Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Cancer patient and scout leader returns the love of her troop

Layne Neumann's deep, gravelly voice cracked with emotion.

"How much does it cost to put a story in the paper?'' she asked. "A card doesn't get it. They deserve more for what they did for me.''

She wanted so badly to thank everyone, even if that meant detailing an addiction that causes her shame.

"I want to quit,'' she said softly. "I can't.''

Even when she was pregnant. Even now, as she hopes the tumor in her left lung continues to shrink.

She can't put down her Doral Ultra Light cigarettes, her brand of choice for the last 19 years. She switched from Salem Menthols because she thought it would be easier to quit something called "Ultra Light.''

As we talked on the phone, she laughed at the thought, which caused her to cough.

Odds were strong that Layne Neumann would be a smoker. She was born 51 years ago in Greensboro, N.C., the heart of tobacco land. Her parents smoked. Her sisters smoked. So did all her friends. She started at age 13.

She moved to western Pasco County in 1985 and worked at restaurants, including Stacy's Homestyle Buffet, where she met her husband, Paul, now the food service manager at Ridgewood High School. They've been married 20 years and have four children, three still at home.

It was for daughter Caryn, 13, that Mrs. Neumann got involved in Girl Scouts as an assistant troop leader — which is also how she came to call me.

When doctors discovered a baseball-size tumor in December, they immediately zapped it with every weapon in their arsenal. It stripped Mrs. Neumann's strength and left her bed-ridden. The family needed help, and one of the girls in Girl Scout Troop 516, Nikole Roberts, had a brilliant idea.

Two years earlier, as a student at Fox Hollow Elementary, Nikole witnessed fourth-grade teacher Melissa Jarvis battling breast cancer. As she endured treatments, teams of teachers organized dinner for her family each night.

We can do that for Mrs. Neumann, reasoned Nikole, whose mother Kathi Roberts is troop leader. Nikole, 11, now a straight-A student at River Ridge Middle School, drafted a letter to all the parents of her troop and Brownie Troop 828.

In pencil on lined notebook paper with three holes punched down the left side, Nikole described the chemo schedule. She wrote how much everyone loves Mrs. Neumann.

"I know she will think this is a really big deal,'' Nikole wrote, "but it's really not if we all work together. Thank you for listening to me and I hope even one small kid can make a difference.''

Every night for the next seven weeks, the scouts and their parents delivered dinner to the Neumanns, including Caryn, Gary, 16, and Scott, 18, who is about to graduate from Ridgewood High and enter the Marines.

Tuesday evening, the scouts met for the final time this school year in the fellowship hall at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church. Everybody brought a covered dish. After the Pledge of Allegiance, the girls stood around the flag and Mrs. Neumann, frail and 40 pounds lighter since December, handed over a sealed envelope with a card inside expressing her thanks.

"It's not enough,'' she kept saying, eyes wet.

Melissa Jarvis, the Fox Hollow teacher who on June 6 will celebrate a second cancer-free year, embraced her for what seemed like five minutes. The two women stared into each other's eyes and talked of their battles and their bond.

One is a cancer survivor. One still fights. Both hope.

And 20 little girls stand witness to some tough lessons of life.

Bill Stevens is the North Suncoast Editor. You can reach him at (727) 869-6250 or at

Cancer patient and scout leader returns the love of her troop 05/31/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2008 2:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa-based makeup artist disqualified from contest over pro-Trump post


    WICHITA, Kan. — A makeup artist who splits her time between Tampa and Kansas says she won a national contest sponsored by Kat Von D Beauty but was later disqualified because of an Instagram post supporting Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.

    Gypsy Freeman won the contest with this image posted to Instagram. [@facesofgypsy on Instagram]
  2. Flesh-eating bacteria nearly kills Florida man who thought he just had blisters from a hike


    Wayne Atkins thought little of the blisters he had gotten while hiking. He was trekking up and down the 4,500-foot-high Mount Garfield in New Hampshire - a 10-mile round trip - and blisters were no surprise.

    Wayne Atkins thought his blisters were from hiking, but the flesh eating bacteria nearly killed him. [YouTube]
  3. Yes, again: Rays blow late two-run lead, get swept by Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As weekends go, this was a bad one for the Rays. In a word: brutal.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger, foreground, reacts after giving up a home run to Texas Rangers' Carlos Gomez during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 23, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) FLMC116
  4. White House offers muddled message on Russia sanctions legislation


    WASHINGTON - White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that the Trump administration supports new legislation to punish Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression toward Ukraine.

    President Donald Trump at the commissioning ceremony for the USS Gerald R. Ford  at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, July 22, 2017. [New York Times]
  5. 'Stranger Things' is coming back; here's the first trailer


    The nostalgia-heavy, small-screen blockbuster Stranger Things returns to Netflix with a new season on Oct. 27 - just in time for a pre-Halloween weekend binge session.

    A scene from the Stranger Things Season 2 trailer.