Stefanie Spielman established the Champion Award to recognize one of the most critical factors in surviving cancer: loving, unwavering support. In Stefanie’s case, such support during her battle with breast cancer came from her husband, Chris. To show her gratitude, Stefanie gave Chris the very first Champion Award in 2000.

The 2018 Champions Awards were presented at the 3rd Annual Step Up for Stefanie’s Champions Walk/Run in April.

Meet Our 2018 Champions

Aiping ShaoAiping Shao

Nominated by her daughter, Sherry Wang (Dublin, Ohio)

When Sherry Wang was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, her mom, Aiping Shao, knew better than most the emotional and physical ups and downs that awaited her daughter—and the crucial role she would play as Sherry’s primary caregiver.

“At first, I was in shock,” Aiping says of her daughter’s February 2017 diagnosis. “I went through this with my husband, and Sherry is too young for this.”

Her husband, Jianjun “Jim” Wang, was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away in 2008 at the age of 53. “When my father was sick, my mother never left his side,” says Sherry, 24. “My mom stayed 76 consecutive nights in the hospital with him.”

Aiping quickly got over her initial shock and was there for her daughter every day and every step of the way. She never left her side. “I was scared and in shock, but I needed to be there for Sherry,” Aiping says. “In my mind, I said, ‘No matter what, I will 100 percent support her and we will fight together. That’s the only thing I can do.’”

In recognition of her love and support, Aiping is one of four 2018 Step Up for Stefanie's Champions. This annual award from the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research honors some of the many exceptional caregivers. The four champions were honored during the Step Up for Stefanie’s Champions Walk/Run on April 21.

“My mom has been there for every needle prick and every hard cry,” Sherry says. “She’s held my hand before every surgery, slept by my side every night in the hospital.”

Aiping also helped Sherry utilize scalp hypothermia to keep her hair from falling out. This labor-intensive technique uses a “cold cap” that really is cold and is placed on the scalp before, during and after every chemotherapy treatment (17 for Sherry). According to the American Cancer Society, “The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles and makes them less attractive to chemo, which targets rapidly dividing cells. This could reduce the effect of chemo on the follicle cells and, as a result, prevent or reduce hair loss from the scalp.”

It was hard work, as the caps had to be changed every 20 minutes to be effective.

“It takes an incredible amount of strength and manpower to continuously cool the caps and exchange them in 60 pounds of dry ice,” Sherry says. “My mother accompanied me to all 17 rounds and sat with me every Thursday for nine hours. In a span of 141 days, my mother put 228 cold caps on my head.”

The cold caps worked—Sherry didn’t lose her hair.

Aiping was also there holding Sherry’s hand on Aug. 27 when her James doctor, David Cohn, MD, walked into the room with the results of her first post-chemotherapy scan. “He looked at me and said, ‘Sherry, your scan is crystal clear. You had a complete response to chemo. You’re cancer free.’”

Sherry is now back at The Ohio State University pursuing a graduate degree in nursing. Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner and specialize in OB/GYN oncology.

Cohn has become her mentor—her mom remains her hero.

“I am only able to be me, because of my mother,” Sherry says. “I am a strong woman, because I come from a strong woman. My beautiful, strong, effervescent mother is forever my biggest role model, my greatest strength. My champion.”

David MichittiDavid Michitti

Nominated by his wife, Blanche (Cincinnati, Ohio)

“We found out that Blanche was pregnant in the fall, in October (of 2015), and that was a pretty good high,” David says. This would be the fourth child for the Cincinnati couple.

But then…

“A few days before Thanksgiving, Blanche was diagnosed with breast cancer,” David says.

The joy of what they called the “final piece” of their family quickly turned to “uncertainty and fear,” Blanche says.

Over the ensuing months, through all the surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, the premature birth of their son, Logan, on June 3, 2016, and then many more months of dealing with a string of health issues, David was there for his wife and their four children.

“He gave me so much hope and strength that I didn’t even know that I had,” Blanche says. “He was so positive when I needed it the most and had so much hope when I needed it the most and helped me find those things in myself.”

“It was a big emotional roller coaster,” David says of his wife's cancer journey. “It took a few days, maybe a week, for it to all sink in and to get your feet under you and come up with a plan to handle everything.”

The first action item on the plan was to find the right hospital.

David’s research led the couple to the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center, the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and William Carson, MD. “This was a unique situation; it’s not like going to the local clinic when you have the flu,” David says about Blanche's cancer diagnosis during pregnancy. “We talked to Dr. Carson and his group, and we were very happy with them.”

After her first trimester, Blanche could safely undergo surgery to remove the tumor in her breast, followed by chemotherapy. “But I couldn’t receive all the treatments they’d normally give someone, because of the baby,” she says.

Six weeks before Blanche's due date, Logan was born during a planned C-section at a Cincinnati hospital and spent his first nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit. On the night the couple finally brought him home, Blanche “developed internal bleeding as a complication and returned to the hospital,” she says. “David had to set an alarm to do scheduled, around-the-clock feedings for Logan—and be the primary caretaker for our three other children (Dominic, 11; Maddie, 9; Max, 5)— all while I was hospitalized.”

