For 10-year-old Riley and his family, the summer was not the break they were hoping for. In early June, Kacy and Cody got the news – their son had cancer, specifically a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They were understandably sad and hoping it was all a bad dream. But from the beginning, the family decided they were going to face cancer head on and focus on staying positive.
“Since day one Riley has been very chill about this entire process and he still is. He has been incredibly mature about everything and has not been phased in the least. He is so incredibly intelligent and sees this as a bump in the road and only that,” describes Kacy.
No signs of being sick
A few months before Riley’s diagnosis is when Kacy and Cody noticed a large lump under Riley’s chin.
At first, doctors thought his salivary glands were blocked. But when the lump didn’t go away after a few days of at-home treatment, he had an ultrasound and then a CT (computed tomography) scan which showed two enlarged lymph nodes under his chin. The family was referred to the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) and facial plastic surgery program at Children’s Minnesota where it was determined the best course of action was to remove the masses surgically.
“This entire time Riley had zero discomfort or infectious symptoms. At this point he had no signs of being ‘sick,’” remembers Kacy.
Processing the diagnosis
One week after surgery to remove the enlarged lymph nodes Kacy got a voicemail from Children’s Minnesota – but it wouldn’t play. Then came a text message that brought out a lot of emotions – it said Riley had an appointment the next day at the cancer and blood disorders clinic at Children’s Minnesota. Seconds later, Cody, who’s an anesthesiologist, came in the door and confirmed the test results showed their son had lymphoma.
Telling your child they have cancer is a talk no parent wants to have. Kacy and Cody picked up Riley from golf camp and took him to his favorite restaurant. Cody explained the diagnosis. “We all teared up. But we quickly explained that his cancer was treatable, and we all agreed we can be sad but we’re not going to have a pity party. Riley agreed and has remained rock solid,” says Kacy.
The next day, the family met with Dr. Lane Miller, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Minnesota who specializes in childhood lymphoma. He told the family that Riley’s type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is very responsive to treatment. That made the family breathe a little bit better.
“When we met Riley, he had stage 2 nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare but well-described lymph node cancer occasionally seen in children this age. His cancer cells expressed a protein target responsive to immunotherapy, which thankfully allowed us to develop a treatment plan with reduced amounts toxic chemotherapy and no radiotherapy whatsoever. This young man was ready from day 1 for whatever it would take to treat this disease and rolled with the entire confusing, unfair, and intimidating process with such remarkable bravery and composure,” describes Dr. Miller.
After a PET scan showed his other lymph nodes were free of cancerous cells, the treatment plan began – three rounds of a 21-day cycle of chemotherapy and immunotherapy infusions as well as oral steroids.
The family went through many ups and downs during treatment. The second cycle had to be postponed because his white blood cell count was too low. When Riley’s sister Taylor woke up with a fever one day, Kacy and Cody decided it would be best to keep the siblings separated so Kacy and Riley stayed in the family’s camper.
“It actually was pretty nice. He is at the age where he prefers friend time, so I soaked up every minute. We hiked, had a bonfire, caught fireflies, jumped on the trampoline and then watched for falling stars,” recalls Kacy.
In early August, the family got the news they were hoping for – his PET scan results looked great and showed no signs of cancer cells. He was cancer free! Riley still needed to complete the treatment plan as the final infusions are meant to seek out and rid his lymph nodes of any lingering undetectable lymphoma cells. He had his final infusion in mid-August, and he will have routine appointments for bloodwork and scans over the next couple of years.
Hero of the Month
Near the end of his treatment, the care team surprised Riley – Children’s Minnesota nominated him to be one of the Correa Family Foundation’s ‘Heros of the Month’ at the August 27 Minnesota Twins game. He met and got autographs from players and got to watch the game with his family right behind home plate at Target Field!
Make a difference
Shine Bright for Kids is a fundraiser for the cancer and blood disorders program at Children’s Minnesota, which cares for more than 3,500 kids— from babies to young adults — every year. Your support can make a difference for patients living with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, like Riley. Your gift supports everything from special therapies to life-saving research to mortgage and rent relief. Donate now at childrensmn.org/shinebrightforkids.