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|Fighting cancer one team at a time|
|Written by Gillian Smith|
|Wednesday, 11 September 2013 12:20|
“I met a lot of people that day and for some reason Jaclyn was the one I was attached to.”
Duxbury resident Stacia Boynton met Jaclyn Murphy on the night of her 16th birthday at a childhood cancer fundraiser during the summer before her junior year at Duxbury High School.
“I fell in love with her and her family,” Boynton said. “Her story is remarkable.”
In 2004, when Jaclyn was nine- years-old, she was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. Throughout her aggressive treatment, Jaclyn’s father would push her wheelchair past a photo of a women’s lacrosse player and told her that, someday, she’d be healthy enough to play. In 2005, two unrelated friends of the Murphy’s told the Northwestern University’s lacrosse coach about Jaclyn and her dream to become a lacrosse player.
The team added Jaclyn to their team as an honorary member and went on to win five consecutive championships. Jaclyn’s parents realized the positive impact the team was making on her life and started the Friends of Jaclyn organization.
Friends of Jaclyn (FOJ) pairs children with pediatric brain tumors with college and high school athletic teams. The teams adopt the child and the child becomes an honorary member of the team, going to as many games as possible, wearing gear and participating in all of the team’s activities.
Boynton spent a lot of time at the fundraising talking to Jaclyn’s father, Dennis, about the foundation he was just starting at the time. Intrigued by the foundation, and with Jaclyn stuck in her head, Boynton told her teammates on the varsity basketball team at Duxbury High School about Jaclyn and the organization. Without a moment’s hesitation, the girls decided to make Jaclyn an honorary member of their team, as well. The boys and girls basketball teams held fundraisers for Jaclyn throughout the season and Boynton became close family friends with the Murphys.
“Jaclyn and I would email all the time,” Boynton said. “She is four years younger than me; I visited once a summer and my sister and I did a lot of fundraisers for her.”
Last fall, Boynton was diagnosed with skin cancer in her leg. Fortunately, she was able to have the cancerous cells removed and she is now doing well, but her brief experience with cancer shocked her.
“There was a period where I was really freaking out,” she said. “I called Dennis and ex- plained my situation and after talking to him decided that I wanted to dedicate my spring semester at UNH to Friends of Jaclyn.”
Boynton, a family studies and kinesiology major at UNH, got together with a couple of friends and started emailing different departments on campus, explaining that they want- ed to adopt a child with a brain tumor into one of the athletic teams on campus. After winter break, Boynton and her friends were able to connect the men’s hockey team with a boy named Andrew.
Every adoption story is different, but for Andrew the UNH men’s hockey team met with Boynton, Dennis and Andrew, all of who told their stories and inspiration for becoming involved in the program. The captain of the team gave Andrew a hat and t-shirt and from there on out he was a member of the team. Andrew went to every home game, was in the lockers post-game, went to dinner with the team and hung out with the team in their hotel rooms."During the season we got
this crazy idea to do a talent show fundraiser,” Boynton said. “We collaborated with Golden Key, the honor society kids on campus, and ended up raising just under $4,000.”
From there, Boynton organized an official FOJ chapter at UNH, which is currently actively seeking out more children to adopt to their ath- letic teams. After graduating this past May, Boynton started working part time with Dennis and FOJ for about 10 hours each week. She worked to organize the adoption system and started reaching out to families in New England to see if they had an interest in being adopted by an athletic team. After working for the summer, Boynton was offered a full-time job as the outreach coordinator for FOJ.
“Right now there are 52 adopted families in New Eng- land,” she said. “Its my job to reach out to more families, to stay in touch with current families and to work with colleges and universities to develop these programs at their schools.”
Boynton, who has been part of a number of adoptions in her time with FOJ, said some teams go all out with their adoptions. In one case, a baseball team in Florida had an official signing where the boy sat down, signed the papers and answered questions from players sitting in the audience. In addition to coordinating adoptions, Boynton will also be planning three major events throughout the year, including a walk on the Hudson River and a gala in March.
Boynton, who lives in Humarock in the summer and Duxbury in the winter, said she makes a point to travel to New York to work at the FOJ headquarters at least once a month so she can maintain a good relationship with the rest of the small staff. In the meantime, she spends most of her time working on the South Shore reaching out to families. There are currently approximately 1,000 teams on the waiting list to adopt a child.
One of Boynton’s goals is to bring the foundation back to Duxbury. She said she has been in talks with various athletic coaches and hopes to someday have a solid foundation for adoptions at the high school.
“We usually focus on college teams, but if a high school or school district has a child or children they’d like to adopt, we would definitely work with them on that,” she said.
Boynton said one of the most remarkable aspects of the foundation is seeing the positive impact the adoption has on a child with cancer.
“Especially with Andrew, we got to see his confidence just skyrocket,” she said. “One of the teammates, Justin, took Andrew out on the ice every Wednesday and taught him how to skate. By the end of the season, he was skating all on his own. It’s that type of influence that truly changes their lives.”
Visit friendsofjaclyn.org for more information and to see how you can become involved.