Stephanie Peterson's story

Stephanie Petersen origami

Although Stephanie is no longer with us, she lives on through the work of the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation which was founded in her memory. While she was in treatment, Stephanie vowed that when she got better, she would help others fight this deadly disease. Her determination and confidence inspired us to start the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation and do the work she wasn’t able to do herself.

Stephanie was a vibrant, caring and talented young woman whose life was a gift to those of us lucky enough to know her. She approached everything she did with a determination to succeed and she always strived for perfection. She was a graceful dancer, talented designer, loving family member and loyal friend.

Stephanie grew up in Sandy, Utah, where she was a dedicated student, cheerleader and dancer. After graduating at the top of her class from Alta High School in 2002, she pursued her dream of becoming an architect at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Architecture in 2007. She accepted a position in Santa Barbara, California with an architecture firm and earned her LEED accreditation. But in May 2009, her dream was tragically interrupted when she was diagnosed with small cell ovarian cancer, hypercalcemic type.

Several months prior to her diagnosis, Stephanie had been experiencing what we’ve since learned were classic symptoms of ovarian cancer. She was seeing her general practitioner for a series of bladder infections, but because she was a healthy and strong young woman, she never thought to mention the other little things going on, like fatigue, queasiness, gas and expanding tummy. None of us knew these were symptoms of ovarian cancer, nor did any of us dream they could be caused by something so serious.
After Stephanie’s first surgery, her doctor informed her that she did indeed have cancer. Her eyes filled with tears, she pulled the covers up over her head, then pulled them right back down again and said, “OK, I can do this.”

Stephanie Petersen with her brother, Greg 2004

During chemotherapy, one of Stephanie’s nurses said, “Stephanie doesn’t know how to do anything but succeed.” In December of 2009, we believed that statement had come true. After chemo and radiation, there was no evidence of disease. But just three months later, she woke up with severe lung pain and went to an urgent care office. They sent her to a hospital for a CT scan where she learned her cancer was back. Again, Stephanie refused to give up. She chose to participate in a Phase 1 trial, which initially seemed to work well. But within a few months, she was much worse.

Like everything she did in life, Stephanie faced her cancer with amazing strength, courage and grace. Her radiant smile always shone through, even in her darkest hours. Stephanie fought with all she had, but succumbed to this dreadful disease on June 27, 2010, just 13 months after she was diagnosed. She was just 26.

After the heartbreaking loss of our beautiful Stephanie, our family started the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation to help her legacy live on and to honor her amazing determination to beat cancer. Our foundation’s mission is threefold: To raise awareness of the symptoms of small cell ovarian cancer, make information more readily available to future patients and their families, and to fund research into this little-known, but deadly disease.

From the time Stephanie was first diagnosed, we were incredibly frustrated by the lack of information available about the disease. Very little was out there just 2 1/2 years ago. To remedy this, and to help raise awareness, we designed and printed bookmarks with symptoms and facts about small cell ovarian cancer. They are spreading the word that small cell ovarian cancer is a highly malignant tumor that affects mainly young women, with an average median age of 24. We are distributing the bookmarks where we can easily reach this audience—at colleges and universities in all 50 states, as well as locations in England, New Zealand and Spain. We have also formed Team Stephanie, a group of active volunteers who plan and participate in fundraising and race events all around the country to honor Stephanie in a very positive, uplifting way.

To make information more available on the Internet, we created and maintain a website ( with information and symptoms of small cell ovarian cancer, as well as links to medical papers, ongoing research studies, and a health forum where women can engage with others who are fighting the disease.

Through fundraising efforts, we have and will continue to support research into this very rare form of ovarian cancer. Our ultimate goal is to help find a successful screening, treatment and cure.

Stephanie Petersen College Graduation 2007

For media enquiries please contact: cmackay@worldovariancancercoalition.