Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes and can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places. Whit Robertson, a Lebanon, Tennessee teen, lived a life marked by care and concern for those around him and truly made a heroic impact.
In November, 2014, Whit received the prestigious honor of becoming an Eagle Scout. His ceremony was a special day for his family and one he had worked hard to reach. The following day, Whit experienced severe headaches, vision loss, and slurred speech. His parents, Neal and Tammy, rushed him to the emergency room at what was then University Medical Center. After a CT scan was done on his brain, he was taken immediately to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital where they learned that he had a brain tumor.
Surgery was done to remove most of the tumor and six weeks later, Whit began radiation treatments five days a week. Neal remembers, “One night soon after we arrived at Vanderbilt, a nurse came by to let us know about the Ronald McDonald room for pediatric oncology patients and their families. I asked myself then, is that who we are? How can that be?”
Though it was a scary time for all of them trying to adjust to this new reality, it was also at this early stage that Whit discussed with his parents a desire to form a team for the annual Sherry’s Run 5K to benefit cancer patients and their families. “He just wanted to do anything he could to help others who were fighting,” says Tammy.
Over the next several months, Whit would face many obstacles, including damage to his vocal chords caused by the surgery. Because of this damage, he went through several bouts of pneumonia that meant he had to be hospitalized. When Whit realized that he would have to spend his prom night in the hospital, close family friends Jennifer Yeatts, Heather Wamble, and Krista Hall went to work planning the best prom night that Vanderbilt Children’s has ever seen; complete with balloons, delicious food, tuxes, and Whit’s closest friends who wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to be there with him.
Though Whit was weak and tired most of the time, he truly had a warrior spirit and was determined to spend as much time enjoying life with his friends and family as possible. Whether it was a trip to Dollywood with the youth group or a trip to Disney World with his family, Whit always found a way to make the best of the moments he had and keep everyone around him laughing. He often played jokes on his nurses or could be found “dancing” to music in his hospital bed.
The type of cancer that Whit had was very rare in someone his age, so researchers at Vanderbilt asked him if he would be willing to take part in a study that could help other kids in the future, and of course, he didn’t hesitate. Whit had dreamed of becoming a pediatrician and now his brother, Ethan, dreams of studying oncology with an emphasis on research. “Ethan was such a big support for Whit. He never complained and was always there for him,” says the Robertsons.
Throughout the summer, Sherry’s Run was able to help the Robertson family with gas and groceries as they spent much of their time either in the hospital or traveling to and from Nashville for treatments. When Whit’s parents explained this to him, he became even more determined to support this cause and decided that he would have the largest team there.
Word quickly spread about Whit’s goal and the registrations for the “Whit’s Warriors” team began to multiply. “Every time I got online and saw a new registration, I would tear up,” says Tammy. As Whit’s team grew, so did his goal. In typical superhero fashion, the Robertsons decided to set a goal of having the largest team in Sherry’s Run history.
The night before the event, Whit’s health took a turn and he had to be hospitalized. This was one of the greatest disappointments for Whit as he had counted down the days to this event. Though he was not able to be there physically, Whit’s warrior spirit certainly came out in the almost 500 team members who showed up, easily making it the largest team in Sherry’s Run history. Many of the team members were from all across the country, but still supported Whit’s team by registering as “sleep-in” participants. Among the team members there that day were Barbara Hallums, Whit’s favorite teacher from Lebanon High School, and Blake Allen, Whit’s best friend.
Like the superheroes Whit loved to watch, he made a big impact on the world. Close family friend Krista Hall said this, “Whit would be so excited that there again is a Whit's Warriors team for Sherry's Run. He loved the idea of helping others going through the same struggle he was. Whit was kind hearted and loved others. In the time since Whit left us, others have been blessed by his memory of giving back. A new gathering place of massive swings around the campfire have been erected at the church camp where he attended. Also other children/teens with cancer and their families have been blessed with gift baskets in Whit's memory to help with their stay in the hospital. Whit's memory will live on forever in our hearts, but will live on in our community through his inspiration of caring for others.”
Whit passed from this life soon after the event on October 14, 2015. “What Whit wanted most was for us to take care of each other,” says the Robertsons. That legacy of care will live on in everyone who knew him.