New Albany News

Tuckerman is 2014 Stefanie's Champion of Hope

Upper Arlington man, former Bexley woman also honored as caregivers

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A New Albany woman, community activist and breast cancer survivor who works to bring comfort and cures to others fighting various forms of the disease, is the 2014 Stefanie's Champion of Hope.

Judy Tuckerman, who for years has been involved in volunteer and fundraising efforts for organizations such as the YWCA, the Center for Family Safety and Healing (formerly the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence) and the Wexner Center for the Arts, was honored April 9 by the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

She received the Stefanie's Champion of Hope Award during the 15th annual Stefanie's Champions luncheon.

The event honors the legacy of the late Stefanie Spielman, while also raising funds for The Stefanie Spielman Patient Assistance Fund and The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at The OSUCCC-James.

It also honors "cancer caregivers," or individuals, organizations and companies that have provided critical support to help others deal with cancer.

Tuckerman, a personal friend of Spielman and her family, was recognized for generously giving her time as part of many organizational boards in the Columbus community, including The James Foundation Board and The James Comprehensive Breast Center Advancement Committee.

A native of Youngstown, Tuckerman and her husband, Steve, founded and lead Celebration for Life, an annual fundraising event that has raised more than $12.5 million in 12 years for The OSUCCC-James.

Event organizers lauded Tuckerman for her work to connect people with cancer to doctors and services, as well as her penchant for delivering home-cooked meals and desserts to those going through treatment.

"Judy has been one of my champions and she was a wonderful and trusted friend of Stefanie's," her husband, Chris Spielman, said. "No matter where she is or what she is doing, she puts the desperate person before her and gets them to the James."

Tuckerman recovered from her own battle with breast cancer in 1997.

She said she was without hope upon being diagnosed, but quickly realized the importance of medicine and positive thinking, after loved ones urged her to fight her disease.

"I have been so touched and honored to receive this award," she said. "I stand on the shoulders of all who gave me hope and strength to stand up to what was before me.

"Caregiving and showing their love for me was of immeasurable importance."

Caregiver Champions

Other awards presented April 9 went to the 2014 Stefanie's Caregiver Champions:

* Tony Cochran of Upper Arlington, who was nominated by his wife of 35 years, Vickie Smith, for managing "every aspect" of home life, as well as his syndicated cartoon, "Agnes," and a budding guitar-modification business while Vickie was treated for triple-negative breast cancer.

"Tony is at my side physically and emotionally throughout this adventure," Smith said. "He took me to every appointment and held my hand through ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs, labs and every moment of my chemotherapy at the Spielman Center."

Smith also noted Cochran grew his hair long so she could run her fingers through his after chemo treatments had taken her own.

"Tony is forever my champion, partner, love, and 'bridge over troubled water.'"

* Jill Meyer of Wausau, Wis., who was nominated by her friend, Susan Zanner of Bexley, for being her "angel in her cancer journey," distributing pink bracelets to hundreds of people across the United States to remind Zanner that no one fights alone, and for working with Zanner to raise more than $16,000 for support services and breast cancer research at The OSUCCC-James Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center.

"The first call I made (after diagnosis) was to Jill, and I always knew she'd be there," Zanner said.

Although she relocated from Bexley to Wisconsin, Meyer returned to the Buckeye State to care for her former neighbor and longtime friend.

"My best friend, Jill Meyer, now living in Wausau, Wis., never failed to care for me, flying in for appointments, cooking meals, encouraging me, even when I said, 'I can't do this anymore.'

"She stuck by me like glue, just like a sister. She was often the first person we turned to with medical questions or to advocate when necessary."

* Lyn Distel of Huntington Beach, Calif., who was nominated by her sister, Lori Alexander, for becoming Alexander's "head cheerleader" throughout her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment -- despite living across the country. Alexander said her sister sacrificed "nearly a year of her life" to help care for her and her farm while she underwent treatment in Ohio.

"She just absolutely took the reins," Alexander said. "She said, 'OK, here's what we're going to do. I want everybody to bring something fun.'"

In addition to bringing a "large cancer bag of fun" with games and books, Distel took on Alexander's cancer fight as a "full-time job," Alexander said.

"She sacrificed nearly a year with her own family for me," Alexander said. "She always kept me from getting too far ahead because with cancer, you have to take it in little bites at a time or it just completely overtakes you."

Alexander said Distel gave her the mantra, "Just keep swimming," which she found herself saying as she was taken into surgery for her breast cancer. The moment lit up the nursing staff, which burst into laughter and gave Alexander comfort in the moments before the procedure.

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