Twelve year old Riley has been fanatical about sport since he could walk, and growing up he has rarely been seen without a football in his hand. He loves to watch most sports, but his passion lies in playing team sports.
Riley plays both AFL football and cricket for Mitcham, plus basketball for the Blackburn Vikings. So, when Riley was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia by clinicians at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in May 2022, it was no surprise that the Mitcham sports clubs rallied around Riley and his family.
“When Riley returned from a school camp, we noticed his lymph glands were very swollen in his neck. We initially thought he had a viral infection, so we took him to our local GP, where the doctor did some blood tests,” said Claire, Riley’s mum.
Once the results were received, Claire and her husband Damien were told to take Riley straight to the Emergency Department at the RCH. He underwent additional testing and was promptly admitted.
Riley spent the next 15 days in Kookaburra, the cancer ward at the RCH, where he kicked off phase one of his treatment. In the first few months, Riley needed 20 transfusions, including 11 platelet and nine blood transfusions.
When the time came for Riley to shave his head following a course of chemotherapy, his incredible Mitcham Under 12 teammates wanted to shave their heads in solidarity and as a fundraiser. The boys reached out to Riley’s family to see where they would like the funds go and Claire thought they could use this opportunity to raise funds for the RCH, since they were so grateful for the expert care and support they received at the hospital. This is how the Great Shave for Riley came to be in July 2022.
The fundraising goal was set at $500, a lofty yet achievable target for the kids. The local football and cricket clubs got involved and held an event. Many of the Under 12 team, along with their siblings, spent the day of the Great Shave for Riley rattling tins and collecting donations from the community at large.
Senior player mentors, including the Under 12 team’s mentor and the captain of the seniors’ team, also went as far as auctioning off their heads for a shave, adding greatly to the final tally. In addition, local barbers and a hairdresser donated their time to shave the heads.
“We were so grateful and fortunate both the Mitcham sports clubs encouraged and supported our Great Shave. Raising just over $13,000 was way beyond our initial goal of $500,” said KJ, a close family friend and fellow parent of an Under 12 player.
Claire said she is “completely overwhelmed” by the support of the incredible Mitcham community.
“Riley’s teammates, along with the Mitcham sports club, have blown us away with their fundraisers as well as blood drives. The amount of awareness this has raised has been incredible, and we are very proud of the comradeship Riley’s teammates have shown. These boys and their families have all known each other since AusKick days,” said Claire.
Riley is currently in week 17 of a 120 week treatment plan; he has been responding well to treatment and the goal is to keep him in remission. The treatment cycle for his type of condition is another 103 weeks. Riley is currently attending Day Oncology at the RCH once a week.
“It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint, however showing his true positive spirit and incredible go-getter attitude and nature, Riley is taking charge of his personal treatment journey when he can. On the days he feels great and strong, he’s even walking and jogging a few laps around our Mitcham club oval. Plus he’s managed a few days here and there at school” said Claire.
Claire expressed they will spend the rest of their years trying to give back where they can to the RCH.
“We would also like to thank the RCH for their incredible work looking after Riley. We’ve seen first-hand that the RCH is full of permanent superheroes. We are very lucky to live in this amazing state where this level of treatment is available to get Riley back on that field and court as soon as we can.”