Stefanie Spielman grew up in a loving home in northeastern Ohio and married her high school sweetheart after they graduated from Ohio State. Her husband, Chris, was an All-American football player and went on to have an all-pro career in the NFL for more than 10 years.
During a breast self-exam in 1998, Stefanie found a lemon-sized lump. She mentioned it to her doctor, who diagnosed her with breast cancer. Stefanie was only 30 years old.
The Spielmans’ strong belief in family led Chris to take a year off from football to stay home and care for his family, bringing them unexpected national attention. By publicly talking about breast cancer, more and more people learned about the disease and the importance of education and prevention. Stefanie and Chris realized they could use their unique situation to do more.
Among the many well-wishers, a local grocery chain asked Chris what they could do to help. He urged them to raise money for the OSUCCC – James, where Stefanie was undergoing treatment. For one dollar, shoppers bought paper footballs to sign to be plastered on store windows. Across the state and especially in central Ohio, support came in many forms — bake sales, golf tournaments and lots in between as a way to raise money for the fund.
Initially, Stefanie and Chris had a goal of raising $250,000. Within the first six months, more than $1 million had been raised for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research. Today — through their work and the extraordinary grassroots support by Community Partners — more than $15 million has been raised to support breast cancer patients and research at the OSUCCC – James.
Over the years more events have evolved, including the fund's signature fundraiser, Stefanie’s Champions. It was Stefanie’s hope that all cancer survivors would be able to name someone who stood by them, gave them courage and helped them through their diagnosis. Each year, the event honors the Champions in the lives of cancer survivors who exemplify the qualities and values the Spielman family holds to be important. Stefanie gave Chris the first award for his unwavering support.
Knowing that treatment can create more than physical demands, Stefanie and Chris also started the Stefanie Spielman Patient Assistance Fund. This fund provides assistance to breast cancer patients and their families who may be experiencing financial challenges associated with treatment. The fund has helped many patients with a wide range of needs, like groceries, wigs and lymphedema sleeves.
Over the years, Stefanie and Chris received numerous awards for their dedication and commitment to raising funds and awareness for cancer research. At Ohio State, she received the highest philanthropic honor given, the John B. Gerlach, Sr. Development Volunteer Award, as well as the William Oxley Thompson Award. Stefanie was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002 and was named a YWCA Woman of Achievement in 2003. Together, Stefanie and Chris received an Ohio Governor’s Award in 1999 and were inducted into The James Leadership Society in 2007.
In November 2009, after a decade-long battle, Stefanie left us with some final thoughts: continue to fight. Through it all, Stefanie kept a positive attitude and was always grateful for the blessings she felt life had given her. Knowing that there is still more work to be done, she has encouraged us all to keep fighting and she has left us with a legacy of hope.
In October 2011, the university renamed its breast cancer facility as The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center.