Beloved LA grocery checker battling rare cancer leads the charge in local 'Race to Cure Sarcoma'

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, November 18, 2023
Beloved LA grocery checker with rare cancer on mission to find cure
A Valley Village woman who has touched many lives is on a mission to save even more.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- People diagnosed with rare diseases often feel isolated. Rare conditions are usually lacking in funding for research, and many times, don't have tried and true treatments.

One local woman who's touched many lives is on a mission to save even more. She's dealing with a type of cancer few people have ever heard of.

As a grocery checker at Vons for 45 years, 66-year-old Susan Ito of Valley Village has touched so many lives.

"Some of the employees I've worked with since they were teenagers. The customers I've watched them grow up and become parents," she said.

So when Ito heard the worst news of her life, her Vons' family stepped up.

"Because it's a grocery store, there's someone there 24/7. When I needed help at night, when I couldn't sleep, when I was scared, there was someone there to call," Ito said.

A short time after Thanksgiving last year, Ito experienced an unusual symptom, vaginal bleeding, which prompted her to make an emergency gynecology appointment. With her husband, Jack, at her side, she faced some daunting words from her doctor.

"She goes, 'I've never seen anything like this.' Something is eating away at your uterus," Ito said.

Her diagnosis is a rare disease called sarcoma.

"Sarcoma is a cancer of bone or soft tissue. It represents about 1% of adult cancers," said Dr. Mark Agulnik, who specializes in the treatment of sarcoma at City of Hope.

"The majority of patients develop sporadically. So it's coming out of nowhere. It is usually not related to lifestyle," he said.

During intense rounds of chemo, Ito lost her hair. At City of Hope's "Day of Beauty," a new wig and a chance to meet actress Jaclyn Smith gave her the emotional boost she needed.

For every patient, treatment is different.

"Because there's probably over a hundred different types of sarcomas, the treatments do vary," Agulnik said.

He said targeted treatments and immunotherapies show promise, but with so little funding, there are no FDA approved drugs.

"If there's no money, how are we ever gonna find a cure?" Ito said.

At her old checkout stand, her former co-workers posted a flier about Ito's participation in the first Los Angeles "Race to Cure Sarcoma" taking place Nov. 19th at Griffith Park.

"From day one, customers are getting their phone, clicking and right there in the check stand they were donating," she said.

All that support and her beloved pups inspire Ito to get on her trampoline and train.

"I gotta do this walk. I have to stay fit. I have to stay strong," she said.

Finding a cure is her mission and she hopes to be here when they do.

"I'm determined. I'm really determined, like I'm not leaving before everybody else," Ito said. "I'm gonna try my darndest."