Teri Strahine was celebrating retirement with her husband on vacation in Washington, D.C., when she got her mammogram results.
She wasn’t home to open the letter that had been sent from the imaging facility. Instead, her general practitioner called to offer help. Strahine and her husband cut their vacation short to rush home for an ultrasound.
“The tech left the room, and when she came back she said, ‘The doctor recommends you schedule a biopsy.’ I was shocked,” says Strahine. Within days, she was sitting in the office of William Farrar, MD, surgical oncologist, interim CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and director of the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. “He recommended a second ultrasound and a biopsy, but I was in denial. I asked him if we could wait. He said, ‘No, it’s growing.’ My heart dropped. And I was angry. I’ve worked hard to create a wonderful life for my family, and six months into retirement, this happened.”
Strahine had been part owner of a call center that served U.S. and international credit card companies. She and her business partners had recently decided to sell the company, and Strahine and her husband bought their dream house on the water. They were empty nesters with big plans to travel and enjoy their newfound time together. Instead, she scheduled a biopsy.
“It was cancer. I remember the nurse called and said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have good news.’ It was a Thursday. I wanted to come in first thing the next morning to see Dr. Farrar, and he agreed even though I later found out he was scheduled for vacation that day. He came in for me and another woman who had been diagnosed the day before.”
Farrar’s responsiveness helped Strahine deal with the helplessness that threatened to overtake her. “I had been an executive with 1,500 employees at my company. I was used to being in control. Finding solutions. But this? There was nothing I could do.” Nothing but follow her doctor’s lead. Strahine had a lumpectomy for her stage 1 breast cancer, which had not spread to her lymph nodes. After six weeks of radiation, she was cancer-free and ready to take back control of her life by jumping into the fight against cancer.
“I became a volunteer at the Spielman Center, in the radiation area. I sat with the women who were waiting to go in for the treatments, to answer questions and talk with them, but after several months, it became too difficult. I saw so many women with cancer recurrences, and it would take days to shake it off. I was still too raw for this.”
Not one to sit on the sidelines, Strahine decided instead to throw herself into fundraising for the Step Up for Stefanie’s Champions Walk/Run, which generates money for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at the OSUCCC – James. She felt good about reaching out to her vast network of friends and family, especially those in Westerville, where she raised her children for more than 20 years.
“I decided I wasn’t going to email these people to ask them to join my team. I was going to call each and every one, because this was too important. I called everyone I knew and asked, ‘Will you join me in this walk?’”
In its first year, Strahine’s team, Teri’s Tatas, had 138 participants. In 2017, her team of 172 was the largest team at the event and raised more than $12,000 for the Spielman Fund. Teri and her husband, who is a former Ohio State football player, also decided to become event sponsors. Strahine is excited when she talks about her team, but she becomes serious when she thinks about the woman whose name graces the center.
“I never had the privilege of meeting Stefanie Spielman, but I thought about her a lot when I was diagnosed. I was fortunate that my children were older when I was diagnosed. Hers were so young. I’ve met (her husband) Chris and (her daughter) Maddie, and it’s sad to see what Stefanie has missed. I’m sure she would have given anything to be here.”
That thought solidifies Strahine’s resolve, and she hopes to have 200 people join Teri’s Tatas in 2018. In addition to her role as leader of this large, enthusiastic group, Strahine has also become a source of support for the women around her.
“Women text me when they’re going in for their mammograms. It puts everyone on edge. But you have to do it. And I want to get the word out about how important mammograms are. I also want to help find a cure so my daughter and the next generation won’t have to deal with this.”