Playing Football Was My Passion, But Fighting Cancer is My Purpose

March 30, 2012

Chris Spielman was a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Ohio State football legend, and perhaps the only high school student to appear on a Wheaties box. But he didn't tackle his toughest opponent until his playing career was almost over when his wife, Stefanie, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer at the age of 30.

Together, Chris and Stefanie tackled the ensuing 11-year fight against her cancer. Their touching love story is chronicled in his new biography, That's Why I'm Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story (Zondervan, April 2012).

The shocking diagnosis for these doting parents of two young children came just as Chris was undergoing neck surgery after years of pushing himself to the brink physically on the football field. Coming to grips both with the end of his professional sports career and the crushing weight of his wife's cancer diagnosis, Chris did the only thing he knew how to do. He poured every ounce of his energy and focus into leading his wife and family through this grueling battle with cancer.

For more than a decade Stefanie and Chris worked together trying to beat her cancer, all while sharing their struggles and successes with the public to help raise awareness and research funding for the disease. During that time, Stefanie underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, participated in several clinical trials, and founded The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research and The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Patient Assistance at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). The funds are devoted to advancing research in breast cancer and providing patient assistance to women with breast cancer in need. Miraculously, Stefanie and Chris also conceived and bore two more children during this time.

"I could have taken my wife anywhere in the country to receive the best care, but I chose to have her treated at The James," Spielman said. "It became our mission to make her diagnosis public in hopes of helping others. We knew enough about cancer to realize the importance of early detection."

Tragically, Stefanie lost her fight with cancer in November of 2009. Since then, Spielman has dedicated his life to raising their four children and to defeating cancer by acting as a spokesman and fundraiser for The Spielman Funds, where they have raised more than $9.1 million in support of the mission of the OSUCCC – James to create a cancer-free world. Spielman remains staunchly committed to continuing Stefanie's legacy of hope and finding a cure for cancer. He is a tireless advocate for the OSUCCC – James physicians and researchers developing better methods of cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

Spielman chronicles in That's Why I'm Here how he and Stefanie partnered with the doctors, researchers and fundraisers at The James with a firm resolve to beat cancer – the toughest opponent he had ever faced and his motivation to raise cancer awareness and research funding. When his father was diagnosed with colon cancer, he brought him to The James for treatment. Spielman credits Stefanie's doctor, Dr. Charles Shapiro, with always being on top of the latest developments in cancer treatment as well as for helping them to sort through the options for treatment.

The OSUCCC – James is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers and one of only seven centers funded by the NCI to conduct both phase I and phase II clinical trials. The NCI rates Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center as "exceptional," the highest rating given by NCI survey teams.

About Chris Spielman

Spielman is a former Ohio State Buckeye, a two-time All American and a 2009 inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame. His 11-year career in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, and Cleveland Browns included four Pro Bowl appearances and a NFC Championship Game appearance with the Lions. He is a College Football Analyst for ESPN and known for his hard hitting and accurate comments on the game and players. He is a co-host on ESPN's reality series, "Rise Up." He can be heard on 97.1 The Fan, an ESPN affiliate, in Columbus, Ohio.

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