A diagnosis of cancer always comes with challenges and creates life-altering circumstances. But when children suffer from cancer so early in their lives, it seems to touch our hearts in a different way.
In 2004, Jaclyn Murphy was diagnosed at the age of 9 with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.
While in the hospital she received a package from The Northwestern University women’s lacrosse coach, who had heard about Jaclyn through a friend and wanted to help. She sent Jaclyn a signed Northwestern lacrosse media guide along with a ball and T-shirt. Jaclyn noticed that Northwestern had a match scheduled at Johns Hopkins the following Friday, and she was determined to go.
The coach shared Jaclyn’s story with the team before the game, noting that “they were shocked and stunned to realize such a young girl could go through so much.” According to Denis Murphy, Jaclyn’s father and manager of the Friends of Jaclyn (FOJ) foundation, “Northwestern won 12-3, and support came pouring in from the Wildcats in the form of text messages, CDs and cards. For Jaclyn, who spent much of the next year in the hospital, the bond forged with Northwestern proved invaluable. Now, Jaclyn had two dozen new sisters.”
Adding to the excitement, the team went on to complete a perfect season, winning their first national championship in 64 years! From this occurrence, FOJ was born.
Rabbi Richard Kirsch, athletic director, teacher and guidance counselor at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, said his friendship with Denis Murphy goes back a long way. “My brother read an article about Denis in The Star Ledger, and I reached out to him.”
Murphy spoke in Rabbi Kirsch’s sociology class and later brought his daughters, including Jaclyn, who all spoke, even at their young ages. “So inspiring were these encounters,” described Kirsch, that an annual Battle of the Bands was later dedicated to raising funds for FOJ.
A few years later the boys’ varsity basketball team “adopted” a child with a brain tumor through FOJ. Now the boys’ varsity baseball team is adopting a child and wearing Mulligan Moments wristbands. Wearing these wristbands, a tribute to the “mulligan” (second chance), several Kushner athletic teams have now committed to dedicate their games and wins to this child.
The Jewish Link asked Denis Murphy to describe the “Mulligan Moments” program that the Kushner teams have adopted. The idea, said Murphy, is that “you can fight the cards you are dealt, or you can fight back and be grateful. We were given a ‘mulligan,’ a second chance, and we decided to use it to give other children battling for their lives the opportunity for a second chance to be on a team.”
Anyone can join the Mulligan Moments program, and it is especially meaningful when an entire team gets on board. Athletes and others are encouraged to “wear one, give one.”
Kushner team members receive two wristbands, and give one to a friend or family member, or someone else in need. They can also write their own mulligan story on a social media meaning card, take a photo holding the mulligan meaning card, or upload a video to the FOJ website with the hashtag #MullinganMomentsFOJ, sharing their Mulligan Moments. The wristbands raise awareness and funds and, most importantly, the spirits of the children with cancer and of the team, giving all of them a higher purpose.
Murphy reported that FOJ is nearing its 1000th “child adoption” in collegiate, junior college and high school athletic programs through the FOJ “adopt a child” program.
“Live in the moment. Play in the moment,” said Jaclyn herself. “My mulligan/second chance: I am a brain cancer survivor.”
Jaclyn has now completed college, graduating with a degree in communications, and serves as the face of the organization, attending “adoptions,” and now Zoom adoptions, even as she manages a daily fight with the side effects of her treatment.
Speaking with the Kushner varsity boys’ baseball coach Anibal Ramos, The Jewish Link asked what it means to the team to adopt a child with cancer, and to wear and share the wristbands.
Said Ramos, “You can have all the medicine in the world, but there’s nothing like the human spirit.” For Coach Ramos on a personal level, “Positions of leadership are a place of service. Teaching this type of service on a baseball team begins the first step on the ladder of leadership for the players.”
On that note, Murphy reported that “several of FOJ’s student team athletes went on to medical schools and are now doing research in some of the top universities in the country.”
Rabbi Kirsch identified benefits to the students as “an opportunity, a tool to stimulate conversations and to see people beyond the color of their skin or their appearance, which are both strong Jewish values and mandate. As a yeshiva we must demonstrate we care about the society we live in and about people, beyond the bubble that we are so accustomed to. An added element is that it is a kiddush Hashem, very much a part of our mission as a school.”
If you would like to team up with Kushner’s athletic teams and FOJ, along with teams across the country, and participate in the FOJ/Mulligan Moments Program, you can get a wristband to “wear and one to share” by going to the website at