The pink highlights in 73-year-old Susan Rosati’s snow-white hair are there to promote breast cancer awareness. But, they’re also a reminder of her long journey that began with a rare gynecologic cancer diagnosis followed by a breast cancer diagnosis that came on the heels of her first surgery and recovery.

Susan, of Sicklerville, remembers her first suspicion that “something just wasn’t right.” She had been feeling really tired for some time and began experiencing an extremely painful burning sensation when urinating. She and a friend planned a weekend trip to Cape May, and she was packed and waiting for her ride when she knew something was wrong. “I just didn’t feel right and wasn’t comfortable going away—even for a weekend,” she said.

Susan made an appointment with her gynecologist, who didn’t identify anything unusual at first. When her symptoms persisted, a biopsy confirmed it was vulvar cancer—an extremely rare gynecologic cancer that can affect older women. Susan was referred to Virtua gynecologic oncologist Randolph Deger, MD. Dr. Deger diagnosed Susan with bi-lateral vulvar cancer, which is cancer on both sides of the vulva.

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“As I researched the disease, I jotted a million questions on index cards and brought them to my first appointment with Dr. Deger, and he took the time to answer every single one,” explained Susan. “You can research a disease, but every case is different. I needed information that was specific to my situation, and Dr. Deger provided that. They say that knowledge gives you power. In my case, it also gave me the strength and confidence to get through my journey.”

Susan had surgery in November 2018, and then spent three weeks at a rehabilitation center to increase her mobility before going home in time for Christmas. But, by early January, she was back in the hospital to be treated for a blood clot in her calf, which can be a side effect of surgery.

However, not much can keep Susan down. Her first big social event—her daughter’s wedding on January 27, 2019—occurred 17 days after leaving the hospital. “I couldn’t miss that wedding,” she explained. “I arrived in a wheelchair, but I was able to get up and dance while the guests cheered me on. Life goes on, and I don’t want to miss any of it.”

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By March 2019, Susan’s recovery was well underway. But, a mammogram that same month revealed a suspicious area, which became the sign that her medical journey would continue. Her mammogram led to a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive breast cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the milk ducts. Based on her positive experience with Dr. Deger, Susan decided to continue her care at Virtua with breast surgeon Lori Timmerman, DO. In May 2019, she had a lumpectomy, which is the surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Timmerman’s care,” Susan recalls. “At a follow-up appointment after my lumpectomy, Dr. Timmerman found that blood had accumulated in my breast, and it had to be drained. Her partner drained the area as Dr. Timmerman held my hand—I will never forget her kindness.”

After her lumpectomy, Susan started radiation therapy. On her last appointment on September 23, 2019, she “rang the bell,” a celebratory gesture for all patients that signals the end of treatment.

Since then, she’s received genetic counseling. While she has a significant family history of cancer, her genetic tests didn’t reveal a BRCA gene marker. “I wanted to be tested for my daughter,” Susan explained. “She was happy to see my results, but she also knows how important it is for women to know their own bodies and to seek medical advice when something seems wrong.”

Susan is grateful for all of her “prayer warriors” who were on her side during her journey. She believes those prayers, a positive outlook—her glass is “always more than half-full”—and knowledge about her diagnosis and treatment were essential in beating both cancers.

She feels lucky to have received her cancer care at Virtua. “I was so impressed by all of the physicians I had contact with—particularly Drs. Deger and Timmerman,” Susan said. “They were there for me and treated me like family. They’re excellent physicians but they’re also direct, kind, and relatable. They truly made my cancer journey much easier to endure.”

Susan says she’s now grateful for her journey. “My mantra is to keep looking forward, not back. I’m happy to say that I’m having the time of my life.”

Penn Medicine and Virtua Health Deliver Unrivaled Cancer Care in South Jersey

The Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program team offers advanced treatments and personalized support for those with suspected or diagnosed breast or gynecological cancer. From fellowship-trained surgeons to oncology nurse navigators, we guide you through every aspect of treatment—offering attentive care for your physical, psychosocial and emotional needs.

To schedule a consultation, call 888-847-8823.