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Stories of Inspiration

Cancer Will Never Define Me

By July 14, 2021July 23rd, 2021No Comments

Never in a million years did I ever think I would be diagnosed with cancer. I’ve always lived a healthy, active lifestyle. I honestly would have to say that leading up to my symptoms and diagnosis of Stage 3C high-grade Ovarian Cancer. I was the fittest and healthiest I had ever been at age 45. So yes, I was in complete shock.
My symptoms started like most women. I was having sharp pains in my lower left abdomen.
I started having bowel changes, which I just thought were related to one another. When I saw my primary doctor in September 2020, she mentioned IBS and referred me to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy due to my family history of colon issues. Low and behold, my colonoscopy came back clear.
In November 2020, my symptoms started to worsen. I started having a lot of my pain in the left side of my back. Initially, my primary doctor thought maybe it was kidney stones, so she sent me for a CT scan.
That came back clear. As the pain started to worsen, I ended up going to the ER, where they did another CT scan. This time I was told I had constipation and mild Ascites.
To make a very long story short, after two more ER visits and several doctors’ appointments over the next month and a half, my gastroenterologist sent me for a paracentesis because the Ascites had worsened. They removed 2.8 liters of fluid from my abdomen to send to pathology. Everything I had read on Ascites was either liver issues, which doctors kept trying to lean that way, or it could be cancer in the abdomen region.
On 14 December 2020, my gastroenterologist called me into his office and my husband to inform us that the pathology results confirmed cancer. A few days later, I went back for another paracentesis and had two additional liters of fluid drained from my abdomen. By this time, I was in so much pain, and I started vomiting uncontrollably.
The following day, on 17 December 2020, I went back to the ER at a different hospital. I had another CT scan done; this time, I had two surgeons come in to tell me I needed surgery immediately that my colon was completely blocked and was at risk of bursting. My thoughts, all this back and forth to hospitals and doctors’ offices, no one could see this coming?? Mind you, I also had an ultrasound, a vaginal ultrasound, and nothing could see this.
It blew my mind.
I woke up from surgery in the ICU with the 10-inch incision down the center of my abdomen and two colostomy bags hooked to me. All I could do was cry. I had no idea what had just happened to me over the past 10 hours of my life. I woke up in an empty, dark ICU room. I just wanted my husband.
Symptoms started way before 2020. I had uncontrollable, heavy menstrual cycles that required uterine biopsies that showed benign results. Sex was always painful for me. For years I covered up my symptoms with medicine. It wasn’t until all of this that the root cause was finally uncovered.
On 18 December 2020, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C high-grade ovarian cancer. My advice to women out there, you know your body best, don’t ignore the symptoms, and be persistent with your doctors.
These last seven months, after three surgeries, chemotherapy, and learning I will have to live with a colostomy bag for the rest of my life, has taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I was. Yes, I had the physical strength before diagnosis as an avid runner and weight lifter. Cancer has made me mentally strong. I have never thought once, “why me?” I just knew I had to fight for my life and for my family. I’ll never give up, and I will never let cancer define me.

Cindy Piccirillo

I live in San Antonio, TX, with my husband Josh, four kids, and two dogs. I have been serving in the Air Force for almost 23 years. I’ve traveled the world, but there is so much more I want to see and do. Nothing will stop me.

Cindy’s Cancer Journey 

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Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Before ovarian cancer - healthy ovaries

Stage 1 - Cancer is confined to one or both ovaries

Stage 2 - Cancer spreads within the pelvic region

Stage 3 - Average stage of diagnoses is stage 3C; cancer spreads to other body parts within the abdomen

Stage 4 - Cancer spreads beyond the abdomen to other body parts


National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Stage 1

The cancer is confined to the ovary or fallopian tube

1A - The cancer is confined to one ovary only

1B - The cancer is found on both ovaries

1C - One or both ovaries are found with cancer cells spilling out from the ovaries

