On Wednesday, former pro football player Chris Spielman and his children will honor cancer caregivers during the 14th annual Stefanie's Champions Awards.
The awards, at the Ohio State University Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, salute five caregivers this year, including a Worthington man.
They've been friends for only two years, but the friendship between Dennis McFadden and Sherri Cooke was forged in fear and hope.
In Feb. 2011, Cooke, a mother of three young children, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.
She got the diagnosis by phone, the day of her son's 5th birthday party.
Cooke sought that serenity at a meditation group.
"I really needed to introduce calmness and peace and kind of a greater spirituality into my life,” Cooke said.
There, she soon found a friend.
McFadden, a former scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute and former faculty member at OSU, had colon cancer in 1999.
"I had a sense that the mind, body, spirit has an important part in the healing process," he said.
After McFadden was diagnosed, he found a book by a Yale oncologist that explored why some people die of cancer and others survive it. McFadden said the doctor thought that "exceptional people recover from cancer."
When McFadden, now a long-term survivor, met Cooke, he thought that she was exceptional.
Since they lived near each other, he told her to call if she ever wanted to go for a walk. She did.
"He walked with me every day for months and months, and still walks," she said.
On those long walks, he brought her small gifts like poems, books, cards and vitamins.
He created The Pink Book, a thick binder filled with everything from nutrition and exercise tips to photographs.
And as Cooke went through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, he sent her a CD and began to sing. It was an old Disney song, "Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah."
"I used to think that's really kind of silly," she admitted with a laugh.
He called her in the hospital and sang a duet over the phone with his granddaughter. He printed the title on cards, and left her messages with the words.
It cheered her up, and she believed that all his kindness and caregiving helped her heal. So she nominated Dennis McFadden for a Stefanie's Champions award.
McFadden was stunned. "I just sat down and cried, I was so deeply, deeply touched by it," he said.
Then he smiled, and sang a chorus of "Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah."
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