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Maddie and Chris Spielman

Photo by Jo McCulty

A daughter’s cherished gift

Maddie Spielman and a vast community embrace her mother’s commitment to breast cancer research.

A light blue raincoat reminds Maddie Spielman ’16 of who her mom was beyond her public crusade to end breast cancer. Stefanie Spielman ’89 was in the end stage of her illness when Maddie came home from high school grumbling to herself about a certain raincoat all the other kids had.

The next day, that very raincoat was lying on her bed. She hadn’t realized her mom overheard her. As sick as Stefanie was then, unable even to walk, the errand would have required a full day and someone to help her.

“Every time I look at that raincoat, it reminds me who she was,” Maddie says. “She was relentlessly loving of my siblings and me. I am so lucky to call her my mom. It’s such a gift every single day.”

Stefanie’s legacy forever changed The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). Together with her husband, former NFL and Ohio State defensive star Chris Spielman ’89, she founded The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research in 1998.

“I know there’s a reason God gave me breast cancer,” Stefanie had said, “and I’m supposed to do something with it.” She embraced the cause of research until her death in 2009.

This year, with the enduring support of thousands of individuals, businesses and community groups, the Spielman Fund surpassed $25 million. It provides for research, equipment, technology, patient assistance and more.

“I am proud the fund has been able to grow even after Stefanie passed away,” Chris Spielman says. “People know the fund was created out of a love for others.”

Stefanie’s fiercely positive speeches were an inspiration. Her refrain — “Continue to fight. Continue to live.” — is still invoked by patients and staff at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center (SSCBC).

“She was almost this angelic presence that people lean on in their darkest times,” says Maddie, now the spokesperson for the Spielman Fund and a professional fundraiser for the OSUCCC – James. Her dad and younger siblings — Noah, Macy and Audrey — remain active in signature events.

Maddie’s decision to carry on her mom’s legacy grew out of the “huge burden and sadness” she felt at 15 when Stefanie passed away. Now, she hopes to fulfill another of her mom’s projects — a children’s book Stefanie wrote about a child named Maddie who has a parent with cancer. She knew nothing of the book until a family friend sent her the transcript last year. Maddie hopes it will be a source of hope for children, as her mom’s memory is for her.

“Everything I do, I do to honor her,” Maddie says. “My world revolves around making her proud and carrying on this mission she started all those years ago.”

Lasting investments

The Stefanie Spielman Fund contributes 100% of every dollar raised to its many initiatives, including these:

The Stefanie Spielman Breast Cancer Cohort and Tissue Bank collects blood and tissue samples from breast cancer patients for use in research. It is among the nation’s most comprehensive breast tissue banks.
Prone radiation, advanced by Ohio State’s Dr. Julia White, enables targeted radiation to the breast while protecting the heart and lungs. Funding supported purchase of the new boards that women lie on to receive treatment.
The James’ 3D-mammography technology for breast screenings improves tumor detection by 30% and reduces clarifying callbacks by over 25%. It is now in use across The James network.
A second mobile mammography vehicle allowed expansion of The James program. It enabled a greater presence in rural areas, offering many women their first breast cancer screenings.

Support her mission

Help make more advancements possible with a gift to the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research.

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About the author

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Tracy DeCroce

Tracy DeCroce (she/her) is a writer with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. A former yoga teacher and journalist, she enjoys reporting on scientific discoveries affecting health and wellness.