The Healing Begins
After a cancer diagnosis, survivors move forward through advocacy, community, and self-care
by Bill Donahue

In late February, during a routine exam at the gynecologist’s office, Suzan Gennace asked about a possible lump in her right breast. Although the clinician detected nothing suspicious, Gennace’s concern convinced the clinician to upgrade an upcoming mammogram to a diagnostic. 
Due to a minor medical procedure the following month, Gennace had to delay her mammogram until June to focus on her recovery. Although the mammogram revealed nothing conclusive, the screening and physical exam led to an ultrasound, which, in turn, led to a biopsy. 
“I thought: OK, I’m not imagining things,” says Gennace, 51, who lives in Allentown. “I had to wait two weeks for the results, but I read the report from the ultrasound, and there was one line in the doctor’s notes that was all I needed to know: a 95 percent chance of it being malignant because of its shape and size.”
Six weeks later, in August 2021, Gennace had a double mastectomy. She considers herself fortunate because her proactiveness and intuition helped catch the cancer early. Even so, she has struggled to make sense of the trauma she and her family have undergone. 
“I’m the kind of person that, when a problem presents itself, I need to solve it as effectively as possible, as soon as possible,” she says. “My research started 15 minutes after reading that there was a 95 percent chance of it being malignant. I already knew I wanted a double mastectomy because of the possibility of it coming back in the other breast. I didn’t want that hanging over my head.”
Nearly every day since has been difficult, in part because of the conflict of emotions.
“It’s not easy being pushed into menopause,” she says. “It’s not easy knowing I’ll have to take hormone blockers for the next five years, because mine was a hormone-driven cancer. I am very much aware of how blessed I am, and how much harder other women, men, and children [with cancer] have had it. Because of that, I am grateful, but I’m still asking myself, what was the point of this? I’m trying to figure out what the purpose of all this was.”

Through the Looking Glass
Gennace is among the approximately one in eight U.S. women who will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information and community to those touched by this disease. In 2021, more than 280,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American women, though the disease also affects men.
Marianne Sarcich received her breast cancer diagnosis in August 2016. Although five years have passed, she remembers in vivid detail the day she received the phone call that would change her life.
“It’s like knowing where you were and what you were doing when you found out about the Twin Towers,” says Sarcich, who lives in Wilmington, Delaware. “It was August, and we were getting ready to go to a pool party. My radiologist who did the biopsy, from Crozer, called and said, ‘Can we talk?’ … I’m a Type A control freak, so I went into ‘Marianne mode,’ because I was not emotionally ready to deal with it.
“It was so surreal,” she continues. “I thought: How is the sun still setting? How are things still looking normal when it’s not normal? I felt like I was being pushed through the looking glass. The enemy is inside you. How do you run away from that?”
Given her nature, as well as her background in public relations, Sarcich went to work. She filled notepads with research from community message boards and websites such as and With those resources in hand, she sought to “pull my team together” and formulate a plan of attack. She interviewed two oncologic surgeons, ultimately choosing Julia C. Tchou, M.D., from Penn Medicine to perform her unilateral mastectomy.
“I was technically stage zero, but I wanted not to have to deal with it again,” Sarcich says. “From my point of view, I have done my homework and found an expert to give me the best possible care. … I asked for nipple-sparing surgery, but the pathology came back from my mastectomy and showed I had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) throughout the nipple. Ten days after my mastectomy, I had to have the nipple taken.”
Initially, Sarcich thought she would go without breast reconstruction, but changed her mind when Dr. Tchou informed her that patients tend to “do better emotionally” with reconstruction. Fast-forward to Sarcich’s October 2016 meeting with her oncologist. The prognosis: no evidence of disease. Sarcich had no reaction at first, but the “emotional tsunami” soon swept over her.
“It was always there; it just came forth at that time,” she says. “I was not in survival mode anymore, so it was like my body was saying, ‘Now I can start processing this.’ That’s when I started dealing with the emotional piece.”
Gratitude therapy—reflecting on the aspects of life that brought her joy and appreciation—helped her process the experience. Although some people who had been close to her unexpectedly pulled away, she felt blessed by the “beautiful gestures” from family and friends, even some strangers. 
She also used her strengths, including her gift for research, to help others. Her efforts so far include, but are not limited to, the following: “In This Together Philly/Wilmington,” a peer support group for patients and survivors in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, providing resources for everything from travel arrangements when in need of out-of-state care to financial grants to avoid “financial toxicity”; a Facebook group called “Marianne advocates for breast cancer” to help those who do not have breast cancer care for their health; and involvement in media outreach and community groups across the country, through which she shares the wisdom of her personal experiences.
Sarcich has since had her breast reconstruction redone to contend with a painful condition known as capsular contracture, caused by scar tissue, and she realizes some of the side effects of medication and treatment will likely never fade. Still, she’s in a good place. She’s thankful for her family, including her two daughters, ages 26 and 14. She has become “a different person” compared with the PR and marketing communications professional whose high-stress, 24/7 job influenced her life more than she wanted. And she cherishes the opportunity to give back to others who are dealing with a diagnosis similar to the one she faced five years ago.
“I’m not the kind of person who would say breast cancer is a gift, but some good things came out of it,” she says. “Helping is emotionally healing. It can be anything; you don’t have to do it just for breast cancer. … I also practice self-care. The fact that I even know the term self-care is a big deal.”

