Sue Axler - A Story of Love and Dedication

Mike and Sue Axler in 2006
Mike and Sue Axler in 2006

"There are so many things about Sue that made her extraordinary. She was so loving and so loved. Now, it is up to our family to carry out her mission and maintain her legacy of service." Mike Axler

Susan Axler's incredible passion for helping others impacted everything she did, and everyone she met. A teacher, breast cancer patient advocate, mother, friend, grandmother, and beloved and devoted wife—Sue also battled breast cancer for almost 30 years before passing.

Mike and Sue were first introduced by mutual friends at Temple University. After graduating from college, the couple married and moved to East Orange New Jersey where Sue continued to work as a teacher and Mike accepted a position as the Assistant Director of the East Orange, NJ Housing Authority. An Education major at Temple with a master's degree in Reading Psychology, Sue was passionate about teaching as a way of giving back. She taught for 34 years, continuing after the birth of their two children.

"It is hard to describe her effect. People were just drawn to her," Mike explained.

From Caring to Cared For

In 1988 Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 41 years old, the same age her mother was when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. In 1992, after Sue's breast cancer recurred, she opted to undergo a mastectomy. Then, in the late 1990's, Sue made the decision to transfer her care to Kevin Fox, MD, at Penn Medicine's Rena Rowan Breast Center.

"We grew very close with Dr. Fox—he was much more than just Sue's physician. We had tremendous respect for him," recalled Mike.

Refusing to let her disease define her, Sue continued to teach during her journey. Regardless of how she was feeling, Sue found great joy in volunteering as a patient advocate for the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania (ACC)—as well as the US Department of Defense, the Susan B. Komen Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

Patient advocates are highly valued individuals who provide researchers and physicians critical advice on how to best discuss sensitive issues with patients and survivors. Most importantly, patient advocates provide the patient perspective on grant priorities. They ensure clinical trial plans—like the ones created at the ACC's 2-PREVENT Translational Center of Excellence (TCE)—are well-thought-out and manageable for patients.

True to her teaching roots, Sue also mentored other patient advocates.

From Surveillance and Prediction to Recurrence and Prevention


Sue Axler in 2016
Sue Axler in 2006


Even with the tremendous strides being made in breast cancer research, 30 percent of breast cancer patients relapse. Led by nationally renowned cancer researchers Angela M. DeMichele, MD, MSCE, and Lewis A. Chodosh, MD, PhD, the 2-PREVENT TCE team is uncovering the secrets of dormant cancer cells—and building upon each discovery with further innovation.

The mission of the 2-PREVENT TCE is to use a broad spectrum of measures and technologies—from prediction and prevention to treatment and monitoring—to understand why some women experience breast cancer recurrence.

"In an incredibly short amount of time, the 2-PREVENT Translational Center of Excellence (TCE) has made great strides in recurrent breast cancer research. Now TCE, the first and only center dedicated solely to breast cancer recurrence, is one team working together towards a common goal: helping our patients become—and—remain cancer-free," explained Dr. DeMichele, Alan and Jill Miller Professor in Breast Cancer Excellence.

Additionally, the TCE focuses on the late effects of cancer treatment while providing breast cancer survivors the opportunity to document their post-treatment symptoms and concerns, quality of life, and health behaviors after receiving treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.

A Loving Tribute

In 2000, Sue and her family received the news that her cancer had metastasized. Mike semi-retired so they could have the freedom to spend as much time together as possible.

"Sue used to travel with me on business, but I began traveling with her for advocacy group meetings and research grant reviews. The community of survivors and advocates that Sue built was incredible and so inspiring," he recalled.

Defying the odds, Sue would go on to live for 17 years, before passing away from metastatic breast cancer and a blood disease in August of 2017.

Sue's natural ability to connect to people became the final gift she left to Mike: "She gave me everything, but most importantly she gave me a support system. I don't know what I would have done without our friends after she passed."

Mike and the Axler family continue Sue's legacy while paying tribute to her passion and love for helping others. It was in this spirit that they recently made a generous pledge to support the 2-PREVENT TCE through the Susan K. Axler Foundation for Breast Cancer Cures, Inc.

Mike and Sue's love story is one of endurance. He is proud to have been a partner and care giver to Sue through 49 years of marriage, and continues his support by fueling the research that will lead to new discoveries—inspiring hope that future generations will not have to endure recurrent breast cancer.

"It is amazing, the things we do for those we love," Mike said.

For more information about the 2-PREVENT TCE, please contact Maddie Dickinson at or 215-898-9174.

About this Blog

The Penn Medicine Giving blog highlights and promotes philanthropic contributions to Penn Medicine and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Date Archives

Share This Page: