The Columbus community continues to help Samantha Zander as she faces a dark time in her young life.
After receiving a large donation from Ty Thorson after the 13-year-old auctioned off his hog at the Dodge County Fair in August, Zander is getting more help in her breast cancer battle. On Aug. 31, Mullin’s Short-Stop in Columbus donated proceeds from its sales to Zander—$4,772. That goes along with the $8,370 Thorson raised selling his prized hog at the fair.
Zander, 30, was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this summer. She grew up in Columbus and currently works as an education support specialist in the Columbus School District. Like many youth growing up in Columbus, Zander worked at Mullin’s during her teenage years.
She worked alongside current owner Kelly Crombie and Crombie attended school with Samantha’s older brother, Joe.
“When Kelly heard about (my diagnosis) he asked if he could do this for me,” Zander said. “I said that would be awesome; that’s amazing that he would do that.”
Mullin’s is a seasonal business, open from mid-May through Labor Day weekend. The shop sells burgers, fries, cheese curds, shakes, sundaes, sodas and other hot sandwiches. On Aug. 31, when Crombie told his young employees they would be selling food to support Zander, they were excited and ready for the challenge. The shop’s last day of the season was scheduled for Aug. 29, but opened one more day for the special fundraiser.
“It was a really nice way for us to end our season,” Crombie said. “And we had a great group of students working there this year.”
Mullin’s employee Molly Kahl, a junior at Columbus High School, was pleasantly surprised by how much money was raised.
“Kelly texted us and asked if there would be any volunteers to work the fundraiser,” Kahl said.
“I just thought that it was a really good cause. It actually turned out really well. We raised almost $5,000. It was incredible to see how many people showed up and all the generous donations people left. It was so great because it was for such a great cause.”
Kahl said Mullin’s opened at 11 a.m. that day and was sold out of all food items by 3:30 p.m. She said the shop sold about 250 cheeseburgers. After hearing about the fundraiser, patrons chipped in a little extra to help Zander, Crombie said.
“It was crazy,” Kahl said.
Despite short notice, the fundraiser went very well. Besides Facebook postings, it was largely spread quickly through word-of-mouth.
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“It’s really impressive that everyone came out and supported it and we were able to pull it off so well,” Kahl said. “Many of the people who came donated large amounts.”
“This happens to people every day so why am I being picked for people to be so awesome to?” Zander said. “Maybe it’s because I would want to do that to other people because if someone close to me was going through this, I would do the same.”
Zander noticed a lump in one of her breasts in early June. Given her age and no family history of breast cancer, her primary doctor didn’t think it was initially cancerous. When she returned from a vacation, the lump was still present. Zander had a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound test, which revealed something didn’t look right. She had a biopsy in late July and received the results shortly after.
“Within a month to two months, this all happened,” Zander said.
Zander said the support has lifted her spirits in a difficult time. Zander has a 2-year-old daughter and is planning to wed her fiancé in June 2020.
“I think for a lot of people, the biggest shock is it happened to somebody so young in the community,” Zander said. “I think that’s why there has been such a positive response.”
After receiving her diagnosis, Zander worried about her ability to have another child. She decided to do fertility treatments and recently had her eggs removed for embryo development.
“Insurance doesn’t cover that so that’s where Ty’s and Kelly’s donations come into play,” Zander said. “There are things insurance won’t cover so this helps out a lot.”
Zander was scheduled to begin chemotherapy treatments earlier this week. She will have to drive to Madison five days a week for treatments. The past few months have been a whirlwind for Zander and her family.
Returning to work last week has kept her mind, at least somewhat, focused on her students. Before school began, Zander cut her hair and dyed it a hot pink color, much to the delight of her students.
“They’re like ‘You look different!’” Zander said last week. “I’m definitely noticed because of that. They’ve helped me keep a positive attitude. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have cancer because I haven’t started treatments yet and don’t feel sick. But I have cancer and it sucks.”
Zander said her supporters are planning a benefit event Nov. 2 at St. Jerome’s Church. She has said the outpouring of support has been heartwarming and overwhelming.
“How do you possibly thank everyone?” she said. “I just appreciate it so much.”