On Halloween 2022, after an evening spent trick-or-treating with her family, 2-and-a-half-year-old Riley Cadiz took a tumble and began vomiting. Her mother Stephanie suspected a concussion and Riley’s dad, Gene, took Riley to the emergency room, where doctors told them to keep an eye on her and follow up if her symptoms persisted.
Riley continued to experience occasional vomiting and random fevers. After two weeks, Riley showed inexplicable bruising, petechiae and a distended stomach. “Gene and I had a heightened sense of awareness regarding her health. At that point, I already had a hunch,” Stephanie says. “When you look up those symptoms, leukemia is the first thing that comes up.”
On November 14, 2022, exactly two weeks after she began feeling ill, Riley was diagnosed with high-risk B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Port placement surgery, a bone marrow biopsy and spinal tap took place the following day and chemotherapy began the next.
But Riley’s journey has just begun. She still has two years of treatment ahead of her. “She’s in the thick of it right now; we just started the most difficult phase of front-line treatment, which will last two to three months,” Stephanie says. During this phase, Riley receives a combination of seven different drugs and steroids, which make her feel nauseous, impact her sleep and give her pain in her legs, among other unpleasant symptoms. “She’s only 2; can’t fully explain how she’s feeling. We just know she’s having a rough time,” Stephanie says.
Something Stephanie can count on to make Riley feel better is blood and platelet transfusions, which she will likely receive throughout the course of her treatment. “The color in her face comes back; she’s not as pale anymore,” Stephanie says. “It definitely gives her a boost after she gets a transfusion.”
With Riley’s 3rd birthday approaching, the Cadiz family wanted to celebrate by giving back. “We thought, how can we celebrate in a meaningful way? Which is why we wanted to host a blood drive,” Stephanie says. “Donating blood to other ill patients in Riley’s honor would be the greatest gift to our family.”
They’re also hosting a fundraiser through Alex’s Lemonade Stand to raise money for childhood cancer research. “They’ve been using the same drugs for 30 years. It’s toxic, it’s long and there have been very few new drugs approved. And they were not tested for children,” Stephanie says. “For us, research means strength and hope. You can’t make advancements without it.”
In the meantime, Riley—whose name means “courageous” and “valiant”—is being as brave as a little girl can, given her circumstances. “Riley is showing us just how courageous and valiant she is every day,” Stephanie says.
People need people, make a difference in someone’s life by donating blood.
We must rely on each other for the gift of blood, and patients in your community rely on the generosity of Versiti’s blood donors to help. Please consider scheduling an appointment to donate. If this is your first time, donating blood is quick, easy and relatively painless. And, it is a great way to give back and help patients in your community.