BY JIM HOWE
In a baseball movie, Jack and Jordan Sheridan’s story might sound something like this:
Pitcher goes on injured list, recovers and, together with energetic manager and support staff, helps and inspires his teammates.
The pitcher is Jack, the manager is his sister Jordan, the support staff is their family and friends, and the teammates are any kids hospitalized with cancer.
But this is no sports movie; it’s the real story behind On My Team16, a charity founded in 2017 by Jordan Sheridan of Fayetteville, with the support of family and friends, to help comfort pediatric cancer patients at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.
The charity has an optional bonus for sports fans: You can make donations as if it were a fantasy sports league. On My Team16 will take any sports statistic you can think of and keep track of it for you to pledge, say, $10 for every home run hit by your favorite pro or college player. And athletes are encouraged to help, which they have done individually and as teams, through sending notes to children or visiting the hospital.
Jack, 19, went through three years of chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (see “What kind of cancer is that?” below). He was diagnosed during the 2014 baseball season, when he was a 15-year-old student at Christian Brothers Academy, where he pitched for the varsity team and wore the number 16.
Headaches, fatigue and fever led to tests, then to Golisano, where he started weekly, later monthly, chemo treatments that would last until September 2017, when he was declared cancer free. His tests since then have all been good, and “as of right now, I feel as close to normal as possible,” he said recently.
His illness delayed his CBA graduation from 2016 to 2017, and he returned to the pitcher’s mound in 2018 as a freshman at Le Moyne College. He will likely miss the 2019 season, though, after a baseball-related arm injury.
His sister Jordan, 23, who pitched for her CBA and St. Lawrence University softball teams and now works in social media for a local company, was a driving force in setting up the charity to carry out Jack’s wish to help other young cancer patients.
“When I was in high school, I did a program called Strike Out Hunger,” Jordan said. “Whenever I got a strikeout, we donated a certain amount of money to the Samaritan Center (a Syracuse soup kitchen), so for my whole life I’ve been involved in fundraising.
“But then, once he was diagnosed, I kind of changed who I wanted to help and focused on pediatric oncology patients, because of so many people, organizations and families that helped us when he was first battling cancer,” she said.
“It’s nice to see what you can do as an athlete that’s more than just winning a game or performing. It’s nice to be able to give back,” she said.
On My Team16 is a tax-exempt organization, and several friends and family members pitch in to help track finances, create spreadsheets to track the sports statistics, plan fundraisers and maintain the website. Jack and Jordan’s younger sister, Charlie, a softball pitcher at CBA, serves as the charity’s photographer and record keeper.
The ambassador for the “patient care” side of things is Jack, “just because of the experience I’ve had. I can relate to the patients because it’s all stuff I’ve been through,” he said.
Jack noted that he became friends with a pediatric cancer nurse at Golisano, Brian Langdon, during his treatment, and Langdon will sometimes help put him and Jordan in touch with a patient who could use a visit or pep talk, after checking with the parents. Parents sometimes reach out directly to On My Team16 through its website, onmyteam16.com, or social media.
“So that’s how most of the relationships start, and they just build from there,” Jack said. He told of one boy, now a young teenager, they followed through his whole cycle of treatment, who was presented a bat signed by his idol, former Yankee Derek Jeter, when he rang the bell signaling the successful end of his cancer treatment.
Langdon, who has a grandson about Jack’s age, shared his love of baseball with Jack during his various hospital stays. “I saw him when he was very sick and when he laughed and things were good,” Langdon said.
He praised On My Team16 for helping morale among the young patients and for getting athletes involved in their efforts. “Not all parents can stay there all day, so they are happy they (Jack and Jordan) can spend some time with their child,” he said.
“They’re wonderful, responsible young adults who are just trying to ease the burden of what goes on in a chronically ill child, Langdon said, and the patients are grateful for the gifts. “They’re totally mesmerized, they’re smiling from ear to ear, so happy … and the parents are also very happy because their child is having a good day.”
Jack and Jordan are unsure of their career plans but said they would love to make a full-time job out of helping kids with cancer.
What kind of cancer is that?
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, abbreviated as ALL and sometimes called acute lymphocytic leukemia, is the most common type of childhood leukemia.
ALL is a fast-growing cancer that develops in lymphoblasts, which are immature forms of the white blood cells called lymphocytes found in the bone marrow.
The cancerous cells can build up, crowding out normal cells, then spill into the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body.
If not treated, ALL would probably be fatal within a few months.
The usual treatment is a varied course of chemotherapy that typically lasts two to three years.
Source: American Cancer Society
Little gifts for little patients
Examples of things offered byOn My Team16 to young cancer patients:
- a personal chat by Jack and/or Jordan with a newly diagnosed, and scared, child and family members.
- a visit by a local or national sports figure, such as Cicero-North Syracuse graduate Pat Corbin, now a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- A pair of comfy, fuzzy socks for hospital wear, along with an inspirational message.
- an iPad or a book.
- little comforts like a ChapStick, a stress ball to squeeze or hand sanitizer.
- tickets to a sporting event, which nurses distribute to the patients and their families.
- a customized package, if they know a child’s sports team or other special interest.
This article appears in the summer 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine.