Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

University of Florida softball team forms special bond with brain cancer survivor

Heather Braswell, in orange, befriended Florida’s softball team while recovering from surgery. “It’s like she’s part of a team,” her mother, Terri, says.

University of Florida

Heather Braswell, in orange, befriended Florida’s softball team while recovering from surgery. “It’s like she’s part of a team,” her mother, Terri, says.

GAINESVILLE — When Florida senior leftfielder Francesca Enea learned about an organization that pairs college sports teams with children with pediatric brain tumors, she immediately went searching for details.

"I looked up the website for 'Friends of Jaclyn' and immediately said, 'This looks great, let's do it,' " Enea said.

About the same time, 12-year-old Heather Braswell was recovering from a brain tumor and watching an HBO documentary that featured the group.

Heather wanted to find a team that could help ease her transition back to health. Enea wanted to find a child who needed the Gators. Ultimately, what they found in each other was an experience that exceeded their expectations and created a bond that has changed them all.

"It's surpassed anything you could expect because they really welcomed her," said Heather's mother, Terri Braswell. "They include her in everything. She gets to go out for home runs — when they run out to the plate to high-five, she gets to go with them. She's built a friendship and a closeness with them that I don't think she could get anywhere else. It's like she's part of a team. It's just one big family."

Enea was told the matchup process could take at least six months, but a few weeks after she submitted paperwork on the Gators' behalf, she got a call from an organization member who told her an Orlando girl was interested in being adopted by the team.

There was one small catch. Heather is the daughter of two Florida State graduates who are diehard Seminole fans. Her mother wanted the assurance that the Gators knew of the family's FSU allegiance and had no problem with it. They did not.

On Nov. 13, 2009, Heather was "adopted" by the Gators.

"When we first came, it was around my birthday (Nov. 11) and they said we've got this big surprise for you," Heather, now 13, said. "I walked in and there was this big plaque with my name and my number, and they had all these gifts. They gave me No. 1. And I got my name on the back of my shirt."

"It was great just to see a smile on her face and a genuine happiness from within," her mother said. "After the treatment, that was hard to come by, to see her light up like that. It put a pep back in her step."

Since then, Heather has attended numerous games, and she was in Gainesville last weekend to see the regular-season finale. The Gators are defending their SEC tournament title this week in Fayetteville, Ark.

"It's been amazing," Heather said. "Not just the stuff, but when I'm not feeling good or not doing so well, they'll text me and it makes me smile. And it feels nice."

In September 2007 Terri Braswell, a nurse, noticed signs of her daughter's appetite change. Doctors discovered the brain tumor on an MRI exam. Heather and her family spent a total of nine months in Memphis where she was treated at St. Jude Children's Hospital. The treatment was grueling.

"The hardest part was probably throwing up 15-plus times a day," Heather said.

Now cancer free, Heather is a diehard Florida fan, including a bedroom wall decorated in orange and blue. If they can't attend or watch Gator softball games on TV, Heather and her mom listen via the Internet. For the record, her mom, dad and brother remain FSU fans, though Terri obviously loves the Florida softball team.

"It's hard to even put into words as a parent (what this has meant)," Terri Braswell said. "It's made her stronger as a person. She's very shy, but she comes here and she just pops over the gate and goes right in. And she's not like that. And Francesca is the most amazing person. She has a special bond with her because she's the one who was like the captain of it all."

In return, Heather has had a major impact on the Gators.

"I think she brings us back to reality," UF pitcher Stephanie Brombacher said, fighting back tears. "Someone that young who could go through all of that. And here we are, healthy, and we actually get to play the sport we love and we get the chance to do this. She may never get to have that dream or live out this dream. So we get to share this experience with her, and she makes us realize that there could be a lot worse things going on in our lives."

For Enea, just named to the SEC Good Works team for her community work, including more than 600 hours of service, the reward goes both ways.

"I think it's been great for her to know that she has 16 girls to support her anytime, and if she needs someone to talk to, she can text any one of us," she said. "And on these long trips, we'll always text her because she's always by her phone. It's like a little-sister relationship, and it's great to have. To be someone that's that young and having to go through something that serious, we've gained some great perspective on life and things from her."

GATORS IN SEMIFINALS: Florida scored eight runs in the fifth inning, capped by Durant grad Kelsey Horton's three-run homer, to invoke the mercy rule in a 9-1 defeat of Auburn in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. UF, the second seed, faces No. 3 seed LSU at 3 p.m. today.

Antonya English can be reaches at [email protected]om or (813) 226-3389. See for more on the Friends of Jaclyn organization.

University of Florida softball team forms special bond with brain cancer survivor 05/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov celebrates his second-period goal against the Devils, his eighth overall, giving him goals in each of the first seven games.
  2. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start


    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  3. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues


    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]
  4. Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'


    If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.
  5. Fennelly: Longtime Bucs fans, we want to hear from you


    Calling all Bucs fans! Calling all Bucs fans!

    Jameis Winston is pressured by Chandler Jones during the Bucs' loss to the Cardinals Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.