Utah teen's life and legacy inspires Imagine Dragons to create foundation

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27 2014 10:00 a.m. MST

Tyler Robinson poses for a picture with his sister, Lauren.

Courtesy of Shannon Robinson

When Tyler Robinson was diagnosed with cancer, he knew it would change his life. When he attended an Imagine Dragons concert at a small Utah venue, he probably didn't know it would change his life — and the lives of many other people — as well.

"Tyler was an ordinary 16-year-old faced with an extraordinary challenge of being diagnosed with a rare soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma — stage 4," Tyler's parents Shannon and Brent Robinson, of Sandy, Utah, wrote in an email to the Deseret News.

"Ordinary" in his parents' words, but Tyler's story and legacy have grown into something much more than ordinary.

Tyler's attitude and perspective began developing early in his life.

When he was 12 years old, Tyler had a staph infection that became septic. He stayed at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City for weeks. At this early age, Tyler began developing the resilience that would help him cope with near-death experiences.

Nine years later, Tyler was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer most often found in children.

Tyler needed 20 rounds of chemotherapy, an operation and six weeks of radiation. He was going to miss his junior year and some of his senior year at Brighton High School.

On the Tyler Robinson Foundation website, a letter from Tyler shares some of his feelings about the experience and how his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strengthened him.

"I remember going home and feeling so mad and depressed. I told my mom that I didn’t want to go through it — not a whole year of it. My bishop came over that night and gave me a blessing. He told me that people who go through hard things either become bitter and angry, or they learn from it and become stronger. He told me that I had a choice to make. From that night on I chose to be the bigger man."

Tyler had a more selfless outlook on life than many other 16-year-olds. The hospital nurses would squabble over who got to take care of him, and he'd give advice to others from his hospital bed. He had a positive perspective even in hardship.

"This year I’ve learned to be patient, and no matter how bad I felt, I pushed through the pain," he wrote in his letter online. "I found that there is no use complaining or feeling sorry for myself — it doesn’t help anything. Always try to stay positive and have faith."

Throughout his treatment, music helped Tyler. He was a fan of the Grammy-award-winning band Imagine Dragons when it started gaining popularity in Provo, Utah. It became one of his favorite bands, and the line "the road to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell" from "It's Time" became meaningful to him.

"He kind of took that on as his theme song," his brother Cole Robinson said. "Just to have that positive attitude of, 'I have to go through this if I’m going to be a better person.’ ”

Not long after Tyler's diagnosis, Tyler's older brother Jesse Robinson let the band know he was bringing Tyler to their concert at the Velour in Provo, Utah. The band dedicated "It's Time" to Tyler. While the band played it, Tyler's brother Jesse lifted Tyler on his shoulders. As Tyler sang along intensely, the band's frontman Dan Reynolds reached out to him, embracing him as they sang together.

In that moment, a bond was forged between Tyler and the band.

"They had never met; they had never talked," Cole Robinson said. "And my other brother Jesse put Tyler on his shoulders, you can see it on the video, and they sang that together. I don’t know if it was just in that moment where Dan, the lead singer, just felt something special. We know we certainly did on our end, but I think it just really stuck with them."

Shannon and Brent Robinson wrote that Reynolds "called the experience 'magical.’” Tyler's brother recorded the moment on his cellphone and shared it on YouTube. The official Imagine Dragons "Demons" music video features the footage.

Tyler and the band kept in contact after the concert and throughout Tyler's chemotherapy. When the treatment was over, Tyler was declared cancer free. But early in 2013, Tyler unexpectedly slipped into a coma and passed away on March 4, 2013, at 17 years old. Doctors discovered the cancer had moved to Tyler's brain.

"They just said there was nothing they could do. It was kind of a blessing, even though it was really hard," Cole Robinson said. "After going through the chemo for a year … it would have been really hard to tell him he had to go through chemo again. So it was kind of a mercy in that sense. It was hard not really being able to say goodbye to him though; he never woke up from the coma. But you know, it’s just like a lot of great people. He’s doing more with his life than I’ll ever do."

After Tyler's death, the band contacted the Robinson family and told them they'd like to create a foundation in honor of Tyler. It became the Tyler Robinson Foundation, and the family hopes Tyler's goodwill and legacy live on through it.

"I hope he looks down and sees that he’s not forgotten," Cole said. "(I hope) that he sees that we’re using this opportunity to its fullest to help other people, and I think he’s really happy about that because he did a lot of good in his 17 years he was here, and we’re just going to use the rest of our lives to continue the impact that he had onto other people. So we’re just taking those years and we’re going to expand them."

Today, the Tyler Robinson Foundation assigns a financial adviser to families affected by childhood cancer. The foundation covers costs such as child care, rent, utility bills and travel costs for treatments.

"Our goal is to ease the burdens on these families during such trying times," Shannon and Brent Robinson wrote.

Everyone that participates in the foundation is a volunteer. The volunteers consist of family members, friends and people who simply heard about the foundation and wanted to become involved.

"We just want to help the families the way that he helped us as a family," Cole Robinson said.

The foundation is growing quickly, despite being less than a year old. Funding comes through concerts, fan donations and contributions from companies. Brighton High School raised and donated $20,000 for the foundation. The Imagine Dragons Fan Club France raised $2,000. Imagine Dragons fans at a Moscow concert threw white roses on stage in Tyler's memory. The band also recently hosted a benefit concert in Tulsa, Okla., on Feb. 22. The band donated 100% of the proceeds to the foundation, according to Fox 23.

Larger organizations have also been involved, according to Cole. Primary Children's Hospital has made it an officially sponsored foundation. Additionally, SAP and Optimal Solutions donated $27,000 to the foundation. SAP is also helping with the website and marketing plan and has made the Tyler Robinson Foundation its preferred charity.

Now, the family moves forward with faith that they'll be with Tyler again.

"I’ve come to a point where I have no other choice but to deepen my faith and believe because, more than anything at this point, I just want to live a good life so I can match what he did with his life and live with him after," Cole said. "His 17 years just wasn’t enough for me to be with him."

Alison Moore is a writer for the Faith and Family sections at DeseretNews.com. She is studying journalism and editing at Brigham Young University. EMAIL: amoore@deseretdigital.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS