2008 Champions

Ninth Annual Stefanie's Champions Awards Luncheon
April 23, 2008

More than 800 people attended the ninth annual Stefanie’s Champions Awards Luncheon on April 23, 2008, to see the spotlight shine on unsung heroes in the lives of cancer survivors. Stefanie Spielman (back left) and her husband Chris (back right) pose with the 2008 Stefanie's Champions Marshall Mann, Kelly Metz, Willie Wright, Brad Marsh, Chad Flory and Angela Renninger.

The Champion Award, established by breast cancer survivor Stefanie Spielman and her husband, Chris Spielman, is designed to honor one of the most important factors in cancer treatment: the loving and healing presence of a devoted caregiver.

Stefanie gave the first Champion award to her husband, a former football standout at The Ohio State University and the National Football League, after he put his professional football career on hold to care for her when she was first treated for breast cancer in 1998 at Ohio State’s James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Net proceeds from the luncheon go to the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and The James. Since 1999, more than $4 million has been raised for the fund through activities and donations.

The luncheon is a cooperative effort between Stefanie and The James. The presenting sponsor for this year’s luncheon was again the William H. Davis, Dorothy M. Davis and William C. Davis Foundation. Thank you to our 2008 lead sponsors.

For more information, please call The James Development Office at (614) 293-3744. Below are profiles of this year’s champions.

CHAMPION: Chad Flory – My Life’s Anchor

In the words of nominator and wife, Elizabeth Flory:

When I first heard the words, “You have breast cancer,” I wanted to run for cover. Instead, I found solace in the arms of my boyfriend, Chad Flory, as we sat on the couch crying together for what seemed like hours. Chad finally looked at me and smiled and said, “We can’t change it, and we are just going to beat it, together.”

From then on, Chad has been my enduring anchor.

We met teaching at the same school. During chemotherapy, I was so sick and worried that I was unable to continue teaching my students, so Chad elicited the help of our colleagues to cover my classes and help prepare my lesson plans. He worked double-time to grade my students’ papers.

After my second chemo treatment, my hair began to fall out. Chad held me as I cried at the thought of losing my hair. He got the clippers and changed his role from boyfriend to wacky hairstylist. I have never laughed so hard in my life. He first gave me a Flock of Seagulls ’do, then the popular Mohawk, and finally a G.I. Jane original.

All the while we laughed, joked and took lots of pictures. I thought I would be devastated without my hair, but he made me feel so confident. One day I was having one of those “I feel ugly” days when he looked straight into my eyes and said, “I didn’t realize just how beautiful you really are until you lost all of your hair.”

Chad has been there for me during every aspect of my recovery. We were married on April 29, 2006, and are now on the upside of life as a bonded pair stronger than ever.

CHAMPION: Marshall Mann – A Son’s Sacrifice

When a child finds out his mom has cancer, he can choose one of two responses, bravery or fear. Marshall Mann chose bravery.

When Carrie Mann was diagnosed with colon cancer, her now 13-year-old son Marshall, was only nine. He put his childhood on hold to help to care for his ailing mother. Rather than spending afternoons playing, Marshall stayed by his mother’s bedside, offering comfort and support.

“Marshall always comes to check on me when I am bed confined,” writes Carrie. “He learned to change surgical dressings and clean wounds, and he is not afraid. He knows my medication and when I need it. He also watches out for side effects,” says Carrie. “He knows how to start an IV and infuse medicine without help. He knows how to check my blood pressure with a cuff, and to call for help when needed.”

Now an eighth-grader at Ridgeview Middle School in Columbus, Marshall continues lending his mother caring words of encouragement just when she needs it.

“He definitely kept my spirits up and he gave me a reason to keep moving on,” says Carrie, whose treatment included surgery and chemotherapy. “He would hold his thumb up and say, ‘Everything is going to be okay, Mommy, so don’t worry about it.’”

 Without asking for a reward or complaining, Marshall has taken on responsibilities for his family that has cut into his time with friends. Simply put, Carrie calls her son a blessing from God.

CHAMPION: William Bradford “Brad” Marsh – Soldiering On

Balancing school, the military and a father struggling with cancer and congestive heart failure became part of Brad Marsh’s everyday life.

Brad was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq when his dad, William T. Marsh, was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

After his tour in Iraq ended, Brad worked hard with the Army assignment crew to stay close to his parents’ home. The Army stationed him as an ROTC instructor at The Ohio State University, where enrolled in college to get a master’s degree.

Even with all of his new responsibilities, Brad continued to put his family in front of his own ambitions.

“I went through a bone marrow transplant procedure in 2006. Brad took six weeks out of his Army school, as well as the master’s program with the local university he was enrolled in, and came to help me with the bone marrow transplant,” says William.  “He took on every burden I was unable to deal with.”

