2013 Champion of Hope:Shannon Peterson
“Stefanie told me she saw the passion I had to fight this disease and she knew I would jump in. I feel like I owe it to Stefanie to help continue her work and carry on her legacy.”
Champion James Caudill
-- Shannon Peterson, advocate for cancer research, friend of Stefanie Spielman
Upper Arlington resident Shannon Peterson met Stefanie Spielman at a fundraising event in 1999, soon after Shannon’s own breast cancer scare, which thankfully turned out to be a benign lump. Nevertheless, the scare was a catalyst, catapulting her into what has become a mission of hope – to raise enough money for cancer research so that one day, we can all live in a cancer-free world.
Shannon still recalls hearing Stefanie speaking passionately about research at a breast cancer fundraiser. “It was a life-changing moment for me,” she says. “Stefanie talked about a new drug, Herceptin, that she said had saved her life. Here she was, standing in front of me, proof of the importance of research.”
As for Stefanie, she knew she had found a kindred spirit in Peterson, and began to introduce her to key people in the cancer community and involve her in the Spielman Fund, which Shannon continues to actively participate in to this day.
Shannon also founded the Stefanie’s Team of Hope peloton. She has led a charge that has raised more than $830,000 for cancer research to date, earning the group the #1 Grassroots Fundraising Peloton in all three years they have ridden.
“Stefanie would be thrilled and grateful for everyone's support in the fight to end cancer,” Shannon said. “We are committed to this fight, but we cannot do it alone. It is going to take all of us working together. We can beat this disease. Together we can and will create a cancer-free world.”
Shannon is on the Solicitation Committee of Stefanie’s Champions, and she is a board member of Strong Hearts, a non-profit created by the Spielmans that provides support and programs for caregivers. She also organizes several fundraising events that benefit the Spielman Fund.
“I miss Stefanie every day and it’s therapeutic for me to immerse myself in all this work,” said Shannon. “And when I’m surrounded by other people who are fighting and donating and working to beat this, well, it just warms my heart.”
“I was so heartbroken and scared, yet James stayed strong. He was my glue holding me together. All the time he held my hand and made sure I kept fighting. I always struggled with control, but he let me be free to fight and he took care of everything else.”
-- Bethany Caudill, Nominator, Wife and Cancer Survivor
Watch Jimmy Caudill's 2013 Stefanie's Champions Video.
It started with intense stomach pain and an early morning trip to the emergency room. Still in the dating phase, James Caudill was extremely worried about his girlfriend, Bethany. He talked with the doctors about her, then called Bethany’s mother to reassure her, and then waited for scan after scan to finally reveal the source of 23-year-old Bethany’s pain. The diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. The prognosis: three years to live.
Their small-town hospital just wasn’t equipped for Bethany’s extensive care needs and referred her to The James, where James would accompany her repeatedly. Surgery revealed that the tumor was not pancreatic cancer, but instead neuroendocrine paraganglioma, a rare form of cancer.
Still in college, James “convinced his professors he needed to be with me,” Bethany said. He stayed by her side daily as she recovered over the next long year and as he continued his education and work schedule. With a clean bill of health, the two decided to marry that August, and they now live in Dublin.
“I was so happy,” Bethany said. “I even went back to school, and he finished his degree. He never showed a weak side and always was the strong one for me.” Bethany, who calls James her soul mate, is convinced that her husband is the reason it’s been 10 years – not three – since that fateful trip to the emergency room.
When cancer invaded Bethany’s body again in 2007, James once-again assumed his champion fighter role, holding Bethany’s hand and encouraging her to fight as she endured three years of chemotherapy and numerous rounds of radiation. “We had many visits to the doctor and the emergency room,” Bethany said, “where he had little to no sleep and then would go to work and make sure we had some sort of money. He never once complained or let me see his worry.”
Her cancer has stabilized but remains in stage 4. “I now live with stage 4 cancer,” she said. “That’s right, I live with it because James never lets me quit or stop fighting. He has told me he won’t give up. He says not to worry; we will kick the cancer’s butt again and then find a way to make our dreams come true.
“Through all the trials, he has been my rock,” Bethany said. “He is not just my husband, my friend and a fighter. He is my champion.”
