Stefanie Spielman, Cancer Fighter, Dies at 42


UPDATED: Saturday November 28, 2009 8:06 AM

Stefanie Spielman, whose public battle against breast cancer gripped central Ohio for more than a decade, died Thursday.  She was 42.

Spielman and her husband, Chris, tirelessly raised breast cancer awareness and helped form Stefanie's Champions, raising millions of dollars for Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital.

In 1998, at 31, a biopsy confirmed her fears, that she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the couple began their battle.

Without hesitation, Chris Spielman put his career on hold with the NFL's Buffalo Bills to be at his wife's side.

"For me, to leave (Stefanie) in Columbus and go play football in Buffalo would be against everything I stood for," Chris Spielman said.

"It meant the world to me," Stefanie Spielman said. "That's been the hardest part -- seeing him give up what he loves -- the best, for me."

The Spielmans said that they had two options when they learned about the cancer.  The first was to quit.  The second was to come out and fight the disease.

The couple fought with determination and a deep love.

Even talk show host Oprah Winfrey was moved by their story.

"You are about to hear an extraordinary story of love and devotion," Winfrey said at the start of her show.  "What a man.  What a woman."

Stefanie Spielman's story inspired others, 10TV's Andrea Cambern reported.

"Stefanie's Champions" would honor those, like Chris Spielman, who go above and beyond to help a friend or loved one get through a difficult time and care for a cancer patient.

One year after her breast cancer diagnosis, the Spielman's life was back on track.

"It feels like our life has gotten back to normal," she said.  "That's how it's always been.  (Chris has) been the one in the limelight and we've been there to support him, to love him, to cheer him on."

Doctors said there were no signs of the cancer and Chris planned to return to the NFL.

"It's so exciting for me and very emotional for me because I feel like we've been given a second chance," Stefanie Spielman said.

She did not let up.  Her goal to raise money and awareness seemed to intensify with the second chance.  Stefanie would run in the Race For The Cure and walk with college students.

"At the college level, I don't think (students) think about breast cancer but this is proof that they do," she said.

More good news came for the family.  Macy Lynn Spielman was born.

She was the third of four children.

By all accounts, the Spielmans had taken on cancer and won.  But in 2001, a serious setback occurred when a spot was found in Stefanie's lungs.

"We're going to fight this and do the best we can and we'll be together, no matter what," Chris Spielman said.

Cancer is a formidable foe.  It sleeps and then surfaces before the battle begins again.

Chris Spielman was back on full duty as Stefanie's champion. 

"Stefanie has shown me (that) this is an opportunity to make a difference again," Chris Spielman said.  "I don't know why (and) don't want to ask why but this is an opportunity to make a difference again."

The Spielmans raised even more money for research and programs at The James, more than $6.5 million to date.

They visited the research labs at Ohio State to see exactly where donations would go.  Stefanie saw firsthand how the money raised would help her and others battling the disease.

The battle continued for years, Cambern reported.

The last time that 10TV News sat down with Stefanie Spielman was in November 2008, when 10TV News anchorwoman Heather Pick died of the disease.  The two were close friends.  Stefanie spoke about Heather but it was clear that the sentiments were hers, too.

"Sometimes (Heather) felt it was a blessing to have a disease that put our mortality right in your face and let you live life in a different way (while) fully understanding that we're only here on earth for a certain amount of time and enjoying it and never taking anything for granted," Stefanie Spielman said.

Chris Spielman stood by himself at this year's Stefanie's Champions event.  His love and life partner was not well enough to be by his side.

She was by his side, though, when Chris was recognized at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 5 during halftime of Ohio State's season opener.  The crowd and his wife cheered his accomplishments, both on and off the field.

"Not many people get a chance to recognize their mission in life and Stefanie's mission has obviously been to be a proponent for breast cancer research," Chris Spielman said.  "So this has been and certainly will continue to be an honorable quest we're on."

Survivors include her husband of 20 years: Chris; and their four children: Madison (15), Noah (13), Macy (8) and Audrey (7); mother, Myra Belcher of Upper Arlington; sisters Sue (Bill) Fitz of Upper Arlington, Sandy Belcher of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and Cindy Belcher of Bangor, Calif. Stefanie's father, Richard, preceded her in death in 1987.

Public calling hours will be on Monday at the Longaberger Alumni House on the campus of The Ohio State University from 1-8 p.m.

A celebration of life memorial service will be held Tuesday at Trinity United Methodist Church in Grandview Heights.

Stay with 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for continuing coverage.