Hope against hope
How the Spielmans’ battle against cancer continues to this day
By Justin McIntoshPosted Apr 25, 2012
When you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you start to see the world differently. Life and death circumstances do that to a person, surely, but, as former OSU All-American linebacker and former NFL star Chris Spielman notes, sometimes the differences are much smaller.
“I remember this time I was driving through Upper Arlington and I heard a commercial about breast cancer and just thought, ‘I wonder what kind that is,’ and a couple weeks later Stef was diagnosed (with breast cancer),” he said. “When you’re involved personally, your eyes open to a whole new world, and you see pink ribbons everywhere and stories on the news, commercials, T-shirts, coffee cups and pens. It does affect you personally.”
I experienced this personally in the last year when my grandma was diagnosed with cancer and then later died from the disease only a few short weeks ago.
That, combined with the fact that my family is comprised of diehard Buckeyes who’ve all looked up to Chris and Stefanie Spielman as they’ve publicly faced their own battle with cancer, caused me to jump at the chance to interview a family idol.
Chris’ new book, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story,” details the couple’s early courtship and marriage, while also recounting Spielman’s love affair with the game of football and how the lessons he learned there helped him and Stefanie approach their own battle against cancer. The book was written during Stefanie’s last six months.
“I think Stef and I always wanted to get down on paper this story,” Chris said. “We wanted to give credit to the people who backed our fund and talk about how it got started. More importantly, we had a lot of hope, and hope that it’s not a wish, but a promise. Hope through good times and bad times of cancer, and hope through death that life is a tremendous blessing. You have hope even after losing somebody that you can help those who need help. Hopefully, people can relate to the book and the stories and know they’re not alone.”
That sense of purpose and hope is evident throughout even the earliest pages of “That’s Why I’m Here.” It starts with daughter Madison Spielman’s introduction where she recounts an encounter the family had with a cancer survivor thanking them for giving her hope during her own battle against cancer. Madison recalls her mom looking at the woman with surprise and responding, after a moment’s hesitation, “Don’t you understand, that’s why I’m here.”
Later, Chris writes about an incident early on in Stef’s diagnosis where he punches the steering wheel of their vehicle at a red light and screams profanities about why this is happening to the family.
After Stefanie shouts at him to stop, she responds with a piercing retort of, “How dare you? How dare you say those things with all the blessings we’ve been giving in our life?”
That moment, Chris says, humbled him, and is partly what led to the couple taking their fight against cancer public. Reading through “That’s Why I’m Here,” that openness seems all the more courageous, as Chris recounts the ways his life was thrust into the public spotlight from his playing days in high school when he won a national competition and became the first high school athlete to appear on a Wheaties box.
In the book, Chris laments the attention that was bestowed on him from that early age, but he and Stefanie didn’t hesitate to put themselves in that spotlight during her fight against cancer.
“I’ve always been protective of my family,” he said. “But once we made the decision to go public, we knew what came along with that responsibility, so no, I don’t regret it. That serves a greater good more than my personal comfort level.”
The discomfort is paying off too, at least in terms of the couple’s cancer foundation, the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research. Some of the success of the foundation, which started humbly — and continues to this day — with bake sales and bowlathons, stems from the foundation’s own openness in telling its donors exactly where the money is being spent. But it’s also, Chris said, a testament to his wife.
“It continues to gather momentum,” he said. “It’s two and a half years after her passing; it hasn’t gotten weaker, it’s gotten stronger. A lot of that is a credit to Stef and her presence when she was alive.”