The 11th annual Stefanie’s Champions celebration honored five extraordinary heroes in the lives of cancer patients during a luncheon at the Greater Columbus Convention Center’s grand ballroom on Tuesday, April 13, 2010. The 2010 luncheon raised nearly $120,000 to benefit the Stefanie Spielman Patient Assistance Fund and the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
The Champion Award, established by Stefanie Spielman and her husband, Chris Spielman, is designed to honor an important factor in cancer treatment, the loving and healing presence of a devoted caregiver.
“This event is a wonderful way to celebrate those who selflessly devote time and energy to help their loved ones in the fight against cancer,” said honorary chair Ellen Tressel.
Special Thanks to Our 2010 Sponsors
Presenting Sponsor: William H. Davis, Dorothy M. Davis and William C. Davis Foundation
Champion Sponsors: The Kroger Co., Mills/James Productions; Roche-Oncology Division
Luncheon Sponsors: Abigail and Les Wexner
Meet Our 2010 Stefanie's Champions!
Champion Brian Altenburger, nominated by his wife Michele Altenburger, a breast cancer survivor.
Michele Altenburger of Delphos, Ohio, was twenty-four weeks pregnant with twin girls when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her obstetrician-gynecologist referred her to Dr. Charles Shapiro, director of breast medical oncology at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. Brian Altenburger never left his wife’s side as Michele underwent treatment during her pregnancy.
“Brian was determined to do whatever was necessary to make sure I won this battle,” writes Michele. “He became my chauffeur, my number one cheerleader and supporter, and our 3-year-old daughter’s primary caregiver.”
After four rounds of chemotherapy, Michele delivered her girls without complications. On the day Michele was discharged from the hospital, Brian was in a car accident. He waited two years before undergoing surgery for his injured wrist, focusing his energy on his wife and daughters instead.
Brian took a leave of absence from work to care for his wife and daughters while Michele underwent her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery at OSUCCC-James, just nine weeks after the twins were born. Without complaint, he changed diapers, sat with Michele through doctors’ appointments and took care of household chores.
“He took it all in stride and had no doubt that I would be a survivor,” writes Michele. “I would not be here today without such an outstanding champion in my life.”
Champion Mary Elizabeth (Betsey) Cowardin, nominated by her daughter, Claire Mahoney, a thyroid cancer survivor.
Betsey Cowardin has not only suffered through breast cancer herself, she also helped her mother, her daughter, her best friend and many other women in central Ohio who have also been afflicted with cancer.
Claire Mahoney was about to begin her first teaching job when she fell ill and was misdiagnosed. Her mom was the one who encouraged her to make her health a priority, paid for a biopsy and went above and beyond to take care of her daughter when it was finally discovered Claire had thyroid cancer.
After two surgeries, Claire’s battle with cancer had ended, but her mother never stopped fighting for women with cancer. “Her commitment to helping others with cancer began again when her own mother, and then her best friend, were diagnosed with breast cancer. She continues to help people to this day,” writes Claire. “It will probably never end.”
Betsey became even more focused on finding ways to help other women when she lost her best friend who cared for Betsey during her own breast cancer diagnosis, to cancer.
Betsey was surprised to find there were no support groups for women with breast cancer at the hospital where she was having a mastectomy. She volunteered her time and skills as a social worker to start a support group for women facing breast and ovarian cancer.
“I am so proud of my mom for what she has done for so many women during their battles with cancer,” writes Claire. “She knew what they needed as a cancer survivor herself, and freely gave her time to provide comfort, guidance and support. It shows that my mom is a selfless woman, a Champion for so many.”
Champion Larry Hughes, nominated by his wife, Marti Hughes, an ovarian cancer survivor.
Marti Hughes had just retired from being an elementary school teacher when she was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer in November 2005. She never imagined she would be spending her free time enduring surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, blood tests and physician visits.
“Larry has been with me every step of the way, never complaining,” writes Marti. “He is so positive and yet, we have cried in each other’s arms many times.”
Marti writes about the many little things Larry does for her that make a big difference. He surprises her with flowers and milkshakes during chemotherapy. He holds her hand. He tells her jokes to help her recover after painful surgeries. He has had to give her shots and assist with other medical needs at home. Larry even created a homemade book with things he loves about his wife to lift her spirits and make her smile.
When Marti started a cancer support group at their church, Larry helped her and provided encouragement, ideas and came to gatherings to support her. He also helped Marti form a nonprofit group, Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Ohio, by assisting her at events and health fairs.
“I cannot do this alone,” writes Marti. “I do have courage and faith and above all, hope because of him and our deep faith in God.”
Champion Trixie L. Hyser, nominated by her daughter, Lisa K. Baluk, a breast cancer survivor.
Lisa Baluk received her breast cancer diagnosis in September 2007 at the age of 29. She moved from Philadelphia to live with her parents in Westerville, where her mother served as her primary caregiver for eleven months until she was well enough to go back to Philadelphia.
About a year later, a recurrence of more aggressive cancer, with metastasis of the liver and several active lymph nodes and nodules occurred, so Lisa and her husband once again packed their bags and headed back to Westerville.
“Mom has put her life on hold to care for me,” writes Lisa. “She serves as my advocate, primary caregiver, cheerleader and friend.”
Lisa names more than 100 doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy treatments, consultations, spiritual healing sessions and other activities her mom has taken her to during Lisa’s fight with cancer.
“As a recipient of her care, nurturing, servant heart and selflessness, I truly feel I have lived as long as I have because of her,” writes Lisa. “She has never given up on me and will not let me either.”
Trixie Hyser has become an advocate and philanthropist to help educate others and help nonprofits in the fight against cancer. She provides encouragement to her daughter, often reading news stories that talked about Stefanie Spielman’s life and legacy to encourage Lisa to press on and to hope for a cure.
Champion Barbara Knapic, nominated by her friend Suzanne Kaszar, a lymphoma survivor.
When Suzanne Kaszar was diagnosed with stage IV T-cell negative non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pneumonia, and a collapsed lung in April 2008, Barb Knapic was the one who had taken her to see a pulmonologist.
Barb took time away from her family in Wooster, and put her work at her law firm and charities she is involved in, on hold to care for Suzanne. She set up and maintained a Caring Bridge website, came to bone marrow biopsies and has been there through every step of Suzanne’s fight against cancer.
Even though Barb had an extremely busy schedule and they live 100 miles apart, she still took Suzanne to chemotherapy treatments, biopsies and oncology appointments. She even took her to the hairdresser to shave her hair and kept her friend laughing through the entire event.
She was by Suzanne’s side for a reunion of patients at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and cheered her on when she rode 50 miles in Pelotonia, a grassroots bike tour with one goal: to end cancer, by raising funds for the OSUCCC-James. Barb helped Suzanne raise more than $4,800 to support Pelotonia.
“Fifteen months into remission, I can try to encapsulate what she did and continues to do for me, but I know it is an impossible task,” writes Suzanne. “Because of her, I am able to write this today.”
“It’s amazing how much you can laugh through cancer, but we have,” writes Suzanne. “Cancer is not the focus of our friendship, it is just a blip in the road. It’s overwhelming to be so blessed by such a friendship.”