Riggan was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on February 12th, 2014. The day before, he was taken to his doctor after he had complained about his jaw hurting. He had never had an ear ache before and his family just thought that maybe, at age four, he was having one and didn’t know how to verbalize that. After the doctor checked him out, she reported that other than a low grade fever, she couldn’t find anything wrong with him. She suggested they do a blood test just to be sure she wasn’t missing something. Not long after blood had been drawn, she came back into the room informing his family to quickly return home, pack a bag, and head to the emergency room at OHSU as soon as possible. The blood results indicated a low platelet count and a dangerously low Hemoglobin count – so low in fact that she was surprised he was functioning.
Riggan’s mom called her husband who immediately left work. I contacted a friend who agreed to take care of the older children and headed home to pack a bag, not having any idea of what would be learned in just another day. After arriving at OHSU, Riggan was immediately placed in isolation and given a blood transfusion. After more blood was drawn for future testing, he was moved to the pediatric oncology ward at Doernbechers Children’s Hospital. Up to that point, no one had used the word “cancer” yet and minds were full of “what ifs” and questions no one wanted to ask out loud.
Riggan slept through most of this as the medical staff continued to do what they needed to do to make him comfortable. The next day, the doctors came to his room feeling confident in a diagnosis after reviewing all the blood work they had gathered. They led the family into a conference room and it was then that they finally were able to confirm that Riggan had been diagnosed with Leukemia. As a range of emotions rolled over and the journey of processing this life changing news hit home, the doctors began to educate on the reality of this disease and specifically the type of Leukemia that Riggan had in comparison to other types out there. The doctors promised that they would not only take good care of Riggan but also spend lots of time making sure the emotional health of the family was looked after. The family met with doctors for over an hour that day and almost every day to follow for the next two weeks, learning about Riggan’s treatment and how to best care for him for the next three and a half years – the duration of normal treatment for boys with ALL.
On that first day, three and a half years sounded like an eternity – nearly impossible to even think that far ahead in that moment. But here they are – just two months away from being DONE! In a blink of an eye, those years have flown by. And while there were tough days and hard months and, if we’re being honest, lots of time spent in prayer battling the worry and fear, Riggan has been the toughest and bravest little man around.
The first few months of treatment were the most difficult as Riggan endured the hardest rounds of chemo and steroids right away. Steroids are a little gross. With these, he experienced weight gain, bloating, mood swings, and food cravings like you would not believe. For one solid month bowls of food would need to be left by his bed as he would wake up multiple times a night, hungry for pretzels, macaroni, and cheese pizza. During this first month Riggan was on “house arrest,” as his family called it, unable to leave the house and unable to have visitors very often, and only if they were healthy and properly sanitized. During this time Riggan had very little energy and spent a lot of time watching movies or reading books. He needed to be carried anywhere he went because the nerve damage in his feet (a side effect of one particular type of medicine) made his feet hurt and his legs tired.
Despite all of this, Riggan handled his treatment well, celebrating every new round of chemo with cake as a way to find something to be thankful for. This helped the family and made it seem like they were getting closer to the end goal of being cancer-free. It is hard to say how many rounds of chemo Riggan went through in those first six months but every single one was a little different. For the first few months, Riggan (in pre-school at that time) couldn’t attend school, but as soon as he was off isolation and his counts were high enough, he visited as much as he could.
Summer came and Riggan was home and indoors for most of it in isolation. However, he was allowed to take one vacation to watch his daddy rodeo in Montana. On another round of steroids at the time, he requested a plain hamburger patty for EVERY single meal of the trip . Riggan’s dad has been a rodeo cowboy since he was in high school and Riggan definitely got that “cowboy gene.” We say that because never once has Riggan shed a tear when his port has been accessed. Never has he had trouble swallowing his pills. Never has he gotten sick from chemo. It really is amazing how good his little body has handled this and what an amazing brave attitude he has had throughout the process.
Now that Riggan is just three months away from the completion of his 3.5 year treatment, he is looking forward to not having to take medication every night, getting to play some contact sports, and having much more energy. Currently, Riggan is a lively, happy 1st grader who loves Minecraft, playing with legos, and playing with his friends. We are so thankful for how God has blessed and protected Riggan throughout this process, for the people and organizations like Mascots for a Cure that have come into our lives throughout the last three years, for the support of our community, for advances in medical research that allow children like Riggan to get better, and for good health and a long happy future ahead.