The Cugini Family: Working to Find an Answer to “What if?”

Cesidia Cugini was born on May 26, 1942, just outside of Rome, Italy. Known for her outgoing personality, passion for life, great sense of humor and kindness to everyone she encountered, Cesidia loved music, dancing, cooking and traveling. But most of all, she loved her family. The relationship she shared with her husband, Cesidio, during their 46 years together was an example of true and unconditional love. Cesidia also shared a very special relationship with her daughters, Anita and Carmela, and her grandchildren, Bianca and Jason, whom she loved very deeply. She was loved by many people because of her unique way of caring for others.

In February 2006, Cesidia was diagnosed with lymphoma. Despite the disease, she remained positive and demonstrated more strength and courage than anyone could have imagined. The next nine months were a rollercoaster of emotions as the family would learn that, after enduring chemotherapy through August and appearing to go into remission, the cancer had spread to her brain. She was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, and the family ultimately learned that the cancer was wrapped around her spine.

After receiving full spine radiation at a hospital in Boston, she regained enough strength to return home on Christmas Eve 2006. She celebrated life and welcomed the New Year in by entertaining and making a big meal for friends and family. Then, a few weeks into 2007, Cesidia began experiencing difficulties, and she and her family looked to Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute for help. Here, they were connected with Pierluigi Porcu, MD, in the Division of Hematology. Dr. Porcu and his team discovered that the cancer was in Cesidia’s central nervous system. Together, Dr. Porcu and the family decided on a course of treatment. Unfortunately, because she had undergone full spinal radiation, she wasn’t able to reproduce the blood counts necessary to receive a second treatment. “Through it all, Dr. Porcu preserved what our mom had always prayed for, her dignity,” says Anita. The family brought their beloved wife and mother home on March 1, 2007, and she passed away peacefully, with dignity, in her bed on March 3, 2007.

Although they share that they “are believers that everything in life happens for a reason,” Cesidia’s family often wonders, “What if”? “What if” they had found the true source of her cancer much earlier; would she have beaten the disease and still be here to celebrate the holidays with her family? And, “What if” she’d lived long enough for further research to be done to find a cure for her disease?

The Cugini family is doing their part to solve the “What ifs” for future generations by hosting an annual event to honor Cesidia’s memory and raising money to support lymphoma research and treatment at the OSUCCC – James. In 2013, their Italian-style feast held at Villa Milano in Columbus, Ohio, attracted more than 200 supporters and raised $25,000. To date, they’ve raised more than $103,000 total to support The James.

Carmela says, “Nothing will bring her back, but perhaps our experience was for a greater purpose...to help others and possibly make a difference in their lives. This is what mom would have wanted, because this is what she was about, helping others. If the loss of one life could make the difference in saving other lives, then it is worth it.”

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