When Stefanie and Chris Spielman founded the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research in 1998, they set out with what they thought was an ambitious goal. “My parents wanted to raise $250,000,” says 23-year-old daughter Maddie. “To see the fund still growing, even with my mom no longer with us, is amazing.”
It’s bittersweet to imagine how thrilled Stefanie would be with the fund’s major milestone this past October, as it climbed to $22 million thanks to a gift from Stef’s Celebrate Life Tailgate—an event started by Stefanie and now run by the Spielmans’ close friends and family. The milestone, reached during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, would undoubtedly have been a high point for someone who dedicated herself to finding a cure.
When Stefanie passed away of metastatic breast cancer in November 2009, the fund had reached $6.5 million and was already making a tremendous impact. “It’s been eight years since my mother passed away, but with things like this, I feel like her memory has never been more alive,” says Maddie.
The Spielman Fund is a powerful force for good, from laboratory breakthroughs that have extended and improved lives, to patient education and more. And it is fueled by grassroots philanthropy from individuals. “This is a home-grown fund,” says Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the Spielman Fund. “It’s kids doing lemonade stands and supporters hosting tennis and golf tournaments because they want to step up and make a difference. It’s been really exciting to see the support from our community in helping us fulfill Stefanie’s mission.”
Comprising eight separate funds—a mix of “current use” monies that can be tapped to make an immediate difference, and endowed funds that are invested and generate financial distributions in perpetuity—the Spielman Fund is significantly impacting breast cancer research and care and does more than one might expect. The following are just some of the accomplishments the fund has enabled through the years:
Education, Mentorship, Comfort and More
Patients facing non-medical issues during and after breast cancer can get help from the Spielman Patient Assistance Fund, which:
- Provides breast cancer patients at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center (SSCBC) with a binder of customized information to walk them through the ins and outs of care, including surgery, chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery and radiation
- Hosts an annual conference for breast cancer patients, their friends and loved ones that connects the community with Ohio State experts
- Purchases high-end robes to make patients more comfortable during mammograms
- Facilitates a support program that matches survivors with patients who have been newly diagnosed
- Enables care such as nutrition programs and massage therapy to benefit the entire patient population
Attracting and Retaining the Best and Brightest
The Spielman Fund plays an important role in attracting and retaining the world’s top breast cancer researchers and clinicians.
- Endowed positions like the Chris Spielman Designated Fellowship for Breast Cancer Research, the Spielman Family Designated Chair in Breast Imaging and the Stefanie Spielman Chair in Cancer Imaging provide philanthropic resources that enable advances in research.
- The endowed positions lure the most talented faculty to Ohio State, like Michael Tweedle, PhD, who holds the Stefanie Spielman Chair in Cancer Imaging. Tweedle developed a drug that patients take prior to imaging that lights up areas where breast cancer is located. The drug also can show surgeons where cancer lurks. His work has the potential to make advances in prostate and head and neck cancers as well.
Stef’s Celebrate Life Fund has helped to purchase critical technology for the SSCBC, including:
- Prone radiation boards developed by Julia White, MD, enabling women to lie forward to directly radiate the tumor site, instead of lying on their backs during radiation and potentially having radiation hit their heart and lungs
- The SSCBC’s first tomosynthesis, a 3-D mammogram machine to detect cancer cells earlier, providing faster diagnosis and treatment
- A special camera used in a groundbreaking surgery. The surgery relieves the uncomfortable effects of lymphedema for breast cancer patients who develop the disorder after having lymph nodes removed
The Spielman Fund is known for supporting cutting-edge research, and the results do not disappoint. The fund has supported:
- Maryam Lustberg, MD, MPH, who is working on the issues impacting adolescents and young adults who are diagnosed with breast cancer, such as preserving reproductive function despite cancer treatments that have fertility-damaging repercussions
- Gustavo Leone, PhD, who discovered that breast cancer can start in the stroma, the surrounding tissue that holds the cancer cells. Knowing that breast cancer starts not just in the cell but in the surrounding tissue has major implications for the cancer’s detection
- Investments in digital pathology that are changing the way researchers look at cells, upgrading from the microscope to higher-resolution computer images with efficient data that’s more easily analyzed and allows for long-distance consulting on a patient’s results
- Creation of the Spielman Genetic Tumor Bank, which is one of the largest breast cancer tissue and tumor repositories and has supported many research efforts.