Robby Strausser, 27, was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He's run out of sick days, and his colleagues have offered to donate theirs to him, but they can't. The teacher's fight to live has now turned into a fight to help others, as well.
Like most, Strausser remembers the big moments in life: graduating from Florida State, marrying his wife Becky, the birth of their toddler Natalie, and his first day teaching first graders at Oakcrest Elementary.
He also remembers one specific day last summer.
"They found a mass on my pancreas in August," said Strausser.
Five months later, doctors determined the mass was cancerous.
"Because everybody and their brother here at Shands and even back home in Marion County said there's no way that a 27-year-old guy could have pancreatic cancer," said Strausser. "The youngest person they've dealt with here, even at Shands, was 50."
Strausser is determined to beat cancer; even if it's just to see his little girl, Amelia.
"My wife is ready to pop any day now," said Strausser. "We have another little one on the way."
On top of their growing family, add growing hospital bills, and less income. Strausser has used all of his sick days, and lost his paycheck. Although his colleagues want to donate their sick days, they can't.
"Since I've run out of days and they've also cut off the insurance," said Strausser. "Right now, we're just using my wife's insurance, so like I said, we're not looking forward to seeing that bill."
Right now, teachers in Marion County can share their sick days with relatives working within the district or use sick days donated in a so-called 'sick pay bank.' Those who donate days may use some sick days for life threatening illnesses. Strausser missed his chance to sign up.
"I had filled out the card,." said Strausser. "I had put it on my desk with every intention of turning it in, and I had gone to the hospital and it just was too late by then."
A recent state law allows workers in Florida to share their sick days with colleagues, but each school district must adjust its policy.
A district spokesperson said they are looking into changing the policy, but added that it'll take time. A policy will first have to be drafted, then voted on, and if approved, it'll be added to teacher contracts. From start to finish, the process could take at least two months.
'I don't even want this for me," said Strausser. "I want it for everyone else who doesn't have a chance, who doesn't have a family member in the county."
Meantime, teachers, staff, and strangers have stepped up and organized several fundraisers, head shaving auctions, and sold bracelets and t-shirts with Strausser's favorite saying "You'll never walk alone" on them. The saying is also tattooed on Robby's and his dad's legs. In total, the community has raised more than $14,000 in less than a month.
"He shut down the bowling alley," said Bob Strausser, Robby's father. "Kids found out he was at the Ocala bowling alley and all these people gathered around him and said a prayer."
"I knew that I always had people that loved and cared about me, but man, this has just been above and beyond," said Robby.
Beyond just one man's struggle to a system some say needs change.
"The number one overall thing they tell me is you gotta stay positive," said Robby Strausser. "That's something cancer does not take away."
Marion County School Board Chairman Ron Crawford must first recommend at a meeting that the sick time policy be changed. No exact date has been set for that to happen, but we're told he is researching and working on the issue.
On the web: Strausser's Facebook Support Group