Eighth Annual Stefanie's Champions Awards Luncheon
April 18, 2007
More than 850 people attended the eighth annual Stefanie’s Champions Awards Luncheon to see the spotlight shine on six unsung heroes in the lives of cancer survivors. Stefanie Spielman (far left) and her husband, Chris (far right) pause with the 2007 Stefanie's Champions Sheila Hegenberger, Michael Filkins, Aaron Hodge, Garry Garrod, Amy Fetter and Katherine Ellington.
The event was hosted by Stefanie Spielman, a breast cancer survivor who works to heighten awareness about this disease and raise money for research, and by her husband, Chris, a former Ohio State and professional football standout. The luncheon is a cooperative effort between Stefanie and the OSUCCC-James. The William H. Davis, Dorothy M. Davis and William C. Davis Foundation was the luncheon’s presenting sponsor. Thank you to our 2007 lead sponsors
For more information, please call the James Development Office at (614) 293-3744.
Champion: Katherine Ellington – Devoted Daughter
Despite health problems of her own, Katherine Ellington has devoted her life to helping her parents cope with their health problems, including her mother’s colon cancer and her father’s diabetes.
“You would never know she is in constant pain,” writes Katherine’s mother, Ann Hunt, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in June 2004. “She had back surgery before my cancer surgery and she still managed to care for us. She never complains and always has a smile for everyone. She and her husband have a trucking business, and she came off the road to care for me without hesitation.”
In the past three years, Katherine has been there for her mother for seven surgeries along with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. When Ann came home to a hospital bed to recuperate, Katherine slept on the couch beside her, offering comfort. Adding to the burden, during Ann’s treatment, both her mother-in-law and sister died.
“Katherine held me as I grieved. She cooked, cleaned and ran my house while letting hers go. She kept my bed fresh and clean, made sure I was bathed every day and had clean gowns. She applied lotion to my dry skin and seemed to anticipate my every need.”
Katherine also learned how to change her mother’s colostomy bag and how to pack her wounds. She assisted the home health nurses and even organized a huge yard sale to help with medical expenses because her mother did not have health insurance. Ann is now receiving Medicare.
“After the colorectal cancer, I thought our journey was over,” Ann writes. “But last September I had four small cancers removed from my right lung. She was right there again, dressing my wounds, driving me to Columbus for treatments and doctor appointments. Never complaining and always encouraging.”
As if this weren’t enough – back in 2000, Katherine donated one of her kidneys to her father, Herb Hunt, who was in renal failure. He is now 70 and healthy. Because she only has one kidney, however, Katherine cannot take medications that could help manage her pain because they could damage her kidney.
“So she prays, puts on a smile and faces each day with faith, love and unlimited giving to those around her who are in need,” Ann writes. “She has even donated her beautiful, long hair to ‘Locks of Love’ for the children with cancer. I thank God for my Champion.”
Champion: Amy Fetter – A Daughter’s Love
Not once, but twice, Amy Fetter has cared for her parents as they struggled with cancer. In 2002, her father, Jim Hinaman, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just months after the diagnosis, Amy found herself without a job because of downsizing and devoted herself to caring for her father.
Amy researched hospitals, doctors, treatment plans, diets and supplements and accompanied her parents to every doctor’s appointment, test and chemotherapy treatment. She kept family and friends updated through phone calls and e-mail while remaining upbeat and positive, writes her mother, Pamela Hinaman, who nominated her to be one of Stefanie’s Champions.
Sadly, Amy’s 60-year-old father died on Nov. 1, 2003. Just one year and one day later, a doctor found a lump in her mother’s breast. Since her mother was still grieving the loss of her husband, Amy took charge of her mother’s treatment. She accompanied her mother to all of her medical appointments and cancer treatments.
“She spent nights with me when I was feeling my worst,” Pamela writes. “She brought me food on her lunch hour and every evening, ran errands, did laundry and cared for my puppy.
