Bartholomew County fairgoers will be asked to support a former 10-year 4-Her who is fighting cancer.
Fair booths and concession stands will display donation boxes to benefit Kristie Wessel and her family during the fair, which begins Friday.
Wessel is hospitalized in Texas undergoing treatment after her third stem cell transplant in four years, said her sister Jeanne Lienhoop. She had her latest transplant about three weeks ago.
Lienhoop, along with Wessel’s father, Don Schroer, have donated stem cells that have been used in the transplants.
Wessel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in December 2010 and began chemotherapy and radiation shortly after.
“In the fall of 2012, she was given a very poor prognosis, and doctors were looking at doing maintenance chemotherapy, and that was actually what did the trick,” Lienhoop said. “One of her scans showed she had no active cancer.”
Less than a year later, however, Wessel’s cancer returned.
At the end of the summer in 2013, she was told her cancer had come back and that she needed to begin treatments and stem cell transplants all over again.
Wessel and her husband, Derek, have been in Texas since discovering her cancer had returned. The family recently purchased a camper so that their two young children — Konnor, 6, and Taylor, 4 —can be close to their mother while she undergoes treatment.
Wessel’s medical expenses and her husband’s inability to hold a steady job during the treatment process has put a large strain on the couple’s finances, Lienhoop said.
“It’s been four years of inconsistent ability to work,” Lienhoop said. “They have zero income, and there are a lot of parts of the treatments that aren’t covered by insurance.”
Fundraisers for the family have been conducted in past years, and Lienhoop said the response from the community has always been “overwhelming.”
This year’s fundraising event was spearheaded by Henry Wischmeier, a family friend and preschool/kindergarten director at St. Paul Lutheran in Columbus, where Taylor Wessel attended last school year.
Wischmeier has held fundraisers for the Wessel family before and said the community is always extremely supportive.
“Taylor was just in our preschool this last year, and we had a fundraiser for them before because they were a part of our preschool family,” Wischmeier said. “The community rallied around them, and we had a very successful fundraiser.”
After hearing the news that Wessel — a former 10-year 4-H member — would have to endure another stint of treatment in Texas, Wischmeier had the idea to ask the fair board for permission to have donation boxes. When his idea was approved, he began reaching out to fair booth operators who might agree to have the donation box at their booths.
The list of booths currently includes the Taco Barn, Pork Producers, St. Paul Evangelical, the show barn concession stand and the homemade ice cream station. A total of 10 to 12 boxes — white with a picture of the Wessel family on the front — should be available throughout the fairgrounds during the fair.
Although Kristie and Derek Wessel don’t actively broadcast their financial struggles, family, friends and members of the community are always there to provide assistance when it is needed, Lienhoop said.
“We have great friends and family,” Lienhoop said. “It’s hard for Kristie and Derek to ask for money. They are very proud people. But I think the community recognizes that, and they give, and they give.”