Marcus, who was treated 11 years ago for stage 1 breast cancer, has watched daughter Jane Herscovici survive breast cancer; a second daughter, Susan Rudolph, is undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer.
And her extended family has faced numerous bouts with the disease: Marcus' stepdaughter, Shelley Marcus, was diagnosed with sarcoma in a leg; her first husband died of throat cancer; her second husband had multiple cancers when he died. Even the woman her first husband later married, stepmother to her daughters, died of ovarian cancer three weeks ago.
But her children say their most important inheritance from their mother has been the ability to face hardship with an attitude as bright as the early-morning sunshine that bathed the thousands who gathered on Eakins Oval for the start of the 24th annual Komen race, Philadelphia's largest event for runners and walkers.
"My attitude was really very upbeat and very honest from the very beginning," said Herscovici, 53, who flew in from Denver. "Either you get better or get bitter – you have a choice."
Sunday, the family joined up to 100,000 other participants in the race, a bobbing sea of bright pink that snaked through the streets of Center City. The event – a 5-kilometer run and a 1-mile fun walk – raises donations that support screenings and treatments in the greater Philadelphia region.
The women's shared battle began when Marcus underwent a lumpectomy 11 years ago, but they say the matriarch's toughness runs much deeper - to losing a 4-year-old son and then raising her other children after a divorce.
"I've had a lot of different tragedies and always overcome them," said the octogenarian, who looks more like she's in her 60s. Marcus, a native of Wynnefield, has lived in Center City - near the women's boutique she operated on Walnut Street for many years, Inseparables – for much of her adult life.
After her two daughters were diagnosed with cancer, family members underwent testing to identify genetic markers, but nothing turned up. "We can't find out why it is," Marcus said. The only clear thing is that Marcus' offspring inherited her knack for perseverance.
Her 61-year-old daughter, Susan Rudolph, a former software product manager who lives in Hopewell, N.J., was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September 2012 and has been undergoing treatment since. When she called her stepmother, Carol Rudolph, to relate the bad news, she learned the woman had been dealt a recurrence of her own ovarian cancer. Her death three weeks ago "sort of reminded me that this is a fatal disease," Susan Rudolph said.
But she has walked with her mother for 10 years now, and she participates in walks and other events for ovarian cancer. "Ovarian cancer, which is one of the highest killers of women . . . doesn't get the press or the research money," Rudolph noted.
Even daughter Riki Fried, 56, who lives in Israel and is free of cancer, flies to Philadelphia to join in the tradition. "Let's hope that we're all doing it for another 12 years," she said. "Let's hope that we're all here every year to do it."
Fried's stepsister, 63-year-old Shelley Marcus, a Philadelphia art teacher, survived a bout with leiomyosarcoma – a smooth-muscle-tissue cancer in one leg – six years ago. She joined the family Sunday for the annual tradition, saying, "I made the choice not to be miserable."
That decision was reaffirmed amid the pink shirts and blue skies. Said Marcus:
"I'm not an emotional person, but when I walk down the steps and see all of these women . . . tens of thousands of women who are survivors, and everyone has a different story of how they survive, it's very touching, very emotional."