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Pair serves as advocates for others

Tracy Reed and Alex Echols hope to provide inspiration to those fighting cancer.

Tracy Reed and Alex Echols hope to provide inspiration to those fighting cancer.
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Tracy Reed overcame her long-held fears and survived breast cancer. Now she’s thankful she can tell others a breast-cancer diagnosis is no reason to panic, and it’s certainly no death sentence.

Alex Echols, who has been in remission for three years from a late-stage immune-system cancer that required chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, wants to inspire others who endure excruciating pain during cancer treatment.

‘‘I share my story in hopes that it will inspire those touched by cancer to move forward,’’ said the 33-year-old Chatham native, an entrepreneur and best-selling author who now travels the globe.

Reed, 55, a Cook County-certified pharmacy technician and lifelong South Sider, spent much of her adult life concerned about getting cancer after her mother died of breast cancer at age 59.

‘‘Early detection is truly, truly, truly the key,’’ Reed said, noting the medical advances now available to treat breast cancer.

Reed initially had to be encouraged by her gynecologist, Dr. Patricia Boatwright, to get a mammogram after skipping one of her yearly checkups.

That mammogram, in April 2019, saved her life. Reed was diagnosed with a malignant lump in her left breast. Rush Hospital surgeons removed the lump and nearby lymph nodes before Reed underwent 16 rounds of radiation.

Reed knows about the latest breast-cancer treatments in part because the Teamsters Joint Council 25 women’s committee that Reed heads has raised more than $100,000 for breast-cancer research. She’s also a member of the Chicago Health Equity Coalition, whose activism proved instrumental in saving Mercy Hospital.

For her next challenge, Reed, who has been a union steward for more than 20 years, is running for Cook County Pension Board trustee.

‘‘I believe that I’ve gotten a second chance at life,’’ she said. ‘‘I owe it to myself, my family and my loved ones to be as healthy as I can be and to be vigilant, to make sure that I do my screenings. I have no room to be scared.’’

Echols offers similar advice for those facing cancer treatment.

‘‘Prepare to love yourself hard. There are going to be days when you want to throw in the towel,’’ said Echols, who took two months off of treatments to find a care team that would help him save his life. ‘‘It’s important to have a care team who is there for you.’’

His non-Hodgkins lymphoma was found after Echols’ clavicle separated from his shoulder while he was helping an elderly woman leave church. He endured more than three months of chemo to treat the cancer, which attacks the lymphatic system.

Just one month after he had finished his initial treatments, Echols had another setback when he experienced intense pain in his side. That pain turned out to be a tumor that had started to grow and press against his spine, threatening his ability to walk.

‘‘My life — my one life — was on the line,’’ said Echols, who took more than one year off work during his treatments, which included painful chemo injections in his spine, lumbar punctures to check bone marrow and biopsies of tissue from his lower back.

Echols read books such as ‘‘Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds,’’ and started working on preventative steps. He stopped eating refined sugars, gave up alcohol, started fasting and practiced daily meditation, mindfulness and gratitude.

‘‘Find a support system,’’ he said, noting that he found his care team at the University of Chicago Medical Center. ‘‘Find a safe space.”

He vividly remembers the day — July 2, 2018 — when his doctors told him that he could go home from the hospital.

‘‘It was like I was given another chance at life,’’ he said.

Learn more at suntimes.com/tackle-cancer. Donate at cancer.org/chicagosuntimes.