Brad managed to impress his father further by graduating from the master’s program with honors and a 4.0 grade point average.

“For Brad to be able to convince the Army to support his goal of being close to home to be able to help my wife and me when we need it most and still be able to demonstrate his leadership abilities speaks exceedingly well of this young man,” says William.

One year later, William suffered a heart attack and Brad was right there alongside his dad to help encourage him back to health, offering both moral and physical support.

CHAMPION: Kelly Metz – Best of Friends

Breast cancer never comes at a convenient time, but for Diane Kukula, the situation seemed impossible. With four daughters all under 12, and no close family available to help, Diane’s good friend Kelly Metz took charge.

Their friendship has proven to be unbreakable.

“From that first appointment, Kelly committed to do whatever it took to help the girls. Having her own four children, she would gladly work the three differing school schedules of our daughters into her days,” writes Diane.

Kelly proved to be fill-in mom by delivering food for school lunches, organizing dinners and giving thoughtful gifts to cheer everyone up. The most important part of Diane’s life was being cared for because of Kelly.

“How blessed our family has been through her unwavering love, support and care. Thanks to Kelly, instead of anxiety and insecurity, our daughters had stability and security,” says Diane.

Diane calls Kelly her “behind-the-scenes” girl, and is most impressed that her up-beat attitude has allowed many others in Diane’s life to be champions as well. Kelly went above and beyond on more than one occasion, but Diane recalls one in particular being significant.

“Kelly insisted that my husband, Dave, and I get away for a weekend together, so she kept our girls,” writes Diane. “Because of Kelly and her selflessness, Dave has been able to be by my side every step of the way, and Kelly knows that is what I needed. I could never repay her for her kindness, loyalty and support.”

CHAMPION:  Angela Renninger – Whirlwind Wedding

When Hallie Renninger was told she had cancer, she wasn’t sure what the rest of her life held. With her world crashing down around her, Hallie’s devoted mother, Angela Renninger was the source of hope and strength she needed.

“My mom is not only a doctoral student and a third-grade teacher, she has also been my rock to lean through this journey,” writes Hallie. “Despite her hectic schedule, she has managed to devote every extra second of her time to helping me fight my battle.”

Toward the end of her chemotherapy, more tumors were found, and Hallie’s prognosis looked bleak. After a bone marrow transplant was scheduled, Hallie and her boyfriend, Andy Penfield, decided to get married before her condition worsened.

“I imagined with the un-timeliness of our plans we would have no choice but to have a small courthouse wedding; however, my mother managed to plan a wedding for my husband and me in less than three weeks,” says Hallie.

More than 160 people attended the wedding ceremony at the Columbus Zoo on July 7, 2007.

“Hallie had always wanted to get married. This was such a unique circumstance because she needed to get married right away,” recalls Hallie’s mom, Angela. “Everyone wanted to see her through this, and all the prayers were out there for her.”

Three days after the wedding, Hallie was back in the hospital. She’s doing well after the successful bone marrow transplant.

“Through everything my mom was close by my bedside, the silent cheerleader;” says Hallie. “She has never wavered from me. With my mom’s support, I was pronounced into remission on December 14, 2007.”

CHAMPION: Willie Wright – Ties That Bind

Lenora Barnes-Wright found comfort from the unlikeliest of places when she was diagnosed with invasive ductile carcinoma. Her ex-husband, Willie Wright, knew just what to do, and never left her side during her biggest struggle.

The Wrights had been married for six years when they divorced in 1983. They have a 20-year-old daughter, Lauren Ashley Bridgette Wright, who attends college in Huntsville, Ala.

Not only was Lenora diagnosed with cancer, but also with diabetes, severe anemia and an infection that caused a fever. She recalls the sacrifice that Willie made during her bouts of nausea, exhaustion, panic attacks and lack of an appetite.

“Without being asked, he took over all household responsibilities. He accompanied me to medical appointments with my primary care doctor, oncologist, surgeon and a host of other necessary appointments. I was so ill that I couldn’t make sound decisions or even remember all of the medical information I was being given. It was my ex-husband who took copious notes and created a file for my growing assortment of medical information, records and bills,” writes Lenora.

Lenora’s primary doctor was not treating her diabetes and her health wasn’t improving, so Willie insisted she see another doctor. She immediately started to feel better and thanks Willie for every step of progress she has made.

“Through this ordeal, Willie has been there to see to my every need – cleaning, cooking, transportation, researching information, monitoring my temperature and staying in close contact with my primary care physician,” says Lenora. “Willie has been my advocate.”

During each of Lenora’s hospital stays, Willie has been a constant visitor. 

“He truly has loved me, in sickness and in health,” says Lenora.

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