After she was released from the hospital, Blanche began an intensified course of radiation and chemotherapy. She had a series of health issues related to her surgeries and treatment, and she had to inject herself in the stomach with a blood thinner every night for more than a year

Blanche described her husband as cool, calm and reassuring under pressure. “He had the attitude that, ‘Let’s get it done,’” she says. “And he also has a sense of humor that he used when I needed it the most.”

Like so many exceptional caregivers, David downplays his role.

“She went through so much more than I went through,” he says. “I was just lifting a small weight off of her and doing what I was supposed to be doing. When I saw someone so mentally and physically exhausted each day, it wasn't that difficult to step up.”

Elizabeth MooreElizabeth Moore

Nominated by her mother, Kristin Moore (Reynoldsburg, Ohio)

Elizabeth Moore’s nursing career began a little earlier than expected.

“(She) should have been looking for colleges, being a teenager and having fun,” says Elizabeth’s mom, Kristin.

Elizabeth was a 17-year-old high school student enrolled in the nursing program at the Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools when Kristin was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2014.

Drawing on her love of family and her passion for nursing, the teen quickly went to work taking care of her mother and her younger sister, Amy.

“I’ve always looked up to my mom—she’s a single mom, and she always took care of us, and we’re super close. She was invincible in my eyes,” Elizabeth says.

Elizabeth was scared when Kristin began her treatments at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center, but her natural talent for nursing soon took over.

“It took about a week for it to sink in. And then I said, ‘OK, my mom is my mom and I love her, but now she’s my patient, and whatever she needs and whatever I can do for her, I’m going to do.’”

Elizabeth made good on her pledge, waking up early to help with the household chores and taking care of her sister while holding down a part-time job and driving Kristin to all of her doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments.

Elizabeth’s commitment to her education continued during her mom’s battle, and it came in handy when one of the wounds from Kristin’s surgery didn’t heal properly.

“My doctor advised me that my wound would have to be packed two or three times a day,” Kristin says. “My champion daughter said she had just learned how to pack (at Eastland-Fairfield) and would like the opportunity to do it instead of a nurse coming to our house two or three times a day.”

Before and after school, and then again at night, Elizabeth carefully and expertly re-packed the wound.

“I was so impressed with how she handled all this,” Kristin says. “She did it with such professionalism and kindness.”

Then again, Kristin wasn’t surprised that Elizabeth was there for her and Amy when they needed her.

“She’s always been a caring person and my best friend,” Kristin says. “She doesn’t think she did a lot for me, but she did so much and made so many sacrifices. We were always close, and now we’re even closer.”

Caring for her mother reinforced Elizabeth’s decision that nursing is the right career path. She’s now 21 and is working to complete her nursing degree at Columbus State Community College with the longer-term goal of earning a BS in nursing. She’s not sure what area she will specialize in, but oncology and acute care are at the top of her list.

“It was hard to watch my mom go through what she went through,” Elizabeth says. “But it made me stronger and feel more confident that, if I can take care of the person I love the most in the world, I can help other people.”

Rob MessingerRob Messinger

nominated by his wife, Aly (Columbus, Ohio)

Mommy was going back to work after some time off during her breast cancer treatment.

“I was getting ready in the morning,” Aly DeAngelo says. “Leo (her 4-year-old-son) was used to me staying at home, but I said, ‘No, Mommy’s going to work today.’ Leo ran upstairs and got two of his stuffies and gave them to me to put in my bag and take to work. He says, ‘They’ll make you feel better.’ I got a little emotional.”

Aly still gets emotional when she tells this heartwarming story about that kind and caring little boy—and the father who taught him these valuable qualities as he took care of his wife and son during the ups, downs and emotions of cancer treatment.

“Leo learned so much from Rob,” Aly says of her husband, Rob Messinger. “Leo’s compassion, sympathy and empathy really blossomed, and it was all because of Rob.”

“Part of the challenge was how to confront this in a realistic way without falling apart,” Rob says of how he approached his caregiving role. “How do I help Aly manage and make sure Leo isn’t traumatized?”

Rob was scared, but he “tried to hide that from Leo, so he wouldn’t be scared.”

Rob is the director of communications for The Ohio State University Office of Business & Finance; Aly is a policy analyst for the Ohio Hospital Association; Leo is a stuffed-animal enthusiast. They live in Bexley.

“He never panicked and he never tried to sugarcoat things,” Aly says of Rob. “He had this attitude that, yes this sucks, but here are all the reasons we’re going to get through this. He let me have my moments when I felt sorry for myself, and he knew when to push me and just kind of get me over the hump.”

Once, when Aly returned home from a chemotherapy session, the mailbox was filled with dozens of cards from family and friends. “Rob arranged that,” she says.

When Aly’s port became infected, Rob “painstakingly removed the old packing, cleaned the wound, gently repacked it and found ways to dress it that would be the least irritating to me…every night for a month.”

Rob also became a role model for Leo.

“Aly and I talked a lot about it and made a real effort to help him understand things in a way that wouldn’t be scary,” Rob says. “He didn’t know anything about cancer or being sick other than getting a cold.”

With Rob’s help, Leo—who called Aly’s cancer her “boo-boo”—became part of Mommy’s caregiving team.

“Leo’s two favorite stuffies are Monkey and Tiger,” Aly says. “I jokingly said, ‘I’ll never get Monkey or Tiger.’”

And then one day, on her way to a chemotherapy session…

“Leo gave me Monkey to take with me.”

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