View images of some of the Breast Cancer Awareness gear the Vikings will wear during the month of October.
EDINA, Minn. — Chiloe Kottke, her husband Kevin and their four daughters strongly support the Vikings each Sunday.
Players, alumni, mascot Viktor and cheerleaders returned the favor Tuesday at an annual luncheon with the American Cancer Society for more than 20 breast cancer patients, caregivers and survivors at CRAVE.
Teddy Bridgewater and Antone Exum Jr., whose mothers are breast cancer survivors, joined teammates Anthony Barr, Joe Berger, Brandon Fusco, Zach Line, Kevin McDermott and Marcus Sherels, and former Vikings greats Dave Dixon, Bob Lurtsema, Dave Osborn and Rickey Young in honoring survivors and caregivers for their spirit and courage.
Team mascot Viktor and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders Hannah and Kayla also showed support at the luncheon, which is held each October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The organization will continue team and NFL "A Crucial Catch" **initiatives** Sunday when the Vikings host the Chiefs. The campaign raises awareness to the importance of early detection through annual screenings, as well as money to support treatment. Pink game-worn gear will be auctioned to raise funds in the fight against the disease that affects millions each year.
Chiloe was diagnosed in May, which has been understandably difficult for the Springfield, Minnesota family of six that includes daughters ages 3 to 16. Despite the challenges, Chiloe tries to remain positive for her children.
"We watch the Vikings and know that they support breast cancer awareness," Kottke said. "We're currently going through breast cancer in our family and we felt that would be important to come here and support that as well."
The family enjoys watching Vikings games together and looks forward to seeing players, coaches and staff wear pink.
"We love the Vikings and make it a family tradition to watch the Vikings, so seeing them wear pink is pretty good," Chiloe said. "Our friends and family have been amazing. We have tremendous support from our family and friends. We couldn't do it without them."
Chiloe and Kevin were joined by Bridgewater during the luncheon. His mother, Rose Murphy, will help Zeta Tau Alpha pass out 25,000 pink ribbons to fans before Sunday's game to let patients know they are not alone.
"Having some personal experiences with breast cancer, it's a great feeling being there for survivors and caretakers and getting to know them and their stories," Bridgewater said. "It was a very tough time in our lives. We didn't know what to expect, but my mom kept us all together. With her battling breast cancer, you would have thought she would have been depressed, but she always had high spirits and knew she was going to beat it."
Exum's mother didn't tell her son when she received the diagnosis because he had recently lost his grandmother, but he's since learned what his mother faced.
"After the fact, she's definitely said how much of a burden it was on her and how hard it was to go through something so serious," Exum said.
American Cancer Society Midwest Division Executive Vice President Dave Benson said progress has been made but work remains.
Benson said breast cancer mortality rates have decreased 22 percent since the early 1990s. After rising from 1900 to 1992, they've dropped each year. He credited advancements in cancer treatment, increased knowledge of prevention behavior, early detection and increased awareness as contributing factors in advancing the fight.
Benson, however, said the American Cancer Society wants to increase the number of Minnesota women age 40 and older who undergo annual screenings from 63 percent toward 100, which is where the awareness factor comes into play.
"When the 'A Crucial Catch' program gets going, there's no way we could do that kind of awareness without a partnership with the Minnesota Vikings," Benson said. "It's huge. If we didn't have this program, we would not be reaching that many women and getting them to think about getting their mammogram."
Benson recommended that patients contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit cancer.org to learn about helpful resources.
"We can plug people into local resources and help them with emotional support and financial support, whatever it might be," Benson said. "I think that's really important, but also make sure you find a great doctor, someone you can really trust and someone you can confide in and get the best advice from them on what you need to do."
Exum encouraged anyone who receives a diagnosis to, "stay strong, remain faithful in the process, continue to pray over the situation and don't feel like you have to handle it all by yourself."
"Your loved ones and family members want to be there for you and help you, so just reach out," Exum said.