In 2012, Riley and his family were sitting around the table playing Bingo during the Thanksgiving holiday when he sat up straight in his chair looking completely gray. He had a stomach ache the night before so his parents took him to the emergency room at Children’s Medical Center Dallas right away.
He was diagnosed with appendicitis and underwent surgery to remove his ruptured appendix. After some challenges during his recovery from surgery, he went home about two weeks later.
The new year started off strong, but on Valentine’s Day 2013, Riley’s mom Amy received a call from his school informing her that Riley had a large knot on the side of his neck and needed to be picked up as the school nurse suspected he might have mononucleosis or mumps. Riley’s pediatrician referred him to a specialist who, after a number of tests and biopsies, eventually diagnosed him with Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Amy, a pharmacist by trade, immediately reached out to her vast network of health care colleagues for recommendations on where to go for Riley’s care. After much deliberation, she chose Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health℠.
There, Riley met with experts to explore treatment options and was admitted to the hospital for his first of four rounds of inpatient chemotherapy shortly thereafter.
Riley knew he was in good hands, but had one nagging concern: “I just didn’t want to lose my hair,” he says.
Fortunately, Riley responded quickly to treatment, and after just two rounds, his cancer went into remission. He completed his remaining two rounds of treatment, and by June, Riley was home preparing for a fun-filled summer.
Riley’s cancer was in remission for 60 days before he began experiencing severe night sweats and developed a rash during a visit to his grandparents. His mom recognized his symptoms and took him back to Children’s Health for a check-up, where doctors discovered his cancer had returned.
He was readmitted to Children’s Health and began another set of four treatments, this one a little tougher than before. Tiffany Simms-Waldrip, M.D., a hematologist and oncologist at Children’s Health and associate professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern, reviewed Riley’s case and determined his best option for cure was to undergo high dose chemotherapy with an autologous stem cell transplant.
On Nov. 26, 2013, Riley received a stem cell transplant from cells harvested from his own body. He remained in the hospital for another 15 days, but made it home in time for Christmas.
“So many holidays had already been ruined by this awful disease,” says Amy. “So we were so happy to have Riley home in time for Christmas.”
Amy says their family and friends rallied around them during each challenge, bringing meals, cleaning their home and even raising fund towards his treatment.
Riley’s time in the hospital was challenging, but he’s the first to admit it had its bright spots as well, including playing basketball in his hospital room at night and a special surprise visit with Justin Timberlake, one of Riley’s celebrity heroes.
“It was awesome,” Riley says.
Riley’s cancer has remained in remission since his stem cell transplant and he was recently transitioned to the After Cancer Experience program, which is one of only a few programs in the U.S. that monitors children, adolescents and young adult survivors of childhood cancer into adulthood.
He’s excited to continue his junior year of high school and start his college search – and of course is looking forward to Justin Timberlake’s next album.
The Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the best pediatric hospitals in the United States. Learn more about our programs and services.
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