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."