Champion Josh Huffman
“I felt his strength and calmness … it went straight to my soul during a time when my strength and sense of peace was nonexistent. As a survivor I realized…that we find the strength to fight from within and from those who fight with us. I am a better person because of him.”
-- Laura Huffman, Nominator, Wife and Breast Cancer Survivor
Watch Josh Huffman's 2013 Stefanie's Champions Video.
At age 31, with a husband and three small children, Laura Huffman took a phone call that permanently altered her family’s life: advanced triple negative breast cancer. Spread to the lymph nodes. The rest was a blur. As she called Josh, her high school sweetheart, best friend and husband, she could barely speak the word “cancer.” But she was met with love, strength and the determination of a prize-winning fighter.
“He rose to the challenge,” said Laura, “and quickly researched and learned medical terminology, the treatments, the drugs, and the surgeries that would become a part of our lives. He told me he wanted to fight this together.”
And together they did. Josh was at every appointment, making the drive from Pandora to Columbus, regardless of work commitments or how big or small the appointment was. He rallied Laura through 16 weeks of dense dose chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomies, 38 radiation treatments and two stages of reconstruction. He started a binder, filling it with notes, asking questions, researching everything possible. “He was there with me when I had to shave my hair, he protected me, he cried with me, he rejoiced with me, but the greatest thing he did for me was he prayed for me,” Laura said.
As Laura wondered if she would get to see her 1-, 3- and 5-year-old children grow up, Josh put their wedding vows of “in sickness and in health” from 11 years earlier into action. “He reminded me that God is big enough to handle all of my fears and questions. We have kept our promise to God,” she said.
After Laura completed most of her treatments, she went on a mission to feel healthy and strong, devoting her energy to the goal of running a 5K. “While I knew Josh hated running, he went along with my idea and agreed to run with me to raise money for breast cancer awareness and to support me,” Laura shared. “He even got up with me at 5:15am to run up and down our lane!” The result: they ran the 5K together, finishing side by side. Josh even ran another 5K with Laura the following year.
“This journey has no end really,” Laura said, “but I am thankful I am through the rough part. Josh will always be my champion.”
Champion Dennis McFadden
“He is infinitely patient...he asks for nothing, gives unconditionally and appreciates wholly and enthusiastically even the smallest efforts to provide thanks and appreciation for all that he does.”
-- Sherri Cooke, Nominator, Friend and Cancer Survivor
Watch Dennis McFadden's 2013 Stefanie's Champions Video.
The man who keeps a list of names of those who have influenced him throughout his life is likely on a good many lists himself.
Worthington resident Dennis McFadden, himself a colon cancer survivor for 13 years, is more than a motivator to Sherri Cooke – mother of three young children, financial business entrepreneur, and breast cancer survivor. Dennis is an inspiration, a mentor, a self-styled life coach, and above all, a treasured friend and ally throughout Sherri’s cancer fight and recovery.
What started with a friendly introduction at a qigong (meditation) class evolved into a well-constructed patchwork of positive thinking, recovery and abiding friendship. That first day, as they walked out of class together, Dennis changed Sherri’s life with one simple phrase. “He said – without hesitation – that he could tell I was an EXCEPTIONAL patient,” Sherri said. After discussing what he meant by exceptional patient, Sherri invited Dennis to join her on her daily walks as part of her healing and recovery process.
Dennis would join her for walks at all hours, any day, any time Sherri called him. He would bring her organic coffee, a special book of inspiration or cards of encouragement. And he would eventually create the Pink Notebook – “meticulously and lovingly made,” Sherri said, “with sections on health, stress, self care, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and spiritual support. It now overflows with additional articles and resources that both he and I have contributed over time.”
Before Sherri had surgery, Dennis made sure she went to the hospital with an armload of beauty surrounding her: artwork, music, a CD to remind her she was an exceptional patient. Then Dennis and his granddaughter called Sherri after her surgery to sing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da to cheer her up.
