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: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you heard "It's Time" a year ago. You certainly heard this Imagine Dragons song on FM radio -- it was, reported Rolling Stone, "the biggest rock hit of the year." The band's first full CD, "Night Visions," sold 6 million copies, the biggest debut for a new rock band in six years. "It's Time" was the most streamed song of 2013 on Spotify.
Here's an acoustic version:
A foot-stomper, yes? And a statement of major affirmation. The singer is "packing my bags and giving the academy a rain check." He knows what's ahead isn't pretty: "The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell." But he won't look back. Which brings us to the chorus:
It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger, but then,
I'll admit, I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am.
I went to the message boards to read why this song is so important to the band's fans. I was blown away by the personal identification. Like this:
My father thinks that if I move out and move on with my life, it's going to change who I am but deep down inside, I'll always be same person. I just need to turn the page and start a new chapter of my life. I absolutely love this song, it tells the listeners a lesson that no matter where life takes you, you don't have to change...
It's about growing up and following your heart. Having to walk your own path and letting the people you love follow theirs without holding them back or letting them hold you back. Forgetting about school if it doesn't make sense. Forgetting about a crappy job. In the process of reaching for them we make the hero's journey, going out into the world, telling ourselves we haven't changed despite enormous growth. As time goes on though the relationships begin to break down slowly, each person has grown beyond the place they started.
Several put themselves in the head of Dan Reynolds, the band's lead singer and the song's writer. Reynolds, seventh of nine children, was raised as a Mormon in Nevada. At 19, he began a two-year Mormon mission in Nebraska. When he returned to Brigham Young University, he decided to drop out and start a band. "A lot of emotions probably go with that," a commenter wrote. "And some of those emotions are in this song. People might even call your decision-making ability into question. And you might wonder if they're right."
Playing a song over and over -- that's not me. But I was so pumped by the power of "It's Time" I wanted to know everything about Imagine Dragons. And that's how I met Tyler Robinson.
Tyler lived in Salt Lake City. He was a Mormon. He was looking forward to undertaking his mission. At 16, he was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that ravaged his bone marrow. He was Stage 4, but he began treatment. At 17, after a year and a half of chemo, he was declared cancer free.
He loved Imagine Dragons. He met the band. He bonded with them, and they bonded with him.
And then he sang "It's Time" with Dan Reynolds at a concert in a small club.
It's a homemade video. Blurry. Shaky. Really awful. If it weren't the best video I saw last year -- if it weren't the best video I've seen in a lot of years -- I'd never ask you to watch it. But I do insist. (If time is pressing for you, start at 2:00.)
What you'll see: Dan Reynolds calls Tyler on stage. They sing "It's Time" together, arms locked, heads touching. And Tyler, bald but cancer free, shouts out the chorus.
The cancer returned. Tyler Robinson died at 18. The band and his family started a foundation.
You can see this video and cry for the loss. That's valid. I see something else. Triumph. Fulfilment. Completion. Tyler Robinson loved a song that affirmed him, and he got to express everything he believed with the people who created it. He was one lucky kid.
What's my point?
Start with Dan Reynolds, talking about the origin of the song:
I wrote it during a very hard time in my life. I had dropped out of college, and I was just sitting down at my computer, and I came up with this rhythm. And the words just wrote themselves. I knew I had something special coming.
When a song is most honest and most raw, that's when you know you're doing something right. A lot of my favorite artists are able to be in touch with their problems and put it through melodies. It happens all the time with bands.
What this says to me: If you want to make a connection, you have to get real, you have to be real. Everything follows from that. Is it risky to be that exposed, that sincere? Not at all. Because all the safety is at the edge.
It happens all the time in bands. And elsewhere: in the notebooks and laptops of people who make something out of nothing. And, maybe, on web sites. So that's my goal for the year: to ignore the official culture, if necessary, and find the people who make me cry and hope and believe. And then beat the drums for them. And get a little bit bigger. And never/always changing who I am.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]
Follow Jesse Kornbluth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HeadButler