“She listened to me, cried with me, told me how proud she was of me and how good I looked. She was always my No. 1 cheerleader. She put everything on hold in her personal life to take care of me. I am so grateful for her love and support,” writes Pamela.
In September 2002, Amy was hired as a patient navigator with the American Cancer Society in Marion, Ohio. In that position, she works with patients, families and doctors to find the best possible way to help them with financial aid, insurance questions and the latest information on their particular cancers.
“It’s been wonderful to witness her grow in her faith, to see what a beautiful, loving and caring person she is,” Pamela writes. “I am so proud of her. Now I see her do the same with her patients and I am so proud they have her to call on. I know that whatever happens in the future, Amy will be there for me, and that gives me great comfort and peace of mind.”
Champion: Michael Filkins – Brotherly Love
Before she was diagnosed with skin cancer, Megan Filkins enjoyed a typical sibling relationship with her younger brother, Michael Filkins.
“We had the typical brother-sister relationship where we would fight all the time,” says Megan, who nominated her brother to be one of Stefanie’s Champions. “This whole experience has brought us closer together. Now we have a bond that will never be broken.”
Michael was just a freshman at Ironton High School when Megan learned in 2005 that she had advanced melanoma.
“My parents and I weren’t exactly sure how we were going to tell Michael that his big sister had cancer,” writes Megan. “I just remember him breaking down in tears. But he was there for me through everything.”
Michael often accompanied her on the 4.5-hour round trip from their home in Ironton to Columbus for multiple doctor appointments and surgeries. He was there for her in the hospital after the first surgery to remove the tumor from her left leg.
“Once we got home he was so helpful to me and was actually pretty nice to me, nicer than most normal little brothers,” Megan writes. “My second surgery was much more intense, and again, Michael was right there with me.”
During a four-day hospital stay after her second surgery, Megan had to use a breathing machine every hour to help prevent her from developing pneumonia.
“Michael was the one there with the ‘elephant machine’ (as we called it) every hour, on the hour, to make me do it,” Megan writes. “I was very sick after my surgery and I didn’t want to eat anything. Michael was right there with my family, trying to get me to eat so I could go home.”
Megan is now a junior at Ohio State, where she plans to study nursing, and Michael is a junior at Ironton High School. She returns home every few weeks to visit, and frequently talks to her brother by phone.
“It made me feel good to know that he cared so much about me when I needed him the most,” Megan says. “He is the best little brother that a girl could ask for. Michael truly is my champion.”
Champion: Garry Garrod – Unwavering Support
Not once, but twice, Garry Garrod has helped a woman he loves battle breast cancer. First his wife, Becky Garrod, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2003. His daughter Jessica, learned the following August that she too had the disease.
“Having just watched my Mom battle the same disease less than a year ago, I had some idea of what was to come . . . and so did my Dad,” writes Jessica Garrod, who nominated her father, Garry, as one of Stefanie’s Champions.
“I don’t know what the statistics say, but I’m pretty sure it’s rare to have both your wife and daughter be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in less than a year.”
Garry put his business on hold so that he could be there for both his wife and daughter during their treatment. Jessica endured six surgeries, 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 34 radiation treatments. When decisions had to be made regarding clinical trials and surgeries, her father asked all the tough questions.
“He asked until he knew for sure that I had the best doctors, at the best hospitals and was getting the best treatment available,” Jessica writes. “I always felt so safe with him there.”
When her hair began to fall out because of chemotherapy treatments, Jessica shaved her head and saved a few locks of her hair for her father.
“The most deserving person was the one who made me feel strong with or without hair – my Dad,” Jessica writes. “I was blessed to have a lot of supporters during this time in my life, but my Dad was the true champion!”
A strong faith helped sustain the family during this difficult time, and now both mother and daughter are cancer-free.
“There were times when I was worried, and I wondered why I was going through this, but I never felt alone,” Jessica writes. “My parents taught me about God’s love, and that no matter what happens in our lives, God is there. I know my Dad had to lean on his faith more than he ever had before. His love and prayers were the best comfort and support I ever had.”
In August, three years after her diagnosis, Jessica plans to walk 60 miles in the Breast Cancer 3-Day event in Cleveland to raise money for breast cancer research.
Champion: Sheila Hegenberger – A Mother’s Faith
How do you describe the love a mother has for her daughter?
Ginger Lowery posed – and then answered – that very question as she nominated her mother, Sheila Hegenberger, for Stefanie’s Champions.
Sheila has been there for Ginger through the loss of her best friend, the death of her husband, two failed adoptions and countless other events in her life.
“But after my breast cancer diagnosis in July 2004, the very person who gave me life tried desperately over the next year to save it,” Ginger writes. “The worst feeling a mother can have is to know that her child is in danger and there is nothing she can do. My Mom spent an entire year turning that feat into action.”
Sheila drove Ginger to every doctor’s appointment and stayed with her in the hospital before and after her bilateral mastectomy surgery.
“When I could not lift my arms she bathed me, dressed me, fixed my hair and drained four drainage tubes around the clock every 12 hours,” Ginger writes. “When the doctor informed us that I would have to go through chemotherapy, my Mom took me to pick out a wig, have my head shaved and attended every chemo session.”
During all of the appointments, surgeries and treatments, Sheila not only took care of Ginger, but she also became “Mom” to Ginger’s 14-year-old daughter, Jordan. She drove 90 minutes round trip each day taking Jordan to and from school. She also cooked, cleaned, packed lunches, helped Jordan with homework and tucked her in at night.
“My Mom sacrificed not only her life, time and finances, but she sacrificed her emotions in order to get us all through this ordeal,” Ginger writes. “I know that many times she wanted to break down because the load was too heavy, but she never for a moment let me see that side of her. She was strong and courageous on the outside and praying fervently that God would see us through on the inside.
“She prayed not only for me, but for everyone battling this cancer,” Ginger writes. “She demonstrated the faith that for so many years she had taught me about. Being a minister’s daughter, I have always been brought up with a strong faith, but seeing my Mom put her faith to work through one of her darkest hours impressed on me how truly blessed I am.”
Champion: Aaron Hodge – A Co-worker’s Commitment
Lori Elliott, who manages the Union Savings Bank in northwest Columbus, nominated head bank teller Aaron Hodge as one of Stefanie’s Champions for his unselfish and unwavering support during her battle with breast cancer.
“How do you tell your young, single, male assistant that you will need time off for a mastectomy?” Elliott wrote in her nomination letter. “Aaron made an uncomfortable situation extremely easy.”
Aaron offered encouragement before her surgery in July 2005.
“Then he stepped up and ran my office for me, never asking for help,” she writes. “He brought the tellers to my house with dinner for me and my family. When I learned I would need chemotherapy, again Aaron stepped up. He never complained about working extra hours or doing my job while I was out.”
Soon after her diagnosis, Aaron started wearing a pink band around his wrist to show support for breast cancer survivors. During Lori’s chemotherapy treatments, Aaron would send her fun text messages, and twice when she was hospitalized for complications, he worked crossword puzzles with her over the phone to pass the time.
When Aaron learned that Lori was at risk for developing lymphedema, a potential side effect from surgery that results in arm swelling, he went the extra mile, making sure she did not lift anything – including money – as a precautionary measure.
In February 2006, Lori had another mastectomy, and again Aaron stepped up at work for her. Last May, Lori organized a bank team to walk in the Race for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer research. Aaron sat in the bank lobby and sold pink lemonade and pink cookies that he had helped make.
“Aaron was at the walk and made sure our entire staff was there – 63 people!” writes Lori, who is now undergoing the process of reconstructive surgery and coping with many complications.
“Aaron refuses to talk about work with me on the phone. He said he just wants me to heal and not come back to work until I’m ready,” she writes. “I overheard Aaron tell someone that I’m the strongest person he knows. That remark will never be forgotten. He has made me feel like a hero. I want to return the favor and honor him as one of my heroes.”