Photography by Sarah Bell and Katrina Wittkamp
News personalities, whether on screen or on paper, obtain a certain level of familiarity within our daily routine. We flip on the morning news while rushing to get ready and come to associate Zoraida Sambolin’s overnight recap with burning our tongue on the first sip from a “Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee” mug. Or perhaps it’s a duality of Tracy Butler’s bright, chipper weather forecasts and scarfing down a piece of avocado toast. Sometimes it’s Roz Varon’s informative traffic reports coupled with bundling into our tundra-proof winter gear smorgasbord while groaning because the Jane Byrne Interchange still isn’t completed. Maybe we sardine pack into a CTA train car and miraculously scroll through the latest “Candid Candace” column with the few inches of space that can be utilized to briefly feel a little more glamorous. After a long day in the office, we might read a “Making A Difference” feature by LeeAnn Trotter to regain faith in humanity or stream “The Whitney Reynolds Show” while partaking in our nightly skincare ritual for some food for thought before bed.
Whatever your individual routine and whoever you tend to gravitate toward, local journalists have a knack at becoming household staples. We rely on them to inform us, educate us and entertain us as we go about our day. And, over time, we grow to trust them like we’d trust a good friend. For these six women, that unique form of reliance hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some of them are warriors and others are supporters, but their goal is all the same—use their voice for the cancer community.
Cancer Wellness is thrilled to introduce “The Loudest Voices,” highlighting some of the strongest and most distinct journalistic voices in the Chicagoland area who have made it a point to put cancer advocacy at the forefront. The women spotlighted here go above and beyond in metaphorically sitting their fellow woman down and not only telling us to take care of ourselves, but also offering a reminder that even in the midst of very hard moments, life is still something worth celebrating.
ABC-7 Chicago veteran meteorologist Tracy Butler admits she thought she was too busy to get her yearly mammogram. Cancer doesn’t run in her family and she was feeling healthy, so it wasn’t on her radar. She was also juggling a full-time job and two children. But after three years of putting it off, she went in for a mammogram and left with a breast cancer diagnosis. Now, she uses her platform to urge women to get screened. “We put these things off because we think, ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’” says Butler. “You can’t do it. You have got to put yourself first […] Please take care of yourselves.” Butler also participates in events like Cal’s Angels’ annual golfing fundraiser for pediatric cancer, and she’s even taken to the catwalk alongside other warriors and supporters in A Silver Lining Foundation’s fashion show, which left a great impact on her. “[Cancer] was a club that I never quite frankly wanted to be in,” she says. “But it was such an amazing group of women that I felt so fortunate to be amongst who just lifted each other up.”
Whitney Reynolds hopes the cancer advocacy work she’s doing now means that future cancer advocacy work won’t be needed. While the Emmy-nominated “The Whitney Reynolds Show” on PBS and the iHeart radio segment “Whitney’s Women” aren’t solely cancer-focused, the topic tends to resurface time and time again because it’s become so prosaic in people’s lives. Reynolds wants her platforms to be safe spaces when discussing tough topics. Fueled by the impact that cancer has had on people in her life and a personal scare of her own, Reynolds has found her voice in the cancer community through working with organizations like Bear Necessities and featuring cancer warriors, doctors and other prominent figures in the fight on her media outlets. She urges others to do the same. “We have to all have a voice in it,” Reynolds says. “If you haven’t developed your voice for cancer, you need to find it. I challenge everyone out there to find their voice for the person in their life who has been impacted.”
In 2013, when Angelina Jolie was receiving criticism for her supposed “glorification” of the preventative double mastectomy she underwent, television journalist Zoraida Sambolin found an opportunity to talk about her own mastectomy experience after a recent breast cancer diagnosis. She knew there was nothing glamorous about deciding to have such a procedure. “I was at CNN at the time and [Jolie’s] Op Ed piece [in The New York Times] became one of our lead stories,” recalls Sambolin. “My desire to set the record straight about some criticism being hurled her way led to my disclosure.” After overcoming the hurdle of telling viewers about her diagnosis, Sambolin discovered talking about it felt empowering. Now an NBC-5 Chicago anchor, Sambolin is a Susan G. Komen spokesperson for the Latinx community and considers herself an advocate for other cancer warriors who may not have the love, support and acceptance needed to fight their battle. “We have our reasons for being and I think this is one of mine,” says Sambolin. “I’ve learned that getting up every morning and sharing a smile means a lot to a woman who is sitting at home struggling with this disease because she can see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Even before her husband Chuck’s colon cancer diagnosis in September of 2013, Candace Jordan made it a point to highlight the nonprofits that are moving mountains in the cancer world. “Of all the fabulous health and welfare nonprofits, cancer research is right at the top of the list for me,” she says. The Chicago socialite and former Playboy Bunny has featured local organizations and events like Tickled Pink, Bear Necessities and A Silver Lining in her Chicago Tribune column “Candid Candace” and website of the same moniker. She never shies away from lending a helping hand however she can — volunteering time, money and a voice to the city’s nonprofits doing great work. The supporters and warriors that make up these organizations have left their mark on Jordan, and she is constantly giving back to the people she admires, while picking up awards and honors for her charitable efforts along the way. “You don’t have to be a multimillionaire to be helpful,” she says. “The people who run these organizations are passionate, dedicated, strong — with all the things I do, I try to do my part and be helpful in whatever way I’m able.”
LeeAnn Trotter feels like she was put on earth to be an advocate for the cancer community. The NBC-5 Chicago entertainment reporter lost her mother from metastatic breast cancer at an early age. While she says she initially shied away from cancer advocacy work, she soon realized that she had a place in the community through her platform. “I learned that through my work, I could share stories of people who were doing great things — people who, despite their diagnosis, were going out and educating people and giving back to the community,” she says. Trotter works on many of the stories featured in NBC-5’s “Making A Difference” segment in order to share uplifting tales of perseverance, compassion and the power of community. She also works with Chicago nonprofits like Susan G. Komen Chicago. “I want to help uplift the people who are going through tough times,” says Trotter. “I feel like I’m kind of a messenger of good news, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to do that.”
When Roz Varon was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2006, she couldn’t imagine a future where she wouldn’t be thinking about cancer every day. But almost 15 years and a second breast cancer diagnosis later, the ABC-7 Chicago traffic anchor is cancer free. “It’s always there,” she says. “It’s not me — it’s a part of me, right? But it doesn’t make up who I am.” Yet Varon still prioritizes sharing her story and engaging in advocacy work with organizations like Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. She makes sure to be active on social media for other warriors or supporters too. “It’s good to be out there and meet people and talk and share stories,” she says. “I make myself as available as possible.” And because Varon had successful and relatively smooth management of her cancer after making the decision to receive a second opinion, she encourages others to be their own biggest supporter most of all. “You need to be your own best advocate when it comes to you,” she says.