Make us your home page
Instagram

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

(View our Privacy Policy)

Robinson's volleyball team bonds with a special fan

TAMPA — Ellie Shaw, 5, and her 3-year-old sibling Jayda splashed in the family pool on a blistering hot July day. Ellie did the teasing; Jayda played the mischievous role.

Sisters to the bone.

Ellie was a snapshot of the giggly kid we all used to be.

A whirlwind of smiles and curls, she lights up every room, despite being barely tall enough to reach a kitchen counter.

Then came Aug. 24.

"(Ellie) wasn't feeling well at all," her mother, Melinda Shaw, said. "The ER doctors told us something was very wrong. Very wrong."

A few days later, Hepatosplenic gamma delta T-cell lymphoma was the official diagnosis. A mouthful for a pre-med student, let alone a little girl with only a few days short of kindergarten.

Only 45 documented cases of Ellie's cancer exist. Only three of those afflicted were under 21, with Ellie being the youngest by far. Doctors never spoke to the family about survival chances but after Googling the rare disease, Melinda's stomach dropped.

10 percent.

"Terror and panic set in," she said.

Raging fevers complicated the first round of chemo. Ellie's body was also rejecting the blood transfusions and her spleen was rapidly expanding. She was rushed in for emergency surgery to have it removed, a risky procedure.

"There was no other option at that point," Melinda said. "The doctors said there was a huge chance she could bleed out on the (operating) table, but it was a risk we had to take."

The four-hour surgery felt like four days for Melinda. When the doctors extracted Ellie's spleen, it was 10 times the size of a normal child's.

She pulled through the surgery. Another bullet dodged.

• • •

Christen Garcia has organized an event dedicated to cancer awareness each of the four seasons she's been the Robinson volleyball coach. Every player honors a person affected by the disease. Rebecca Hill heard about Ellie through biology teacher Tiffany Oliver, a family friend of the Shaws.

Hill and sister Laura, also on the team, already had their own cancer story. Their mother is a 20-year breast cancer survivor. Laura got mom; Rebecca chose Ellie.

"My mom got cancer before I was born so if she didn't make it, I wouldn't be here," said Rebecca Hill, the Knights' senior captain and setter. "So it made hearing Ellie's story even more personal."

Ellie was in between rounds of chemo but able to attend the Oct. 17 Dig Pink tournament. She cheered when the Knights scored and got excited every time Hill touched the ball.

"I told her that day I was playing for her," Hill said. "(Ellie's) impacted my life just as much, if not more, than I have hers."

For one night, the little girl with the longest of odds was a normal 5-year-old having the time of her life. But something else happened that October day.

The Knights fell in love with Ellie.

"She stole our hearts instantly," Garcia said. "I'm getting chills just talking about it."

There was a pep rally at Robinson last week and Ellie was the guest of honor. The team designed special booths, held a bake sale, auctioned off donated items and created T-shirts to raise money for the Shaws. They presented a Frozen-themed gift basket to Ellie, who ate cotton candy, got her face painted and listened to the Knights' band.

"Ellie talks about Rebecca and the team every single day," Melinda said. "She woke up yesterday and said she dreamed about Rebecca and (Laura)."

Before the Knights' (23-9) sweep of Naples Lely on Tuesday, which sends them on to the state semifinals Saturday against visiting Orlando Bishop Moore (25-4), the team wrote inspirational words on the chalkboard, including "Do it for Ellie."

The chemo has been successful since Ellie's splenectomy and she is in clinical remission. The first hurdle cleared, the next is a bone marrow transplant. The Shaws travel to All Children's Hospital later this month.

"The doctors have said all along that if we could just get (Ellie) to transplant, that they would feel better," Melinda said. "They believe her chances are very good from that point and even better with a sibling donor."

Ellie only had to look on the top of her bunk bed for a perfect match. It's Jayda.

"Jayda keeps saying she wants to give sissy her bone marrow to make her feel better," their mother said. "She's very protective of Ellie. (Jayda) knows it's to save (Ellie's) life."

Sisters to the bone.

State semifinals

2 p.m. Saturday

7A: Plant at Tallahassee Leon

6A: Mitchell at Ocala Forest

5A: Orlando Bishop Moore at Robinson

4A: Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons at Berkeley Prep

3A: Carrollwood Day at Gainesville PK Yonge

2A: Tampa Bay HEAT at Ocala St. John Lutheran

To support Ellie

The site www.bravellie.com features items for sale, information on upcoming fundraisers, an updated blog and ways to contact the Shaw family.

Robinson's volleyball team bonds with a special fan 11/04/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 7:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tiger Woods arrested in Florida on DUI charge, released

    Public Safety

    Tiger Woods was arrested early Monday on a DUI charge in Jupiter, Florida, and spent nearly four hours in a county jail before he was released.

    Tiger Woods has been arrested on a DUI charge in Florida.
  2. After state, academics will trump athletics for King ace Brian Lee

    Baseballpreps

    TAMPA — Brian Lee can still see himself on the pitcher's mound at Venice High School. Four years ago he was a freshman left-handed reliever just trying to keep King's state championship dreams alive.

    Pitcher Brian Lee participates in a practice at King High in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, May 26, 2017.
  3. Five cool things to do when it's hot outside

    Outdoors

    Summer is not officially here, but it may as well be. School is out, vacations are coming, and it's time to enjoy the outdoors. Don't buy the argument that summer in Florida is too hot to get outside. There is plenty to do, and we'll prove it. Here are five cool things to do outdoors during another hot summer.

    Rainbow Springs State Park is a registered natural landmark. Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon is one several state parks with natural swimming holes in Florida. (Octavio Jones | Times)
  4. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win

    Blogs

    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.
  5. Rays journal: Erasmo Ramirez ready to start a day after closing game

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Erasmo Ramirez was on the mound to finish Sunday's 15-inning marathon win over the Twins and will start tonight's game against the Rangers.

    The Rays’ Erasmo Ramirez throws 12 pitches in the 15th inning against the Twins to earn the save then says after the game that he’s ready to make his scheduled start against the Rangers: “My arm feels good.”