Stephanie L. Wasson, 35, launched crusade against breast cancer

October 28, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Stephanie L. Wasson, who devoted much of her time to raising awareness about breast cancer and money for research after being diagnosed with the disease four years ago, lost her personal battle and died Sunday at her Fallston home. She was 35.

Born Stephanie Lotz in Baltimore and raised in Eldersburg, she was a 1987 graduate of Liberty High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology in 1991 from what is now Towson University, and a master's in adulthood and aging from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in 1994.

Mrs. Wasson, a homemaker, was 31 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"She never, ever, ever complained, and if that's not character and courage, I don't know what is," said her college sweetheart and husband of 10 years, Robert R. Wasson, a heavy equipment-leasing salesman.

Sally D. Otenasek became a friend of Mrs. Wasson through their children, who attended Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston.

"I've known Stephanie longer unhealthy than healthy. She never allowed herself to feel sorry for herself," Mrs. Otenasek said. "If she got bad news from the doctor, she'd allow herself what she called a `one-day pity party,' and then the next day she was ready to fight again. That was her way of dealing with it, and she refused to let cancer destroy her."

While enduring a mastectomy and chemotherapy, then recurrence of the disease, she focused much of her attention outward rather than inward in the fight against cancer.

"She taught us much about bravery, courage, poise, grace and how friendship is unselfish. She was also a hero because of how she dealt with a predicament over which she had no control," said Lori J. Ricks, a longtime friend.

Late last month, several friends and family members established Team Wasson to participate in Maryland's 12th annual Race for the Cure, part of a nationwide fund-raising effort organized by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

"That race was near and dear to her heart," her husband said.

"Our goal was to raise $10,000 with 40 runners, and within five days we had 300 runners and raised more than $26,000. Because we don't have a final figure yet, it may even reach a higher total," said Mrs. Otenasek, an organizer of Team Wasson -- which became the top race fund-raiser nationwide.

Because of the team's success, the Komen Foundation's Maryland chapter established an annual Stephanie Wasson Award for the individual who raises the highest amount in pledges.

Mrs. Wasson had run in the 2001 and 2002 races but was too ill last year. She attended this year's race Oct. 10 -- weak, but able to lend support to the runners -- and viewed the event from the pace car.

"She said, `Doggone it, I'm going.' And to have her there was an incredible inspiration," Mrs. Otenasek said.

A week before her death, Mrs. Wasson was interviewed by WJZ-TV's Sally Thorner.

"She could barely talk or sit up, but she wanted to talk about breast cancer and saw no reason why not to," Mrs. Otenasek said.

"Since her death, people have been coming up to me at the gym and elsewhere and telling me how she touched their lives or that now they were getting a mammogram. And that would have made her very happy," said Vicky L. Muddiman, a friend and Team Wasson founder.

"She had a great sense of humor, and we'll always have her funny stories to remember her by. And that's what's going to help get us through," she said.

Mrs. Wasson volunteered at her children's school and was a member and taught vacation Bible school at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 1515 Emmorton Road in Bel Air, where a memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. today.

Mrs. Wasson is also survived by her two sons, Tyler G. Wasson, 8, and Brett R. Wasson, 6; her parents, Donald H. and Lucille T. Lotz of Eldersburg; and a brother, Christopher D. Lotz of Hampstead.

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