Florida Times-Union | By Clayton Freeman | August 18, 2021
The golf cart rolled along the 28th Street sidewalk beside Andrew Jackson High School, and in moments, the cheers were ringing out.
“We are proud of you! We are proud of you!”
Classmates lined up, signs waved and members of the Roar of the Jaguars cheered in a Wednesday morning parade at the Northside school, showing their support of Jacksonville’s Talen Birt in his fight against an advanced form of bone cancer.
Joined by his parents, Matthew and Michelle Birt, the Jackson junior rolled along the sidewalk of 28th Street, part of his wish to return to school for one more day.
The message was “Talen Strong,” and for his classmates and teachers, Wednesday meant one more opportunity to cheer him on at his school.
“When he rolled up and saw the outpouring of love, he was like, ‘I cannot believe this,'” Michelle Birt said.
Among Talen’s wishes: The chance to return to school for one more day — as Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene described, “honoring his wish to be amongst the Tigers.”
“It’s very heartwarming, very touching,” Greene said.
Talen has gone through 26 rounds of chemotherapy
Several years ago, Talen was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer classified as uncommon — the American Cancer Society estimates that only about 1,000 cases occur each year in the United States.
Since that diagnosis, he has battled on through 26 rounds of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries, including replacements of his femur and knee, and partial replacements of his hip and tibia.
But earlier this year, doctors found that the cancer had returned.
Talen’s parade was arranged through the help of Dreams Come True, a Jacksonville-based organization that works to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.
So Wednesday, more than two dozen members of Jackson’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps lined up, sabers in hand, and Tigers cheerleaders jumped in formation by the side of the road as the family rolled past in a golf cart adorned with the black and gold balloons of his favorite sports team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Also joining the parade were members of the Roar of the Jaguars, the NFL team’s cheerleading squad, posing for photos with Talen following the parade’s conclusion.
Jackson principal Truitte Moreland paid tribute to Talen’s commitment to school, describing him as a strong student and a positive influence for his peers at the school.
“To be around our friends, to be around our loved ones, to take every day as a true gift. He’s an inspiration,” Moreland said. “To have everyone come out, hopefully it means that they’re hearing that, that they’re hearing the message that Talen is giving us by example.”