Team Tessa: Friends, family hold fund-raisers for Dakota Ridge grad

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By AJ Vicens

A basketball game unfolded Dec. 19 at the Dakota Ridge High School gym, but thoughts of winning or losing were eclipsed by concern for a graduate facing a devastating disease.

Some players wore black. Some wore white. But they all were part of the same team: Team Tessa.

Tessa Paprocki, 28, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer Oct. 27, days after giving birth to her son Landon. Her friends and family organized the basketball fund-raiser, complete with thousands of dollars worth of items in a silent auction and concessions, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Tessa.

The effort netted just over $11,000.

Katie Green graduated with Tessa in 1998 as part of Dakota Ridge's inaugural senior class. She never dreamed that 10 years later she would be coordinating a fund-raiser for her friend.

"This fund-raiser has been my therapy," Green said. "It's given me something to focus my attention on."

"I've been her friend for 16 years," Green said. "We talk every day. This was supposed to be the happiest time in her life, and then this happened. It was a big shock to all of us, but we'll get through it."

It was the second fund-raiser for Tessa. The first, on Nov. 16, raised more than $23,000.

Amy Bartleson, Tessa's older sister, said planning for the fund-raisers began shortly after the diagnosis.

"She hasn't been able to work," Bartleson said, noting that her sister would soon be going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment. "I think work is going to be out of the question for a while."

Deana Paprocki, Tessa's mother, is trying to stay strong for Tessa. But her daughter's cancer has hit her hard.

"It was a big shock at first," Paprocki said, fighting back tears. She said doctors initially told her daughter she had a clogged milk duct in her breast, but the Paprockis suspected it was something more as the pain spread through the entire right side of Tessa’s body.

Deana Paprocki said doctors finally told the family it was cancer. Then came even more devastating news: The cancer was at an advanced stage.

"But we have to push forward," Paprocki said. "We have to be positive. We have to be her support."

Paprocki said she has moments when the situation is overwhelming. "We all do," she said, referring to family members. "But we have to be there for each other, and help each other through this."

Paprocki said her daughter's situation should serve as a warning that people should be advocates for their own health.

“Get a second opinion; get a third opinion," Paprocki said, stressing the need for women to get tested for breast cancer despite their age.

"Don't let doctors use your age as a crutch," she said. "That's bull."

Tessa Paprocki didn't want to comment for this story. Her mother said she was "overwhelmed" during the first fund-raiser but was a little more prepared for the second.

"I think it's finally sunk in that people care for her," Paprocki said.

Ed Hartman attended the Dec. 19 fund-raiser. His children attended Dakota Ridge, graduating in 1999 and 2002. He's never met Tessa, but he knows of her through his niece.

"It's sad this has happened," Hartman said.

Hartman said he was impressed by the turnout at the first fund-raiser and was equally impressed when more than 100 people turned out for the second.

"I think it's great," he said, praising the organization and success of the Dec. 19 fund-raiser. "It's a sad situation for a girl that young to go through. All we can do is pray and hope she pulls through it."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

Pitch in:

A fund has been set up to support Tessa Paprocki. Donations can be made to:

Tessa Paprocki's Hope Fund

American National Bank

3033 E. 1st Avenue

Denver, CO 80206