Toni R. Killefer, preschool teacher

Toni L. Killefer, a former preschool teacher who mentored cancer patients and participated in breast cancer research, died Monday of metastatic breast cancer at her Stevenson home. She was 49.

"I took care of Toni for a number of years, and she had her eyes wide open on this. She always knew what she was up against and she was very straightforward," said Dr. John H. Fetting III, a Johns Hopkins Hospital oncologist. "All she wanted to be was a mom and look out for her children with as little fuss about her illness, and just be able to manage."

"What I would say about Toni is that she taught us all how to live and die. And she did it all right," said Nancy Baker, director of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer Parish Day School, where Ms. Killefer had taught.

The daughter of Don Rasmussen, a printer who lives in Spangle, Wash., and Judith Rasmussen, a tennis coach who lives in Denver, the former Toni Lin Rasmussen was born and raised in Denver. She graduated from Walla Walla High School in Walla Walla, Wash.

She attended Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1989 in international studies.

After college, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked as an account executive for several years for Knoll International, the architectural-inspired furniture designer.

In 1994, Ms. Killefer moved to Baltimore with her then-husband, Brian Killefer, a Deutsche Bank investment banker, and began raising her family. The couple later divorced.

From 2006 to 2012, she worked as a preschool teacher at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer Parish Day School in North Baltimore.

"She loved the children and was very patient with the little ones. For a time, she taught the 2-year-olds, which takes a tremendous amount of patience," said Ms. Baker. "She was loving, understanding and a quiet disciplinarian."

Ms. Killefer was diagnosed in April 2007 with a less common and much deadlier form of breast cancer that produces a protein called HER2 that promotes cancer growth.

"She had a kind of ambivalence with her HER2 regarding the variety of options for treatment. She had to choose a treatment that enabled her to do what she wanted to do with her life," said Dr. Fetting. "And she was always forceful in her response and held my toes to the fire. She challenged me and would ask, 'How much additional benefit will I get from this treatment?'

"She was all about striking the right balance that was beneficial. That was her trademark. Being a patient was a challenge for Toni. We had a great relationship, and I respected her enormously."

"Toni was sick for such a long time, she enjoyed the good times between treatments," said Leslie S. Ries, a lawyer and developer who was a neighbor.

Always adventurous, Ms. Killefer took her three children last summer to Mineral King, Calif., near Sequoia National Park, where they hiked and stayed in a house without running water, electricity or other modern conveniences.

Earlier vacations included trips to Paris, Iceland and Sedona, Ariz., where she and her sister, Teri Rasmussen, who lives in Juneau, Alaska, drove a red convertible through rural Arizona.

And after a trip to Las Vegas, mojitos became her favorite cocktail, said Ms. Ries.

Back home, she mentored cancer patients. An accomplished quilter, she donated a quilt she had made to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Greenspring Station in Lutherville, where it is on display in the patient treatment area. She also participated in three Susan G. Komen walks.

Ms. Killefer displayed her quilts at the Maryland Quilt Expo, Maryland State Fair and Baltimore Quilters Guild events.

She and her sister participated in The Sister Study, a long-term genetic research study that focuses on common themes involving the genetic causes of breast cancer.

"She was a shining star and a very modest person. Her home became something of a salon because people always just wanted to be with her," said Ms. Ries. "It was such a joyful household and she was just an incredible mother."

"She had a tremendous sense of humor, which was quite dry, and she always got right to the point," said Ms. Baker.

"She had a way of distilling complicated issues into simple, poignant and often ironically humorous statements," said Ms. Ries.

Ms. Killefer, an animal lover, turned her Stevenson home into a refuge for animals in need. She was a "foster parent," said Ms. Ries, to two dogs: Oreo, a cockapoo, and Rain, an older yellow Labrador she found abandoned on a farm road last fall. She also had another lab, Hoover.

Ms. Killefer's cancer eventually metastasized to her brain.

"She endured many surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, brain surgery, abdominal surgery and cyber knife treatments that extended her life so she would be able to raise her three wonderful children," said Ms. Ries.

"When it came to the end, she was clear-eyed about that. She saw it coming and no longer wanted to drag it out," said Dr. Fetting. "Cancer was an inconvenient truth for her, and she did not want too much doctoring, thank you very much."

Ms. Killefer was a communicant of Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday.

In addition to her parents and sister, she is survived by two sons, Ian Killefer, 13, and Ned Killefer, 11, both McDonogh School students; a daughter, Ellen Killefer, 16, a student at St. Paul's School for Girls; three half-brothers, Donald Rasmussen of Cheney, Wash., Ronald Rasmussen of Phoenix, Ariz., and Tracy Fenner of Denver; and two half-sisters, Lori Field of Phoenix, Ariz., and Jeni Strom of Bellingham, Wash.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad