Stacy Michalski-Ollenberger loved horses.
“She was a big part of our (horse show) community,” in the words of her sister, Leanne. “She was amazing with the kids. Always wanted to see (them) succeed, to be proud of themselves, to be confident.”
A former rodeo and gymkhana competitor growing up, Stacy shared her knowledge and affection of horses with the younger generation. However, when she suddenly passed away in November 2015, at age 30, from complications linked to Cushing’s Syndrome, her family and friends felt the need to continue advocating for the disease.
They did, in 2016, by combining that message with her love of horses, establishing the first annual Stacy Memorial Horse Show. This past weekend (July 13-14), the event marked its fourth year. Besides raising awareness of the disease, event organizers also hoped to instill some of the values shared by Stacy as she and others built the North Peace Light Horse Association.
“These kids are coming here learning how to show their horses. They’re gaining confidence,” says Leanne. “We teach them horsemanship and sportsmanship.”
All things her sister believed in.
Leanne’s very proud of the fact Stacy was able to help out others during a tumultuous time of her own. “One person, in particular, had no idea what was wrong with her and struggled for many years being ill, never properly being diagnosed.” Stacy was able to get the person in touch with the doctors and people who could properly give her the right testing.
It was Stacy’s mother, Dee, though, who was the original advocate, determined to find some answers to her daughter’s ongoing illness issues.
“She pushed and pushed to get a proper diagnosis.”
It was one particular doctor in Fort St. John who made the difference.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but we’re gonna find out,” Leanne recalls.
Stacy would be diagnosed, and in an Edmonton hospital a month later, scheduled for brain surgery to remove a tumour. The procedure, though, would need to be repeated before follow-up chemotherapy, and several more hospital visits.
While the medical community is gaining more knowledge of the disease, which can include weight gain and fatigue, it can also, as in Stacy’s case, result in high levels of the hormone Cortisol being produced by the adrenal glands.
“They don’t know what causes Cushing’s Disease,” describes Leanne. “They don’t know if it’s genetic, if it’s in the environment or something that people are born with.” The ailment can be found in cats, dogs and horses, however, “they will diagnose it (in people) as diabetes or something else, because these are symptoms of the disease.” Thankfully, diagnoses, Leanne acknowledges, have improved since 2003, when her sister, 19, at the time, was told.
Aside from the horse show, itself, the weekend included an online silent auction component, which this year managed to raise just over $5,900 — part of the proceeds, Leanne says, will go towards Cushing’s research and an elementary school breakfast program. In 2018, it was Robert Ogilvie that received $800 from the auction’s proceeds.
“I know it’s what Stacy would have wanted.”
— Dave Lueneberg