WEST BURBANK — Marla Zack lost her mother, stepmother, aunt and several friends to breast cancer, but when she was diagnosed with the illness two years ago, she knew she was going to be different.
She was going to survive.
Now Zack, a 45-year-old who had to give up her job as the production supervisor on "America's Got Talent" to concentrate on her treatment and recovery, is working hard to raise awareness of the disease and money for cancer charities in the process.
"It was a bullet I thought I had dodged," said Zack. "I was always aware of it; my mom was 42 when she was diagnosed, so when I got past 42 my husband and I felt relieved. But then I was diagnosed when I was 43 and it was devastating."
Zack, who learned of her diagnosis at her annual checkup in March 2008, ended up having a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and a hysterectomy after the cancer spread to her lymph nodes. But she never doubted what the outcome would be.
"It was like a light bulb went on," she said. "I went into survival mode. I needed to see someone to beat this disease, and it became clear that I was going to be the one to beat it."
And she is not waiting until the five-year mark to consider herself a survivor, Zack added.
"I felt like a survivor straight away because the cancer was no longer in my body," she said.
Now the mother of one has finished her reconstructive surgery and is concentrating on building a jewelry business dedicated to cancer patients, survivors, their friends and families.
The idea came to her after she sketched a picture of a butterfly around the breast cancer ribbon symbol and named the image "wings of courage." She asked a jeweler friend to make the design into a pendant, but Laura Elizabeth did better than that, and actually taught Zack how to make the pendant herself.
Zack's 11-year-old son, Sullivan, helped choose the chain and her husband, Michael, came up with the idea of having the word "believe" stamped on the back of the necklace.
Marla Zack is now selling the handmade pendants, which start at $100, on her website, with 20% of the proceeds divided between the Young Survival Coalition and weSPARK Cancer Support Center.