JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A hero endured tragedy throughout his family and overcame it in his personal life.
Ralph Cigliano is a hero because of his courage and his determination. He responded to the death of his mother, sister and wife and became one of the leading fundraisers for cancer research in Northeast Florida.
In Cigliano’s real estate office in Mandarin is an award from the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. He led the local chapter by raising nearly $20,000 in the 10-week Man and Woman of the Year fundraising competition -- all to fund cancer support services and research and all because of the devastation cancer caused him.
Cigliano’s sister, Denise, died from cancer in 2015. Four months after that, his wife, Tara, found out she had it. Eight years prior, Cigliano’s mother died from cancer.
When Tara found out what was wrong, it was too late for treatment to be effective, leaving Cigliano as a single father of two grade-schoolers.
“They were 8 and 10 at that time. You know, we have a strong faith and we've always, you know, talked about God,” Cigliano told News4Jax. “And I'm so thankful, because I don't know how anybody who doesn't have God in their life could get through stuff like this.”
Unbelievably, Cigliano’s connection to cancer wasn’t done. While body surfing during Memorial Day weekend in 2016, a wave crashed into him, and hurt more than it should have. His doctor ran tests and said there was probably nothing wrong.
But, “He was 98% then -- I didn't have cancer. So there was only a 2% chance that I can have cancer. So when I tell people the story they say, ‘What 2%?’ You know, ‘What are the odds?!’” Cigliano said.
In the worst way, Cigliano beat the odds. He had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer breaking down calcium in the body. It had been six months since Tara died.
“It was 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday, and I just couldn’t even walk. I was just so floored. (My doctor and I) didn’t know what to do. We just sat there. I think we were both just in shock for I don’t know how long,” Cigliano said.
Cigliano got support from the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, including groceries and bills being paid while he went through treatment.
He started working hard to help others know about the dangers, as well as the support available. And he made sure not to get bitter.
“I just know that God created us, and however we go through this life is not totally up to me. Just like we do every day, we get up. We don’t know what today brings,” Cigliano said. “And there may be a reason why I had to go through all of that to be sitting with you, to share the message, what's important, what people need to hear and awareness.”
One of the elements of awareness that’s important to Cigliano: He believes Tara was diagnosed too late, in part, because she didn’t see a doctor soon enough.
He said his wife would want people to know: Don’t try to self-diagnose. Cigliano said there’s no real “Dr. Google” or “Dr. Yahoo,” so go see a professional when you think something’s wrong.
Light the Night is Thursday. The Leukemia Lymphoma Society gathers people together to celebrate, honor and remember those touched by cancer. News4Jax anchor and reporter Scott Johnson is the emcee for the event, which starts at 5 p.m. Thursday at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Marco.
The Man and Woman of the Year competition gears up again in the spring. Click here to learn more.