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Hope at All Stages: Sarah Sedlak's Story

Sarah Sedlak and mother Mary Marzolf
Ssarah Sedlak and mother Mary Marzolf

Sarah Sedlak isn’t one to take things lying down—especially not pancreatic cancer. A lawyer by trade, her diagnosis instigated a flurry of research. Her findings, combined with advice from her sister, an oncology nurse, made her choice to come to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center an obvious one.

“I was blindsided, yes. But I refused to accept any other option besides fighting. I knew the Abramson Cancer Center had the best options. And the best trials,” Sarah said.

Sarah benefited from the integration of Penn’s Pancreatic Cancer Research Center (PCRC) into her care, allowing the rapid assessment and careful navigation of clinical and surgical treatment plans. PCRC members work collaboratively, and in real-time, to advance early detection, enhance diagnostic capabilities, test new drugs in the lab, and quickly translate scientific discovery into clinical options.
“Our patients have unparalleled access to the most advanced clinical trials available. But, more than anything, we give our patients hope—something not typically associated with this devastating disease,” explains Kim A. Reiss Binder, MD, Sarah’s oncologist and PCRC member.

The embodiment of PCRC’s motto “Hope at All Stages,” Sarah’s strength has never wavered through her treatments. She continues to document her journey through #whyIchemo, an ongoing and inspirational list resplendent with her spunky personality, humor, and a lot of honesty. “From my family to my crusade against the narrowing of the English vocabulary, I find a reason for every chemo session—and I will keep finding reasons for as long as I can,” Sarah explained.

Sarah initially began with a standard first-line of combination chemotherapy. The side effects were harsh, but, after a year and a half, Sarah and doctors continued to see either shrinkage or stability in all her tumors.

Then, in 2018 she was placed on a clinical trial which replaced chemotherapy with a PARP inhibitor and an immune checkpoint blockade. For Sarah this was another #whyIchemo, “I was able to contribute to immunotherapy research, which is something bigger than myself or my diagnosis,” Sarah says, “This therapy changed my quality of life. This is why I came to Penn.”

Sarah also greatly appreciates her doctors and nurses as well as her palliative team at Penn Medicine’s Lancaster General Health for their all-encompassing support and compassionate care.

This July, on the anniversary of her diagnosis, Sarah hosted her third annual Purple Party to thank all of her closest friends and family—including her 14 siblings and 13 nieces and nephews—for all of their love, inspiration, and continued support.

Penn’s Pancreatic Cancer Research Center continues to innovate and offer options to their patients. In April 2019, PCRC researchers reported early but encouraging results from two small ongoing studies of experimental treatments for metastatic pancreatic cancer. One of these studies, led by Dr. Reiss Binder, switched patients from chemotherapy to Rucaparib, a PARP inhibitor that is showing to be just as effective and less toxic, so that patients can live their best possible lives. Of the 19 patients on the trial, 17 saw their tumors shrink or stop growing.

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The Penn Medicine Giving blog highlights and promotes philanthropic contributions to Penn Medicine and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

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