[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G. Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, SusieCakes and Susan G. Komen are teaming up with limited edition desserts created to raise awareness and support their shared vision of a world without breast cancer. Susan Sarich, SusieCakes founder and CEO leads a workforce that is 80% female and has been vocal about the fact that supporting Komen is more than a charitable endeavor, it’s a personal mission. Over the last three years, Susan has been on her own breast cancer journey. She’s been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer twice, undergoing multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, and has kept all this news private. She has now decided to share her breast cancer story to raise more awarenes and is here today to tell us why this mission and partnership means so much to her. Folks, get ready, this woman is truly incredible. Susan, welcome to the show!
[00:01:14] Susan Sarich: Thank you.
[00:01:15] Adam Walker: Well, I’m really honored to have you on the show today, really interested to hear more about your story. So, so let’s start there. Tell us your story. Let’s start from the beginning. And set the stage for our listeners, when were you diagnosed? How did you find out? What was the timing like? Because I understand that’s a big part of your story.
[00:01:32] Susan Sarich: It is. It is. Well, it starts out where I missed a mammogram in January for my annual. And six months later that summer, I had found a lump in my breast. And I didn’t really think much of it. I thought I’m very healthy, I have no medical conditions. It just for me, it was like, there’s no family history. I don’t have the BRCA gene. Like, I’m sure this is nothing. And I waited until early fall to see my OBGYN and by the time we got a mammogram scheduled and I got in, it was December.
So, almost, a year passed when I was supposed to have my mammogram. And from the mammogram, the doctors took me straight in to get a biopsy because the lump had gotten larger and I was told it was cancer shortly after and started the process of finding the right surgeon and oncologist. And that took about 2 months and I had my 1st lumpectomy in the 1st week of March and a 2nd surgery, the 2nd week in March, and I was waiting until after the 2nd surgery to get a full diagnosis and treatment plan before I told anyone really besides my partner and a small circle of friends. And once I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2, literally that same week, the pandemic hit and the state of California completely shut down and our company had to close our 30 brick and mortar locations, immediately. And there was just tremendous uncertainty about how we would survive. I had to lay off over 400 team members and it was just a very dark and scary and sad time all around.
[00:03:21] Adam Walker: That timing is, just profound. Especially, I think, considering your, your brick and mortar operations. Wow. So, so it sounds like, you threw yourself into focusing on your business operations. You maybe went into a little bit of denial mode. Didn’t really think about it. So did you have moments of fear and kind of big emotions about it? And, or were you just trying to keep moving and do what you needed to do?
[00:03:40] Susan Sarich: Yeah, actually I wasn’t fearful at all and I had this very unusually characteristically pragmatic outlook that I wasn’t going to worry about it. And I legitimately set my mind to see this, cancer thing is a project I had to complete and then I can move on to the next thing. So I became very robotic and very unemotional about it completely. And I knew I had, I couldn’t focus my energy, or at least I believed I couldn’t focus my energy on both my health and the business situation. So I threw myself whole heart, head 1st into saving the company and making that my top priority and the only other way I could deal with the cancer piece was literally to put it on the back burner and pretend that it wasn’t actually happening.
[00:04:34] Adam Walker: So it, it just strikes me and I just want to call this out, like the profound amount of pressure that you had to have been under, right? Because on the one hand, like COVID shutdown was a lot of pressure for all of us in general, even if we’re not running a company. But you’re running a huge brick and mortar business and trying to navigate through that.
So, that’s an added level of pressure that I think most of us cannot even begin to appreciate. And then add to that breast cancer. Like that’s, wow. Like that’s just, I really admire that. It’s really profound. All so, sorry, back to the questions. So, so I know you didn’t really tell many people you said you kept it to like a very small group. Tell us, how you made the decision, why you made the decision and how you were able to pull it off.
[00:05:17] Susan Sarich: Yeah. So once the pandemic hit, I immediately went into this tactical survival mode for the business. And I really felt that I couldn’t add any more stress to my team. Knowing that I was sick and undergoing treatment, I just thought it would have been too much for everybody. And, that was one part of it. Additionally, my parents are older and they were isolated at home in Chicago and Florida, respectively. And I didn’t see the need to have them worry about me while worrying about keeping themselves healthy. So I literally, I chose not to share it and program my mind to believe that this was not at all serious and that I didn’t want cancer to define me at this moment. I didn’t see myself as a victim and I don’t want anybody else to see me that way or feel sorry for me. The last thing I want it was, “Oh, I’m so sorry that’s happening.” I just, I didn’t really have time for that. So, I’m a very private person and it would have taken me a lot to share it anyhow, but the circumstances completely dictated my decision. And on one hand, COVID was a blessing because we were all working from home and I could get away with my hair loss and other physical side effects by getting a wig and sitting way back from the zoom camera. But on the other hand, it was a curse because every doctor’s appointment, every treatment I had to go to by myself because hospitals weren’t allowing visitors.
And so I got into the real dilemma when we were deemed essential a business and able to open up locations. And because we had very few individuals who were willing to come back to work, my very tiny corporate team became, began running a few select locations. So, it would have been out of character for me not to be side by side with everybody in the bakery, but because I was immunocompromised from the chemo, it wasn’t something that my doctors were cool with me doing. So, I chose to handle the deliveries for the Los Angeles area. So the team would bring out treats and cakes to my car, I had my little delivery schedule and I drove around and delivered cakes through in L.A., throughout L.A. And that was how I felt I could contribute to the team, being in the field and in the trenches together without having again, anybody know what was going on with me.
