Down one hallway of the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is a set of screens that cycles through quotes. At one point, the screen reads, “Nothing can be done without hope or confidence.”
At just 8 and 12 years old, respectively, Riley and Emily Robyn have both.
Emily and Riley operated a lemonade stand in September to benefit Ellis Fischel. Since cancer has been part of their lives, they wanted to do anything to help.
In July 2013, their grandmother, Diane Heffner, passed away at the age of 65.
She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer almost 13 years prior and underwent chemotherapy for eight years.
There were “a lot of treatments in there … a lot of doctors appointments,” said her daughter, Angie Robyn.
Originally from North Carolina, Heffner spent the end of her life in Jefferson City with her grandchildren, Emily and Riley.
Heffner’s death gave Emily and Riley an idea.
When the local historical society reached out to Angie Robyn about having her daughters sell lemonade during a home tour in their neighborhood, Emily and Riley decided to donate all of the proceeds to Ellis Fischel.
Lemonade and cookies were sold for one dollar. Robyn said it was a beautiful day, and the girls’ sign advertising that the stand was for charity grabbed people’s attention.
“Several of the people that came through knew Mom,” Robyn said. “Obviously (they) knew the girls and knew how close they were (with their grandmother).”
By end of the day, Emily and Riley had sold $217 worth of lemonade and cookies.
“It was a lot of lemonade,” Robyn said.
Robyn said her daughters are a lot like their grandmother.
Emily is tough, hardworking and practical. Riley is creative and the more sensitive of the two.
Heffner’s obituary said she was “known for her thoughtfulness, generosity and avid card-sending.”
Heffner loved Duke basketball and the Kansas City Royals. The last Royals game Heffner went to was on June 22, 2013, against the Chicago White Sox, with Riley and a group of Heffner’s friends.
The game is Riley’s favorite memory of her grandmother.
Kellie Ann Coats has met Emily and Riley only once — the day they donated their $217 to the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.
On that day in September, she got a good sense of the girls’ character.
“Their parents have done a wonderful job of raising them,” Coats said.
Coats is the director of advancement for MU Health Care. Under the scope of advancing the mission of the hospital, Coats often interacts with donors. In the case of Emily and Riley, Coats helped guide the girls in deciding to what area of Ellis Fischel they would donate their money.
After the girls handed over the check and took a picture, Coats headed upstairs with them to a videoboard down an Ellis Fischel hallway. They watched videos of the different segments of the hospital that their donation could go to.
“I wanted to give them a choice because we are donor-centered here at MU,” Coats said.
It came down to two: research and patient assistance. Emily wanted patient assistance. Riley wanted research.
“The girls had a very, I feel, mature discussion about the two options,” Coats said. “It was very interesting being there to facilitate that discussion.”
Ultimately, they picked patient assistance, which includes helping patients buy wigs and securing rides for patients to their treatment sessions. It was a topic Heffner was sensitive about, Robyn said.
After making the donation, the girls went to visit Rod Nolke, a former physical education teacher they had at West Elementary School. Nolke was undergoing cancer treatment at Ellis Fischel at the same time.
In a letter to Ellis Fischel explaining her and her sister’s donation, Emily wrote: “Rod Nolke is currently at the MU hospital in your wing, and I need you guys to take very good care of him because he means a lot to me.”
Emily also wrote in the letter, “I know that by your terms $217 isn’t a lot, but it’s more than you had before, and I know you have the cure in you!”
Though they decided to donate their money to patient assistance, Coats talked to the girls about making another donation next year to research — the area Riley wanted. They plan to do so.
“They’ll be back,” Robyn said.