“During our many walks,” Sherri said, “Dennis has provided immediate and important ways to help guide my mind in constructively positive directions – and reinforce for me logical and intellectual ways to manage the inevitable fears and worries that come with the challenge of a cancer diagnosis. His firsthand success stories, including himself, friends and people right here in Columbus continue to provide a backbone of inspiration.
“He believes in you and gives you the ability to believe in yourself,” Sherri said.
Champion Kathy Peugh
“In my heart, I consider Kathy my daughter (not just my daughter-in-law). If it weren’t for my son and Kathy, I wouldn’t be here to write the nomination to honor her.”
-- April Perkins, Nominator, Mother-in-Law and Cancer Survivor
Watch Kathy Peugh's 2013 Stefanie's Champions Video.
Although Kathy Peugh lives in Reynoldsburg and her mother-in-law, April Perkins, lives in Johnstown, it makes no difference to Kathy. She willingly, faithfully and lovingly serves as April’s primary caregiver, and she has done so since April’s cancer diagnosis in 2011.
Distance was irrelevant. April is what mattered.
“At the start, Kathy resigned her job so she could be present for my medical treatment, whatever that may entail,” said April, who was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer. After receiving a poor prognosis and not responding well to treatments, Kathy and April’s son, Trent, stepped in, moving April to the care of the experts at The James.
“Kathy was by my side from the very start with the surgery…and then with the chemo treatments and subsequent lab and doctor appointments to surgery in February 2012,” April said. “I still continue chemo treatments and testing. Kathy is steadfast in her commitment and dedication to see our family through whatever we must face together.”
In addition to caring for April, Kathy is now also the primary caregiver for her own mother, who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Known as generous and inspirational to all of their family members, Kathy and her husband, Trent, are also raising two teenage daughters, Madison and Taylor.
“You can certainly see what kind of a young woman she is and how caring,” shared April. “I don’t know how she has so much strength to take care of us all, but she does whatever it takes to see we get the best of her love and devotion. I just love her so much, as everyone does.”
Champion David Zartman
“Cancer barges its way into your life…and redirects you on a path you clearly would not have chosen. Your loved ones are forever impacted by the intrusion. Despite all the drastic changes, there are victories – amazing victories. Every day I eagerly embrace the profound sweetness of the courageous love of my husband.”
-- Micki Zartman, Nominator, Wife and Cancer Survivor
Watch David Zartman's 2013 Stefanie's Champions Video.
More than 50 years ago, in a small New Mexico church where choir practice was just about to begin, David Zartman picked a spot in front of the altar and asked Micki to be his bride, confidently declaring that God would see them through their lives.
Neither knew then how true that would be, even a half century later. The Worthington, Ohio, residents have travelled a years-long journey of hard-fought, courageous cancer battles, first with Micki’s sister, then with Micki, and even with their son-in-law.
A “caregiving warrior,” as his wife calls him, David cared for Micki’s sister throughout her battle with stage 4 uterine cancer, serving as prayer warrior, researcher, trip coordinator and navigator to the seemingly endless tests, surgeries and treatments, and chief support system for Micki. “He did what needed to be done,” Micki said. “He is a quiet, gentle soul filled with abundant patience and the greatest capacity for sacrificial giving I have ever known.”
When Micki’s own uterine cancer diagnosis unceremoniously invaded their lives, David, Micki said, always seemed to know just what to do. Aside from the myriad appointments, treatments and challenges he gladly faced with and for her, David took to making her laugh until tears rolled down her cheeks, learning to methodically and carefully massage her painful legs when lymphedema set in, and leaving “Dave loves Micki” sticky notes in her pockets, on her toothbrush, in the refrigerator, even on the front door.
Shortly after Micki’s radiation treatments ended, the couple learned the shocking news that their son-in-law was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia. David didn’t flinch – for six months straight he flew to Houston, Texas, to be with his son-in-law for all of his monthly four-hour infusion treatments.
“Dave is a triple caregiver,” Micki shared. “Not only has he been my forever supporter, never wavering or unwilling to serve and encourage, but he was there for my sister and our son-in-law. That unique, sacrificial love that puts others first, that kind of constant giving that seems eager and joyful to serve, that thoughtful, sensitive awareness that leads to caring actions at great cost to self – that has to come from God.”