[00:07:32] Adam Walker: Yeah. There are no words. That’s just amazing. Wow. Okay. So, just so, so amazing. I understand that you’re then diagnosed with breast cancer a second time. So tell us about that diagnosis and did you handle things the same way or did you do something different this time?
[00:07:49] Susan Sarich: Yeah. So I finished that first treatment at the end of 2020 and in the summer of 2022 on a routine scan, something unusual was seen in the opposite breast. And it turned out to be a different type of cancer. This was DCIS, which is ductal carcinoma in situ, but by the grace of God, this was stage 0. And so I underwent two surgeries and then did not need chemo again, which w and absolute blessing and only radiation. And so I was like, okay, radiation is a walk in the park. So I handled it exactly the same way. Didn’t mention it. Didn’t talk about it.
[00:08:29] Adam Walker: Wow. Okay. “Radiation is a walk in the park.” Those are not words that I think would ever come out of my mouth personally. But that, again, like I just the strength that it takes to pull this off the way you did is just as profound. All right. So, so then, fast forward a couple of months later, you ended up having a third scare. Was that the point where you decided to go public or tell us more about that?
[00:08:49] Susan Sarich: Yeah, that was absolutely the turning point. So 6 months after I finished the radiation from the 2nd cancer, during a routine scan, another mass was found and it was during I remember this very clearly, during, I was having an MRI guided biopsy and you’re just sitting in that tunnel for what seems like eternity and I was thinking, I don’t think I can run from this anymore and I think I should probably accept this is now that is something that is part of me. Because the energy to hide it any further seems like that would take more energy than to fight this next round if I was heading into a 3rd round. And so that was really the moment where I’m like, I need to, kind of reframe how I look at this because I don’t think this is doing me any favors the way I handled it for the past previous 2 times.
[00:09:47] Adam Walker: Well, and I think to, like, we’re kind of to as much as of a degree we can be, we can be post pandemic. And so I think that probably makes a big difference. Like, you, I would imagine when you were first diagnosed, you felt a little bit boxed into a corner. Like, how can I add to anyone else’s burden with this? Versus now, I think, you’ve got a little more flexibility and people can rally around you and support you. So, all right. So, I mentioned, in the intro, your company’s made up predominantly of women. So what message would you have for your staff and what do you hope that they would come away learning from your story?
[00:10:24] Susan Sarich: I think what I have seen in my life is that as women, we tend to put everything ahead of ourselves, our children, our partners, our work. And I think it’s really important to keep in mind that unless we keep ourselves and our health top priority, we’re not going to be any good to support any of these other relationships. And so taking the time to get your annual mammogram, that’s why I started out this whole podcast with saying ‘I missed my mammogram’ and I think getting that annual mammogram and seeing your doctor regularly is the best thing you can do for yourself. Because finding any type of cancer early course to treatment and recovery.
[00:11:11] Adam Walker: Love that. All right. So October, right now you’re partnering with Komen to raise awareness and funds toward Komen’s mission. Tell our listeners about that partnership and how they can participate.
[00:11:23] Susan Sarich: Okay, first of all, I’m so excited about this. So, we are selling our wonderfully fabulous pink, vanilla, Komen cupcakes in all of our bakery locations, and we are donating a dollar from every cupcake sold to Komen. And additionally, we are selling pink, vanilla, Komen cakes via our national shipping platform and everything can be ordered at Susiecakes.com. And so it’s just, it’s makes my heart full to be able to do this and bring everything full circle.
[00:11:54] Adam Walker: And should I assume, since you said everything can be ordered at susiecakes.com, that you can deliver anywhere? Like just to be clear.
[00:12:02] Susan Sarich: Yes. Nationwide shipping. Yes. We can deliver that cake anywhere in the country.
[00:12:06] Adam Walker: So what I’m hearing you say is Metro Atlanta is going to be getting some pink cupcakes in the future. That’s what I’m hearing you say. Okay. I love that. I love that.
[00:12:12] Susan Sarich: I think that’s in your future!
[00:12:13] Adam Walker: Okay. That I know what I’m doing right after this, right after this conversation. All right. Susan, you are, just an inspiration. Like I am just floored by your story. And now you have a voice in the fight. So do you have any final thoughts? Any final advice you’d like to share with the listeners? Maybe something that you’ve learned throughout your personal experience with breast cancer.
[00:12:34] Susan Sarich: I think the most important thing I learned is that everybody’s journey is unique and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it. And since I’ve spoken to, a number of women since I decided to come out with this. People have also shared their story back with me and the ways that people deal with it are, all over the board from blogging everything every minute and sharing it really deeply and in a lot of detail on social media to, the opposite end of the spectrum of me, not wanting anybody to know and really shrouding it in secrecy and whatever that journey is, it is the journey because, it’s something that does change your life and makes you have a different perspective on life. And so I’ve really now shifted my mind to focus my life on things that bring me joy and, I think we all know life is finite and we only have so many days on this planet, on this earth, but we don’t know what, how many days that really is. And I think something with a cancer diagnosis, least alone two in a 3 year period makes you go, “I want to wake up every day and do something today that makes me really happy.” Even if that’s making sure I take a 30 minute walk with my dog every day. that brings me joy and that becomes a priority over something else, maybe.
[00:14:11] Adam Walker: I love that. I love that. Well, Susan, your story is profound, inspiring and I really admire the work that you’re doing to really help this community. So thank you. Thank you.
[00:14:21] Susan Sarich: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate you having me on.
[00:14:28] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.Org. For more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out @SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, adamjwalker.com.