As a teen, Marianna Triolo volunteered at Yale-New Haven Hospital during the construction of the Smilow Cancer Hospital.
"I remember thinking to myself," Triolo said, "wow, that hospital is going to help so many people, but never had an idea that I’d be one of them let alone end up working here.”
Ten years later, Triolo is going through a second round of chemotherapy, but she still plans to ride this September in Closer to Free and raise money with her team for patient care and research at Smilow.
“Learned the hard way that you just really, really have to listen to your body and push for answers when something is going on,” Triolo said.
Right before graduation from nursing school in 2017, Triolo felt pain and other changes in her body.
"There’s no real screening for it, there’s not a mammogram or a colonoscopy, there’s nothing like that for ovarian cancer,” she told NBC Connecticut.
Doctors diagnosed her with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer that was spreading. She required life-saving surgery at the Smilow Cancer Hospital.
“On September 15 2017, I had a 13-hour-long operation to remove all the cancer from my abdomen,” Triolo said.
Doctors had to remove several organs, she said.
“It was a really difficult operation and I was also coping with the loss of my own fertility, so on top of everything physical there was the mental aspect of what I was going through,” Triolo explained.
But her battle with cancer also inspired her to ride in Closer to Free.
“So I said to one of my nurses, if I get through this and I survive, I said will you ride with me next year," Triolo recalled, "and she said of course, so I started my team.”
Proudly wearing her survivor jersey, she rode 25 miles for Team Marianna last September.
Triolo remembers one moment where she said she didn't know if she could climb a difficult hill.
“Out of nowhere this little boy comes up behind me and goes, 'you can do it' and just keeps pedaling and it was just so sweet, all the support you feel it from everyone,” she said.
Triolo's experience as a Smilow patient motivated her to start working as a nurse in the surgical oncology unit.
“When I was here, I realized how incredibly important the role that caregivers have in taking care of oncology patients and what a difference it could make in their life,” she said.
Triolo knew the cancer she beat once had a high rate of recurrence.
“In January of this year," she said, "I found out it came back and had gone to my bones.”
Every 21 days, the 25-year-old from Milford undergoes another chemotherapy treatment.
“The first thing I said to my doctor was just I want to keep working," she said. "That’s my goal and she said if that’s your goal, that’s my goal too and six months later we’re still meeting that goal.”
Triolo said she's thankful for the support of family, friends and co-workers.
“I can’t do it all myself,” she said.
And through it all, she hasn't lost her sense of humor.
‘That predated cancer so that tends to help," Triolo said. "I say it to my patients, you know you either laugh or you cry and I usually do both just depends on the time of day, just kidding.”
NBC Connecticut is proud to be the media sponsor for the 9th annual Closer to Free Ride on Saturday September 9th. Organizers said Closer to Free has raised more than $15 million for Smilow Cancer Hospital.