Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Sports

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.

Comments
Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

The Tampa Bay Lightning will announce their full 2018-19 schedule on Thursday, but the league announced each home opener Wednesday, with Tampa Bay playing host to the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Saturday, Oct. 6.The Lightning will know their ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida State will host Florida Gators to open this basketball season

Florida State will host Florida Gators to open this basketball season

For the first time in almost two decades, Florida and Florida State will open the men's basketball season against each other.The Seminoles will host UF on Nov. 6, both programs announced Wednesday morning. FSU has won four in a row in the series."Any...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Times sports columnist Tom Jones joins Rick Stroud to discuss Kevin Kiermaier's return to the Rays, whether Victor Hedman should win the Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman, Bucs expectations for this season and Barry Trotz's next c...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: Kaliah Henderson, Jr., RobinsonFirst teamG Brylee Bartram, Jr., Seffner ChristianG Jacquelyn LeVay, Sr., AlonsoF/G Tarriyonna Gary, So., Carrollwood DayF Tiasia McMillan, So., Carrollwood DayC Kendal Cheesman, Fr., PlantSecond tea...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Pinellas County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Pinellas County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: November Morton, Sr., CountrysideFirst teamG Paris Williams, Sr., LakewoodG Summer Quigley, Jr., East LakeF Toi Smith, Sr., LakewoodF/G Carrie Lee, Sr., ClearwaterC Macey Zeh-Arndt, So., LakewoodSecond teamG Misha O'Neal, Sr., Cou...
Updated: 4 hours ago
How the Rays really won Tuesday’s game over Astros

How the Rays really won Tuesday’s game over Astros

There was some interesting inside baseball elements that factored into the late innings of Tuesday's 2-1 Rays win.* First, on Matt Duffy's double off reliever Hector Rondon to lead off the eighth.Duffy said he doesn't like "to guess" what a pitcher i...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier returns, with energy to spare

Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier returns, with energy to spare

HOUSTON — Energy.That's what Kevin Kiermaier said he felt he'd provide most in rejoining the Rays Tuesday against the Astros after missing two-plus months recovering from thumb surgery."I like to think I bring energy on both sides of the ball, ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays journal: Blake Snell outlasts Justin Verlander in 2-1 win

Rays journal: Blake Snell outlasts Justin Verlander in 2-1 win

HOUSTON — The starting pitcher walked seven over seven otherwise solid innings Tuesday. That seemed weird enough for the Rays. Then the next pitcher they brought in was the one who started Monday's game. Even more bizarre.And then there was thi...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is talking from a hotel room in Las Vegas and admits he's a little jet-lagged."Actually, very jet-lagged," Hedman says.That's what happens when you take a flight from Sweden to the party capital of the world.But he knows exactly what he...
Updated: 8 hours ago