Friends of Jaclyn Foundation Offers Love and Support to Children With Brain Cancer via Athletic Team Adoptions

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When cancer strikes, life can turn into a seemingly endless cycle of hospitalizations, surgery, drugs and radiation.  Especially for children, it is easy to lose sight of living in the midst of surviving.  Jaclyn Murphy, a pediatric brain cancer survivor, knows this better than anyone.

At the age of nine, Jaclyn was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain cancer.  Jaclyn had always loved sports, and lacrosse was her game at the time of her diagnosis in 2004.  A hospital photo of a college-level lacrosse player became Jaclyn's motivation to keep going.  Every time she passed it in the hospital hallway, her father would point to the photograph and tell Jaclyn that someday she would be the woman in the picture.

As it turned out, the college lacrosse connection happened far sooner than even her father could have hoped for.  The coach of the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team learned about the little girl who loved the game but was sidelined with brain cancer.  The team's arms opened as the coach invited Jaclyn in, welcoming her at practices and games.  With her indomitable strength and spirit, Jaclyn soon became an honorary team member and the entire team's cherished little sister.  When the team was away, they showered her with texts and video messages.  When they were in town, Jaclyn attended as many games and practices as possible.

The bonds grew deep, and they grew in both directions: Jaclyn was inspired to make it through treatment, and the team's play was inspired by Jaclyn's courage and spirit.  That year, Northwestern had a perfect season and won their first NCAA women's lacrosse championship in 64 years.  In fact, the team went on to win the national Division I NCCA title for seven years running.  As for that original lacrosse photo hanging in the hospital, Jaclyn eventually realized that the picture was of none other than her Northwestern University coach back in college.

Now cancer-free and a sophomore at Marist, Jaclyn has kept her ties to sports and to the Northwestern lacrosse team.  She is also spreading the love and support of that lifelong bond to other children with pediatric brain cancer.  The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation (FoJ), an organization that Jaclyn founded with her father in 2005, matches pediatric brain cancer patients with high school and college athletic teams in order to forge long-lasting relationships between the kids, families and athletes.

"Live in the Moment... Play in the Moment!" is the slogan for FoJ.  This focus on enjoying life and expanding friendship helps to bring back joy to the children and their families as they battle cancer.  To date, over 380 athletic teams in 25 different women's and men's sports have adopted pediatric brain cancer patients, improving the children's quality of life and providing inspiration and motivation to the teams.  

The foundation also sponsors several sister programs.  Safe on the Sidelines is similar to the adoption program, but focuses on placing the healthy siblings who also often feel afraid and lonely.  The Pals program matches pediatric brain cancer patients as pen pals, creating additional supportive bonds between children who, unfortunately, can intimately understand what the other is going through.

Featured recently on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, the FoJ foundation has gained national recognition for both its mission and its inspiring leader, Jaclyn Murphy.  Support of the spirit can be as important as treatment of the cancer, and Friends of Jaclyn offers an incredible means of support for children pushed to the extreme by brain cancer.