always been important to me."

Axelrod says she was fortunate to find her breast cancer in its early stages, but she admits she still becomes anxious, 10 years later, at her annual exams.

According to the American Cancer Society, more African American women die and have the shortest survival rate of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers.

Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell just finished her treatments for the aggressive triple-negative breast cancer last month. She hopes her decision to share her journey with her readers helps convenience more women to get tested early and remove some of the perceived stigma.

"We've done a good job with awareness, get mammograms, but what about after that? We don't have enough survivor stories, examples of people who will walk around naked without their hair and tell people it's okay to be who your are, you did nothing wrong, you don't have to hide. You can choose anything, scarf, hat, wig. I go to work, I still write. I went through surgery, I had reconstruction, I feel good about it, I'm not hiding it. You can survive it and have a life," said Mitchell.

While breast cancer is the most common type of cancer U.S., one percent of breast cancer cases are found in men today. About 1 in 1000 men is diagnosed per year.

Lloyd Gordon didn't know it was possible for a man to have breast cancer 20 years ago. When his doctor suggested a radical mastectomy Gordon had no idea what that meant. Even medical professionals back then thought breast cancer was a woman's disease.

"The first thing I remember was the first morning, the team came in and they said Hello Mrs. Gordon, and I looked up and said, no, Mr. Gordon," said Gordon.

Although the survival rate is good for male breast cancer patients, it is unfortunately typically diagnosed later. At 80-years old, Gordon continues to inspire other breast cancer survivors - male and female.

Of the thousands of people diagnosed, more and more are winning their battles with cancer. These are just a few of their inspiring stories. Tune in on Thursday, October 22 right after ABC 7 News at 10 for 'Faces of Strength' to hear more stories of survival.


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