SOW: Robert Sheetz December 01, 2008
On the 13th minute of the 13th hour when he was 13 years old, Robert Sheetz said he was
diagnosed with cancer.
“That would be why I don’t like the number 13,” Sheetz said.
The 18-year-old senior at Central High School said he was given a 25 percent chance of surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which attacked his lymphatic system and other parts of his body. In contrast to his athletic build since crafted by wrestling and cross country training for Central’s teams and years of judo, his 13-year-old frame was stick-thin from disease, Sheetz said. He had dropped from 80 pounds to 70 pounds in two weeks, and his skin took on a green-gray pallor.
Sheetz said he received chemotherapy treatment for almost a year to fight the cancer. During that time, he said, his heart stopped four times, and he was declared legally dead when his heart stopped for more than five minutes.
Diane Sheetz, Robert’s mother, said her son’s illness forced her family to re-evaluate priorities.
“Everything was perfect, but then, 2003 happened,” she said. “We spend time differently now.
Now, we make family time.”
Such as a five-week trip Robert took with his father, Richard, to tour Europe, Diane Sheetz said. It was “guy time,” which culminated with a July 4th celebration the two were able to attend aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
“The Navy has a different view of a Fourth of July celebration,” Richard Sheetz said.
It was a much better memory than the July that Robert spent receiving cancer treatments.
“I can remember plucking my hair out in the shower,” he said.
Even then, Diane Sheetz said, her son’s inner tinker and handyman came through.
All her son wanted to play with was Lego building blocks, she said, and he assembled his own computer furnished by the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Sheetz has since graduated to rebuilding a 1967 Mustang left to him by his grandmother, and he said he wants to pursue mechanical engineering after high school.
Diane Sheetz said she doesn’t understand how her son developed such an affinity for math and science, because in 2004 he didn’t understand the subjects at all.
“It’s like someone reinvented Robert,” she said.
These days, the only pain Sheetz said he feels is sore muscles from visits to the gym. It’s not unusual for Robert to do endurance and weight training three times a day in preparation for Central’s wrestling season. He plans to wrestle in the 145-pound weight class this season.
Meanwhile, he is awaiting his latest letter for cross country, he said.
“One characteristic that our society seems to too often overlook is humility. Robert has personified this value,” said Derek Brown, his cross country coach. “He downplays the rough times in his life and focuses on the simple but necessary pleasures of life.”
Sheetz said the struggle with cancer has given him a level of maturity and compassion well
beyond his years.
“I don’t like giving up. I don’t like saying ‘no’ to myself,” he said. “You’re supposed to find a goal and pursue it. My goal was living.”
Parents: Richard and Diane
Preferred college: University of Colorado, Boulder
Where he sees himself in five years: studying mechanical engineering
Favorite music: System of a Down
Favorite TV show: anything anime
Personal hero: don’t have one
I’m most proud of: surviving