1C1 - Accidental rupture of the capsule by the surgeon during surgery

1C2 - Rupture of the capsule occurred before surgery

1C3 - Cancer cells are found in the fluid of the pelvis/abdomen

Stage 2

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension

2A - Extension of cancer to fallopian tubes or uterus

2B - Extension of cancer to other pelvic organs

Stage 3

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries, and the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis

3A - Microscopic cancer cells found in upper abdomen or lymph nodes

3B - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen less than 2cm in size

3C - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen greater than 2cm in size, including disease on the surface of liver or spleen

Stage 4

The cancer growth is widely spread throughout the body

4A - Cancer is found in the fluid around lung

4B - Cancer is found inside the lungs, liver or spleen

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

30 Years of Courage


NOCC begins as a grassroots organization founded by advocates and survivors in Boca Raton, Florida


NOCC incorporates as the country’s first national organization providing awareness and education about ovarian cancer.


The first national ovarian cancer information hotline is established (1-888-OVARIAN), now averaging 10,000 calls each year.


NOCC proclaims a week in September “National Ovarian Cancer Week,” with a declaration from President Clinton. “Walk for a Whisper” 5K Walk/Run is initiated.


NOCC and the ovarian community proclaim September as “National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.”


The organization produces television PSA about early detection and distributes to 30 states.

2003 received the Award from OncoLink, the first online cancer resource founded by University of Pennsylvania cancer specialists.

NOCC receives the National Points of Light award in celebration of the success and impact volunteers have made in their communities.


NOCC launches “Body Image/Body Essence” art exhibit by sculptor John Magnan as a tribute to his wife’s journey with ovarian cancer.


NOCC launches the “Break the Silence” national education campaign.


The “Break the Silence” campaign reaches 100M impressions.

NOCC helps launch the first consensus on ovarian cancer symptoms.


NOCC moves its principal place of operation and state of incorporation/registration from Boca Raton, Florida to Dallas, Texas.

NOCC advocates help to double Department of Defense funding for ovarian cancer research to $20M per year.


“Newly Diagnosed Patient Kit” is launched. DVD resource is made available in Spanish and Mandarin; 450,000+ pieces of literature are distributed nationwide.


The Faces of Hope® program and term “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer” are initiated. 

Annual fundraising events are branded “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer®.”


NOCC partners with The Dr. Oz Show to create his Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer® campaign.

Over 1200 newly diagnosed women receive NOCC’s TEAL PACKET®

The “Ann Schreiber Ovarian Cancer Research Training Program of Excellence: A study by Dr. Ruth Perets” is supported by NOCC with a $50,000 contribution.


NOCC supports quality of life research with the GOG 0225, LIvES Study, which is ongoing and conducted by the University of Arizona Cancer Center.


More than 4,000 Faces of Hope TEAL totes are distributed.


More than 575,000 pieces of education and awareness literature are distributed nationally.

NOCC affirms its commitment to research with the newest  initiative, collaborating with Stand Up to Cancer, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund to support the “Ovarian Cancer Dream Team.”

NOCC is featured in the highly coveted showcase window at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan.


NOCC reaches its milestone 25th anniversary.

NOCC becomes an official charity partner for the New York Marathon and launches its first platform for endurance enthusiasts across the U.S - Team Teal®.


Rejuvenate, the first event of its kind, is introduced by NOCC for survivors as a retreat experience centered around the mind, body and spirit; it later expands to a national series.

Not Knowing is Killing Us is launched as a hard-hitting national awareness campaign. 


NOCC's signature Run/Walk Series is rebranded and Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is brought to life in communities across the nation.  


Team Teal®, NOCC's endurance platform, expands internationally with participants in Greece and Canada.  

Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is hosted at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a national historic landmark.


In response to the pandemic, NOCC introduces programming offering relief to women and their caregivers including home meal delivery, Comfort for the Soul, and online professional counseling through Comfort the Mind.  

Teal Hearts Network, a series of regional survivor support groups, commences in a virtual setting.

Together in Teal(R) hosts its first virtual experience, No Boundaries, and unites participants in 50 states and 9 countries.  

Signs and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex