Jaclyn Murphy sat in the waiting room on the 9th floor of the hospital patiently waiting for her doctors. Floods of text messages poured onto her phone; which is something typically rare for kids with cancer. A little girl curiously turned to Murphy and asked who kept messaging her; she replied it was her friends at Northwestern. After the little girl left, Murphy turned to her father and said, “We need to get that girl a team.”
This was the beginning of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation whose mission is to help kids with brain tumors. These kids and their families are paired up with either a high school or college sports team to create a support network through these difficult times.
When Murphy was just 9 years old she began throwing up every morning for two weeks. Her parents started off thinking it was just a stomach bug, but quickly their notion changed. Murphy lost her sense of balance and coordination and something seemed “off.” This resulted in her concerned parents taking her to Vassar Brothers Medical Center, and there she was misdiagnosed with anorexia. “I was told I could go home when I stopped throwing up” says Murphy. After realizing she didn’t have an eating disorder, a CAT scan was done which showed devastating results; the doctors wanted to tell the family in person which Murphy says “is never a good sign.” The tests showed that she had a malignant brain tumor the size of a golf ball.
Murphy had surgery that removed the majority of the tumor and underwent chemotherapy soon after. “I struggled with shortness of breath, balancing problems, hearing loss, my growth was stunted, I lost my hair, and went from 80 to 50 lbs.” Despite having a 30 percent survival rate Murphy remained positive, “I always thought I would get better.” For children under the age of 18, brain tumors are one of the leading causes of death. Her family and support network are what allowed her to overcome this tough time.
Before she was sick, Murphy played lacrosse at a local gym with about 32 other kids (she was one of two girls) and her coach noticed a lot of potential. When she didn’t come back for a while, her parents contacting him and let him know she was sick. “He wanted to do something for me so with connections he had to Northwestern University’s lacrosse team. They sent me a care package a few weeks later.” They sent her a media guide with all their signatures and well wishes along with other goodies. The team was playing at Johns Hopkins University and Murphy begged her dad to take her to the game. He did and that was the first time she got to meet the team. As she told her story to the girls “there wasn’t a dry eye in sight.”
Murphy was “adopted” by Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team and grew so close to the girls that she thinks of them as her big sisters. Now, Murphy has been cancer free for ten years. Although she remains positive, she knows realistically that “the cancer can always come back” and be a problem again. But for now, the 20 year old is thriving at Marist College as a Communication major with a concentration in advertising.
As the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation has grown over many years, the foundation was featured on HBO twice. It was around freshmen-sophomore year for Murphy when she was filmed around her high school. By this time, Murphy and her family were used to the press and claimed she was “blessed but shocked” at the opportunity.
Murphy’s younger sister, Taryn started a feature on the website called Safe on the Sidelines which is designed to help the siblings of a child with a brain tumor. “I was nine and my sister was seven. My mom would take care of me in the morning, then my dad at night, and they would switch off” explains Murphy. Taryn was also too young to visit her sister in the hospital so she stayed with family friends and neighbors a lot. Their relationship is a lot stronger now that they both are older and Taryn thought it was important to provide support to siblings like her.
Looking at the list of teams involved is very impressive and there are over 500 currently on the list. “My dad was just at Pennsylvania State University adding their lacrosse and football teams.” There are over a thousand teams on the waiting list.
Murphy has great advice for anyone dealing with a difficult situation like hers- she suggests taking one day at a time and connecting with people who will understand. Family is a great outreach but so are true friends. “I wish I involved my close friends more in my life at that time” says Murphy who admits to not wanting them to see her so ill. The biggest piece of advice is to live by the motto “live in the moment, play in the moment” which she lives by every single day.