CBS Chicago Spotlights Skin of Steel, Extending Susan Steel’s Legacy of ‘Leveraging Cancer’

Similar to a pebble dropping in water and eventually causing a tidal wave, the legacy and impact of Susan Steel’s response to a life cut short by cancer just keeps growing. CBS 2 Chicago recently joined the expanding circle of good news and powerful connections inspired by Steel with Chicago anchor Suzanne Le Mignot’s story on Skin Of Steel.

In January 2007, Steel’s National Cancer Institute doctors released her from their melanoma treatment – sending her home debilitated from years of arduous treatments and only a six-month prognosis. They claimed that medical science could do nothing more for her. Rather than resign herself to the death sentence, Steel responded by learning to row and founding two organizations which spawned multiple other successes too – Women Of Steel and Skin Of Steel.  

With a twinkle in her eyes, Steel called this “Leveraging Cancer” during a Better interview more than a year after she was told she would be dead. Steel lived another eight years, fueled in part by the successes she inspired.

Susan Steel
Susan Steel

Steel and friends launched Skin Of Steel in reaction to a need for tissue banks to store and supply skin for research. Without adequate storage, researchers didn’t have enough skin samples to expedite their work. As CBS notes, the 10-year-old organization devoutly faces the fastest-growing cancer in the world — one that takes a life every 54 minutes. Their work brought a tissue bank to Chicago and Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Jeffrey D. Wayne of Northwestern Medicine, who is also lead investigator for the Melanoma Tissue Bank Consortium, noted that Skin of Steel’s work both at home and its impacts abroad are “crucial” for not only melanoma but “all cancers.”  

The Make It Better Foundation recognized Skin of Steel with a 2014 Philanthropy Award too.

Steel’s impact in rowing is less well known, but similarly profound. She wanted to do something for the circle of women who had supported her family during three years of arduous treatments, as well as giving herself something positive to help fight the death sentence. So, she asked a neighbor who had earned a silver medal for rowing in the Olympics, Cindy Rusher, to teach the group to row. Soon, others joined these Women Of Steel and the nucleus of women who wanted to compete as US Rowing Masters gelled — eventually feeding the creation or growth of multiple competitive teams.  

Importantly, because of the powerful positive impact of crew in their own lives, many of these women have championed and fundraised for other crew programs – particularly those which create new opportunities for youth in underserved communities, including:

From one bad prognosis to ever-expanding circles of good, Susan Steel’s legacy provides inspiration for anyone looking to face down bad news with passion, determination and strategic vision.  

You can support the work of Skin Of Steel by donating through their website. You can also support by attending their upcoming 7th Annual memorial walk in honor of Steel on Oct. 2.

Learn more about rowing opportunities in Chicago and the suburbs here.