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Cancer's immortal archenemy: compassion

By SHARON TUBBS, City Times Editor
Published February 8, 2008


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Rob and Leslie Killette grew up in South Tampa.

They root for the Bucs. They go to Gasparilla. They graduated from Plant High.

"We're never leaving," Rob said. "We'll be here forever."

They got married in 1992 and had two kids, Robby and Tyler Anne. Today, Rob, 40, is a sales manager for Sprint; Leslie, 37, is a prekindergarten teacher.

They're the couple who can't have a small cookout because they can't invite So-and-So without asking So-and-So, and on and on.

So when the sad news came, it quickly filtered through the community, into schools, churches, youth athletic leagues.

Just 10 years old, Robby Killette had cancer.

The fifth-grader was getting ready last fall for his day at Mabry Elementary School, where his mom also works, when she noticed that his left jaw was swollen.

At first, doctors thought he had an infected gland or something, but for weeks none of their remedies worked. Robby felt okay, so he kept going to school, playing video games and catching for his Little League team.

Then came the CAT scan, the biopsy and finally, on Oct. 18, the diagnosis: non-Hodgkins lymphoblastic lymphoma.

"For me, it was like watching a daytime television show where they were telling someone (else) this," Rob Killette said last week.

They told their son he was sick.

"It's a bad disease," is how Robby explains it. "I was in shock, but I was okay because I knew I would get through it."

That's when the friends, the neighbors and even mere acquaintances came in.

They'd knock on the door on Clark Avenue and offer pots and casserole dishes filled with homemade meals - "lots of spaghetti," Robby says.

At first, "I didn't want them," Leslie said of the generosities. "We didn't need pity, sympathy."

Maybe so, but she soon realized they did need help.

Doctors started Robby on chemotherapy just days after the diagnosis. The treatments weakened his immune system, making it unsafe for him to go to school with other kids.

Leslie quit her job to stay home, and a teacher now visits twice a week. At one point, the Killettes traveled three or four times a week to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, so Leslie had little time to cook.

The dinners people gave became as valuable as the gift certificates, gas cards and phone calls of support.

Robby's name circulated through prayer lists and groups with members at churches like Christ the King Catholic and Palma Ceia United Methodist.

Shelley Sharp stood in a prayer circle for Robby one morning before school started. Had to be more than 50 people there, she said.

Sharp is public relations chairwoman for Mabry's PTA. She doesn't know the Killettes that well, but Robby is in the same grade as her son and she has seen the A student in action.

"This child, he's everything," she said. "He's a good student. He's a good athlete. And most importantly, he's kind, he's compassionate."

 

At this stage in Robby's treatment, he doesn't have to go to the clinic as much. Leslie wanted to bring some "normalcy" to their lives, so she started cooking again, including one of her signature meals - breaded steak and chicken with rice and black beans - which she hadn't made in months.

But the family still has needs.

Bruce Holland, athletic director for the South Tampa Seahawks football league, helped create the Robby Killette Foundation to manage donations. Holland's son is friends with Robby, so he wanted to help. As part of his efforts, Holland has been organizing a golf tournament fundraiser that takes place Monday in North Tampa. So far, the foundation has raised about $15,000, including money from the tournament, Holland said.

The Killettes lost their second income when Leslie quit her job. She was regarded as a "temporary" employee and didn't get benefits. Each time the family takes Robby to the clinic for a chemo treatment, there's a co-pay. At times, he has had to go several days a week. He has been admitted to the hospital on several occasions, his parents paying a deductible of $250 each time. The bills have added up.

"We were fine (financially) three months ago," Rob says. Now, he's just grateful. The outpouring has been "pretty muchunbelievable," he said.

Family members, lifelong friends and new people they've met in recent months have really been there for the Killettes. "We can't imagine if we didn't live in this community, having to go through this."

The mass in Robby's jaw is gone, but doctors plan to continue the chemo through the year. By fall, the treatments will be less intense and he's expected to be well enough to start sixth grade at Coleman Middle School. Leslie plans to return to teaching at Mabry this fall.

"I just know that he's going to be okay," said his sister Tyler Anne, a high school freshman who's keeping the family legacy at Plant alive.

Once Robby's condition improves, the Killettes say, future donations to the foundation and proceeds from future golf tournaments will benefit other families of children with cancer.

 

 

If you go

Golf for a cause

The first Robby Killette Golf Tournament begins with registration at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club, 5811 Tampa Palms Blvd. E.Walkups are welcome. The shotgun start is at noon; a dinner with awards and raffle, at 6 p.m. For sponsorship and cost information, call Bruce Holland at 310-8820. To learn more about Robby Killette, go to his Web site: caringbridge.org/visit/robbykillette.

 

[Last modified February 7, 2008, 07:48:25]


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