Clippers for the cure
TIFFIN– When Jami Tandy was diagnosed with breast cancer, she immediately received loads of support.
Her co-workers at South Slope Cooperative Communications and many friends began wearing Team Tandy buttons, complete with the requisite pink ribbon. Calls and cards and expressions of concern came pouring in. Prayers were said on her behalf.
But a completely unexpected show of solidarity came from Jami’s son and his basketball team, when they bounded onto the court sporting shaved heads and bright pink socks.
Jami’s son Jackson Rios and this group of 10- and 11-year-olds, all Clear Creek Amana students, have been playing club basketball together since third grade. They met up recently for a game at the North Liberty Recreation Center, and each member of the team freely articulated the reasons for showing Jami their support.
“We shaved our heads for my mom, because she has breast cancer,” Jackson said.
Though young and male, these team members understand the serious nature of the battle Jami is fighting. Team member Carter Schropp noted that his mother had dealt with skin cancer, and now participates in a 60-mile walk for the cure. Even in this typically self-conscious prepubescent stage of life, nobody was embarrassed by talking about breast cancer, and Carter went strictly to the point.
“Cancer can kill you, or you can be injured by it. A lot,” he said.
When asked who on the team knew someone affected by cancer, nearly every player raised a hand. And while a few of the boys hesitated only slightly before going under the clippers, it was a unanimous team effort in the end.
“We shaved our head because she was losing her hair,” said team member Ryan Navara. “So we could experience what that feels like, too.”
It was Jan. 6 when Jami underwent a double mastectomy. Two days later, Jackson announced he was going to a team pizza party, and Jami didn’t question it. She didn’t suspect the team was secretly having a head-shaving party, organized by a couple of team moms. The next day, the junior Clippers had a game, but Jami was unable to attend. However, her husband John made sure she didn’t miss a beat.
“He Face-Timed it for me,” Jami said, so she was able to watch via live video stream the boys as they took their places on the court. “They all walked out with their shaved heads and their socks. It was sweet. I cried. They are such a good group of boys. That they all agreed to do it was so nice.”
Parent Angie Mehmen said the night of the head-shaving party, she had the chance to talk to some of the boys she transported home. As a medical professional, Angie was able to help them better understand the nature of the disease.
“They had a lot of questions,” Angie said. “They asked about the mastectomy itself, is she going to be fine, is the cancer gone, what did the surgery actually do… you could just see the wheels turning in their heads. It was pretty cool because at this age, they don’t often experience this kind of thing. It has brought them together in a different way than I ever thought.”
Angie said her son Brevin now wears his Team Tandy pin constantly.
The team’s parents are proud of the boys who have stepped up to make themselves aware of the risks of different forms of cancer and joined together to strengthen Jami in her fight.
“I think they all have a better perspective on it all,” said mom Stacy Schropp, who was diagnosed with skin cancer when she was pregnant 12 years ago. “A close friend has a different kind of cancer, and I think it makes them understand that things can happen to people they care about, at any time.”
“I think before all this happened, they might have looked at someone without hair and think ‘what’s wrong?’” said Angie. “Now they can look at them and think, ‘oh, they are going through something.’”
Jami said her biggest message now is for women– and for men who have a woman in their lives they care about– to make breast self-exams a regular routine. And the message she has received from her son’s teammates and their parents is that Jami has a new extended family that won’t let her down. The team parents are some of her best friends, she said, and her coworkers have bolstered Jami’s spirits in many ways.
“Our CEO Justyn Miller, my boss, my husband’s boss, and the company as a whole have been so supportive of us. Whether it’s wearing the buttons, sending a nice email, or just a nice word or hug as we walk through the office, we are very grateful for everything they have done for us. Everybody cares, and they will care the whole way through,” Jami said. “I will appreciate it forever.”
Before bouncing back out on the court, with just a shadow of stubble on their heads and bright pink socks in motion, player TJ Hansen summed it all up for the Clippers basketball club and Team Tandy.
“We wanted Jami her know we had her back.”