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Snead State Athletics welcomes Andrew Tappen to Parson Family with signing event

Mother of 3-year-old battling cancer opens up on Huntsville family’s journey

BOAZ, Ala. – “There’s no chemotherapy, radiation treatment or clinical drug trial that’s more powerful than love, support and friendship…”

Those were the words Friends of Jaclyn Foundation founder Dennis Murphy shared inside Fielder Auditorium on Sunday afternoon as Snead State Community College hosted a special signing ceremony to welcome Andrew Tappen, a 3-year-old from Huntsville battling pediatric cancer, to the Parson Family.

“We are excited to honor [the Tappens] and welcome them to the Parson Family,” said Snead State President Dr. Joe Whitmore. “We look forward to getting to know them over the coming weeks and months, because it’s like I say every year at graduation, once a Parson, always a Parson.”

Andrew, who particularly loves basketball, and his siblings Josh (6), Lydia (5) and David (8 months) each received a commemorative T-shirt, signed certificates to join the program and other gifts – and they enjoyed a piece of cake, too. In addition, the children spent time with all of Snead State’s student-athletes and coaches.

“With childhood cancer, the little things to you mean the world to us,” said Brittany Tappen, who is Andrew’s mother. “So, just the fact that you’re here and some of the players came out and gave my kids a high five – like, we’re going to hear about that for a long time, so thank you so much. We appreciate it.

“I cannot express enough how much this means to our family, to have someone in our corner and to have someone help us as we are battling something that, really, we cannot explain. And although Andrew is doing good, and we have good moments, and there are things that other people have worse, cancer sucks. So, thank you for helping us make this a little better.”

About a year ago, just days after his second birthday, Brittany said she and her husband, Spencer, began to notice “weird things” happening with Andrew.

“As a mom, I try not to freak out about things,” Brittany said. “But he started having unexplainable bruises on his face, and then nosebleeds. I just thought, ‘He’s a toddler. No big deal.’”

But then his mouth started bleeding a lot, Brittany said, so she decided to take him to the pediatrician.

“I thought they would laugh at me and say he’s just a 2-year-old,” she said. “But they ran bloodwork, and I knew something was up when the nurses came in, took all three kids out of the room and told me I needed to call my husband.”

That’s when Andrew was diagnosed with Leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the function and production of blood cells.

As recommended by the pediatrician, the Tappens took Andrew to the emergency room at Huntsville Hospital. Thereafter, Andrew was transported to St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We stayed there for several weeks while they blasted him with a ton of chemo treatment,” Brittany said. “That was kind of the start of Spencer and I just being in autopilot as we try to figure out what’s going on and what the next day looks like.”

Since then, Andrew has been in treatment for over a year, receiving lots of chemotherapy, multiple lumbar punctures, as well as blood and platelet transfusions.

“Although he’s been on this journey for a year, Andrew still has a year and a half left,” Brittany said. “He won’t finish treatment until February 2025. But, although there’s so many sucky things, Andrew does not let this cancer define him. He is the most happy, energetic kid who is constantly playing basketball at the house or soccer or baseball, volleyball, tennis – you name it. If there’s a ball, he’s playing the sport … So, although it feels like cancer has taken so much from us, it is so nice to see that he still enjoys sports so much. That’s why when we got a hold of Dennis and we talked, I was like, ‘This is perfect for Andrew.’ But the thing that also enticed me for this was that it was also there for his siblings. Josh and Lydia especially have had to suffer alongside Andrew, and it has been very hard as parents from the first time we went to the ER. I’ve had friends come and take the kids through the night while Spencer and I tried to figure out what this meant. And leaving my children for several weeks while Spencer and I went to Memphis to try to help Andrew. Josh and Lydia have had to make sacrifices that a 6- and 5-year-old shouldn’t have to make.

“This is something they can look forward to and can enjoy. They have talked about this for weeks. They are very excited to be part of Snead State and to see you guys play, whether its practice or a game, and just feel part of a community and give them something to look forward to. Because, it feels like cancer has just taken so much from us… From the coaches to the Athletic Department, to the players, to the organization, to the president, to Dennis – everyone: thank you.”

Before Brittany opened up about Andrew’s cancer journey, Murphy briefly shared the origin story and mission of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation was created several years ago when Murphy’s daughter, Jaclyn, was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, and she became connected to and later adopted by the Northwestern University lacrosse team as an honorary team member. Jaclyn’s strength, courage, relentless spirit, and joy for life inspired the players, he said. The team went on to a perfect season, winning their first NCAA national championship in 64 years.

Jaclyn’s wish became to help every sick child find a team to show them love, support and friendship – which soon became the mission of Friends of Jaclyn.

“Our mission at Friends of Jaclyn is about improving the quality of life for children battling pediatric cancer,” Murphy said. “And I’m about today. Not tomorrow, a week, five or 10 years down the road. Research is important; we’re gonna get there, but we’re focused on today. So, we pair children up with a local sports team. Doesn’t matter what level or division it is. All I care about is the love, support and friendship that you’re gonna give to this family. Not only the child that’s afflicted, but the siblings, too.

“There’s no chemotherapy, radiation treatment or clinical drug trial that’s more powerful than love, support and friendship, and that’s what this family is gonna get. In turn, you guys are gonna walk away for the rest of your life with a different perspective.”