2004 Champions

‘Stefanie’s Champions’ Profiled

Eight unsung heroes in the lives of cancer patients were honored at the fifth annual “Stefanie’s Champions” luncheon April 28 at the Ohio Convention Center in Columbus.

The event was hosted by Stefanie Spielman, a breast cancer survivor who has worked to heighten awareness of this disease and raise money for breast cancer research at The James, and by her husband Chris, a former Ohio State and NFL football star. 

Stefanie established the Champions Award in 2000 to recognize one of the most important elements in recovering from cancer: the healing presence of a loving caregiver. She gave the first award to Chris, who had put his football career on hold to take care of her when she was diagnosed and initially treated at The James in 1998.

Stefanie’s Champions are nominated by cancer survivors and selected by a special review committee at The James.

During its four-year history, the Stefanie’s Champions luncheon has raised more than $350,000 (through sponsors) to benefit the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at The James. Overall, more than $2 million has been raised for the fund from various sources.

Here are profiles of this year’s champions:

Aaron Wheeler, 16, of Findlay
–  After hearing that an eighth-grade classmate, Doug Williamson, had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his leg, Aaron had his mother take him to the hospital to see Doug, whom he didn’t know very well. Aaron, who himself had been diagnosed with cancer of his parotid gland just eight months earlier but kept it to himself, then coordinated a video greeting card for Doug from the entire eighth-grade class. Thus began a lasting friendship. The two have walked in the annual Relay for Life to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and Aaron also has helped young cancer patients at camp. He was nominated as a champion by Doug, who says Aaron’s initial visit and the video greeting card really lifted his spirits.

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Jan Sanders, 39, Lewis Center
– 12-year-old Jordan Sanders was only 7 when she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her shoulder blade that required immediate surgery. She had her first surgery in Columbus and was later flown to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors removed the rest of her shoulder blade. Jordan was afraid, but she recalls that her mother, Jan, “never left my side. She rubbed my head to help me sleep. She held me and said she loved me. We sang happy songs together.” In nominating her mother as her champion, Jordan says that Jan understands better than anyone how it is to be sick because she herself has suffered from lupus for more than 10 years.

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Brandon & Brett Perkins, 10 and 7, Groveport
– When Terry Perkins was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34, her sons Brandon and Brett were 4 and 1, respectively. Terry says coping with cancer and raising her boys on her own has been difficult. “We don’ t do a lot of things normal families do,” she wrote in nominating her sons as her champions. “The boys have never been on vacation or to a theme park. We don’t have parties. Instead, they help me shop and do errands around the house.” Her cancer has spread to her bones, and the boys accompany her to treatments at The James. “I have come across so many people I would consider champions,” she says, “but the biggest champions in my life are Brandon and Brett. They are better than any medicine.”

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David Stamm, 64, Westerville
– Beckey Stamm says her husband David never faltered when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost so much during treatment: her hair, her breast, her health, her sense of self. The two had been together for more than 40 years, and she says David “never blinked” when tending to her needs and telling her she was “beautiful despite my disfiguration.” His mother had died of the disease in 1969, but he never believed his wife would develop it too. As her recovery progressed, he gathered strength and joy, bought groceries for their church mission in thanks for Beckey’s healing, and created an entire garden of metal sculpture flowers in tribute to his wife, her mother, his sons and others who helped them through their time of trial.

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Hearcel Craig, 54, Columbus
– Hearcel Craig, director of customer service and community relations for the Franklin County Clerk of Courts, is a long-time public servant who has served on numerous boards for community organizations, run for public office and settled labor disputes. But for his wife, Linda, his most important job was caring for her during her many months of breast cancer therapy. “Not once did he complain…not once did he miss a chemo treatment or an opportunity to attend a group support meeting,” she wrote in her champions nomination form. “He gives me a chance to vent; he endures my anger. When I am afraid of the unknown, he reminds me that God is in control and that there is life after cancer.”

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Orley & Phyllis Varney, 79 and 72, Washington Court House
–  As a young woman, Tana Orthmeyer was diagnosed with a rare degenerative liver disease and developed ulcerative colitis. In 2001, she was found with colon cancer and had to have her colon removed to save her life. She also was taking care of her daughter, Mendy, who is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. But Tana’s parents, Orley and Phyllis Varney – both of whom are also cancer survivors – moved in to care for Mendy while Tana recovered at The James. “My mother is also severely disabled due to arthritis,” wrote Tana. “She’s had replacement surgery for her knees, shoulder, hip and a foot joint. My dad had to get Mendy in bed every night. And later he drove me more than 100 miles to my doctor appointments.” As she thanked them when it was time for them to leave, they asked, “Where else would we be?”

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Thank you to our 2004 Stefanie's Champions sponsors:


Presenting Sponsor:

The William H. Davis, Dorothy M. Davis and William C. Davis Foundation


Champion Sponsors:

The Kroger Company

Roche Laboratories-Oncology Division

Worthington Industries, Inc.


Luncheon Sponsors:

The Columbus Destroyers

Cytyc Corporation

The Bernard R. and Florine C. Ruben Family

Abigail and Leslie Wexner

W.W. Williams Company


Honorary Chairs

Mayor Michael and Frankie Coleman


The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) 460 W. 10th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210 Phone: 1-800-293-5066 | Email: jamesline@osumc.edu