‘Is There an After?’
Whereas Sarcich has had the benefit of time and space, Suzan Gennace’s physical and emotional wounds remain quite raw, given the recency of her cancer diagnosis and surgery. She is currently undergoing treatment at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Topper Cancer Institute, which she considers a rare blessing in her ordeal.
“We had been living elsewhere and came back to Allentown at the start of the pandemic,” Gennace says. “We were starting to think about where we would go next when this happened. I’m the kind of person who believes everything happens for a reason. I was born and raised here, and I believe I was meant to be back here and get treatment.” 
Gennace’s work as the leader of FlackShack, a marketing-communications firm she founded 13 years ago, has been “a wonderful distraction.” The compassion of her husband and two adult daughters have sustained her through her treatment and recovery, though she admits some of the greatest kindnesses have come from strangers. The thoughtful words of other survivors have soothed her in some of her darkest moments. 
“This community is remarkably caring and compassionate,” she says. “It’s like a sisterhood I never wanted to be part of, but I am honored to be part of it.”
If she has any advice for anyone who has received a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s this: Seek out others who have gone through it, listen to what they have to say, and, if possible, choose a comprehensive network to receive cancer care.
“Even if you’re a private person, find a support group,” she says. “Advocate for yourself. With that lump in my breast, I had three medical professionals tell me there’s nothing there. If I had not insisted, I probably still wouldn’t have been diagnosed.”
Gennace cannot yet envision what her life will look like after cancer, mainly because she’s still contending with the fallout of her diagnosis: follow-up surgeries, ongoing medications, physical therapy, survivor’s guilt, a roller coaster of emotions. 
“There is no after yet,” she says. “It’s so cliché, but you have to expect the unexpected. I’m at a point where I’m asking, ‘Is there an after?’ because it seems like it doesn’t end. I don’t know what purpose will reveal itself as a result of all this.”

Teaming Up
Cancer survivor Marianne Sarcich talks about the importance of “team” when battling cancer. The Philadelphia area’s many excellent health systems exhaust every resource to help patients and their families move forward following a cancer diagnosis. From talented physicians and nurse navigators to groundbreaking technologies and treatments, these centers provide comprehensive and compassionate care to help patients fight cancer in all its forms.

Abramson Cancer Center of Penn Medicine
Multiple area locations

Capital Health Cancer Center
Hopewell, New Jersey

Consultants in Medical Oncology and Hematology
Broomall and Glen Mills

Crozer Regional Cancer Center

Doylestown Health Cancer Institute

Einstein Healthcare Network
Multiple area locations

Fox Chase Cancer Center
Multiple area locations

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute
Multiple area locations

Lower Bucks Hospital

Main Line Health Cancer Centers
Multiple area locations

Redeemer Health in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper

Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Abington – Jefferson Health Asplundh Cancer Pavilion

St. Mary Medical Center

Suburban Community Hospital

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, October 2021.