New Children's Book "Cancer Boo-Boo" Helps Parents Explain Cancer to Young Kids

Daughter Maddie will publish the children’s book Stefanie Spielman left unfinished when she died of cancer.

Brian Ball
Maddie Spielman holds a photo of her mother, Stefanie Spielman, who left an unfinished manuscript

When Stefanie Spielman first learned she had breast cancer, she shared the news with her preschool daughter, Maddie, and toddler son, Noah. She wanted to prepare them for her upcoming absences during surgeries and treatment, as well as her inevitable hair loss and other symptoms.

“She sat us down and told us, ‘Mommy has a boo-boo on her boobie,’” recalls Maddie, 28, who was then 4 years old. “She wanted us to understand, ‘This is something we have to get fixed.’ She wanted to be open.”

Stefanie, the wife of Ohio State Buckeye and standout pro linebacker Chris Spielman, survived for 12 years—and had two more daughters, Macy and Audrey—before succumbing at 42 to the cancer’s fifth recurrence in 2009. During those years, Spielman quietly worked on a book to inform and encourage children whose mothers get cancer. She wrote “Cancer Boo-Boo” from the perspective of a young girl—her daughter, Maddie—whose mother has just received a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Nobody really knows how to tell a toddler,” Maddie says.

During her final illness, Stefanie set the manuscript aside. It ended up in the possession of Rick Bauer, a Columbus business associate of Chris Spielman, and Bret Adams a Columbus attorney and sports agent. Bauer had served as the executive director of Strong Hearts, a nonprofit Stefanie created to recognize and support caregivers of cancer patients. Bauer passed along the manuscript and other Strong Hearts records when those operations merged into the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Center.

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Fast-forward to early 2020, when Bauer and Adams began work on another business opportunity with Chris Spielman. “I wondered where the manuscript went,” Bauer says of an offhand question to Adams. “All those years, I operated under the assumption it had been published.”

Pages from "Cancer Boo-Boo," a book by Stefanie Spielman

But Adams had no idea Stefanie had even written the book; neither did Chris Spielman nor the couple’s four children. “Nobody knew,” Adams recalls. “It was a shocker.” Fortunately, Bauer had kept a backup copy on his computer.

While the manuscript’s existence was a surprise, Maddie knew her mother had long enjoyed writing. “She kept a journal for most of her life,” Maddie says.

“When Brett sent me this, I didn’t know she had written it, one, or that she wrote it from my perspective.” The book’s purpose, though, was clear. “She wanted to use it for other parents to open the door so their children could understand what’s happening,” says Maddie.

An aunt, Sue Fitz, and a friend, middle school counselor Nancy Rapport, helped tweak the story for publication by Telemachus Press. Florida illustrator Donna Stackhouse created art for the picture book based on Spielman family photos.

“Cancer Boo-Boo,” which will be available on Amazon beginning in late April, has blank pages for kids to write and draw about their own experiences with an ill parent. Maddie will donate a percentage of the proceeds from the book to the James, where she works as assistant director of leadership giving.

This story is from the May 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.