Carlow student on front lines of colorectal cancer awareness, treatment advocacy

Maria Guzzo -


PITTSBURGH-- At a time when most teens are studying for college finals, making new friends and discovering their life as a young adult, Denelle Suranski was enduring chemotherapy, awaiting reconstructive surgery and facing an unknown future.

After several years of fatigue, constipation and nausea symptoms that she believes were ignored as more serious because of her young age, doctors diagnosed Suranski, then 19, with stage II colorectal cancer, a disease typically found in older adults. She faced years of recovery, which she said was not only physical but emotional.

Now at 37, she's completing her Bachelor's degree in Human Resources from Carlow Univeristy and is on a mission as a volunteer ambassador for Fight Colorectal Cancer, a Springfield, Mo.-based not-for-profit organization that advocates for education about and research for fighting the disease.

March is colorectal cancer awareness month and as part of her ambassador duties for March, Suranski has persuaded downtown Pittsburgh buildings and the state capitol to light up their facades blue, the disease's signature color. Additionally, she took part in a Virtual Call with the U.S. Congress, coordinated by Fight Colorectal Cancer, where survivors contact their elected officials to implore them to close medical loopholes, lower the screening age, increase research funding and raise awareness about the disease in general. Originally the Call on Congress was to be in-person in Washington, DC, but the Coronavirus outbreak prevented that from happening.

Suranski's goal is to not only encourage politicians' concern for the cause, but also educate young people about the disease so they can fight for themselves if doctors ignore their symptoms.

"There are other young adults who could be going through the same thing but aren't talking about it because they're too embarrassed or insecure," she said. "We want to reach out to the younger generation. This is a part of Carlow's mission, too, to promote health and wellness and advocacy."

Coincidentally, both her father and grandfather were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their 40s. And while her father was diagnosed nearly simultaneously to her own diagnosis, no one put two-and-two together because of a lack of communication among family.

"We didn't really talk about it," she said. "I was 17."

The American Cancer Society said in a March 5, 2020, press release that fewer people age 65 and older are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but rates have been increasing in younger age groups. In 2020, there will be nearly 18,000 cases, or 12 percent, of colorectal cancer diagnosed in people younger than 50, the American Cancer Society predicted, with 10 of them dying daily in part because of diagnosis delays as a result of their youth.

Suranski's recovery impeded a traditional college experience for her. She attended community college, garnering an associate's degree, but believes attaining a bachelor's degree is part of her recovery. As an events coordinator with Allegheny County Parks and Recreation, coordinating 5K runs and other fundraisers, Suranski said that after she graduates, she hopes to work for a cancer-related organization and use what she learned at Carlow to influence change.

"It's hard being an adult student, but it's also empowering," she said. "I chose Carlow's adult program because you graduate faster. I don't know what the future holds for me. I just want to help people. I feel like part of my redemption is having a college degree."

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