Rileigh Hanson, who was diagnosed with cancer last year, has had clean scans for three months.
There’s something different about Winter Park High School senior Rileigh Hanson these days. She’s coming out to football games on Friday nights. She’s jogging periodically, instead of feeling exhausted after just walking from her bedroom to the kitchen. She’s enjoying life.
After a four-month period of treatment for her stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Rileigh has her cancer on the run – and she’s getting closer to remission.
A scan on March 7 revealed Rileigh was NED, or no evidence of disease. Patients must be declared NED for a length of time before they are considered in remission, but it’s a crucial first step that has given the Hanson family a sense of hope and jubilation.
“As long as my scans stay clean, I’m in remission,” said Rileigh, who vividly remembers receiving that wonderful phone call that she was NED.
“There were a lot of tears shed for sure — it’s the best news you could have hoped for,” Rileigh said. “We were in Flippers (Pizzeria), and we were like the only other table in there, and I guess the ladies on the other side of the restaurant heard us screaming. They paid for our lunch.”
Wednesday, Aug. 8, marked yet another milestone for Rileigh: Her three-month scan revealed she was still NED. The cancer appears to be leaving her body, Rileigh’s mother, Shanna, said.
Rileigh hasn’t had a chemo treatment since Feb. 19. She now can taste the food she eats — and thick, tight curls of hair are growing on her head.
“With her type of cancer, it’s a fast growing cancer,” Shanna, said. “If it was going to come back, it most likely would have come back at her three-month scan.”
The 17-year-old’s fight against cancer started when she was getting a sports physical in November 2017 to play water polo. Doctors noticed some enlarged lymph nodes in her neck, but before then, she had no signs of typical cancer.
She went to her general practitioner, who ran some tests on Rileigh that all came back negative.
A CT scan revealed she had an abnormality though, and on Black Friday, Rileigh was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The treatment began in December and ran through March at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
“(Rileigh) is my hero,” Shanna said. “Not only did she keep a positive attitude, but she also helped other children with cancer on the fourth floor at Arnold Palmer. She played with the little kids, talked with them, colored and made their lives seem as normal as possible.”
Rileigh’s white blood cell count is still low, and she has to take antibiotics on the weekends — along with checkups every month and a scan every three months — but the Winter Park High senior feels stronger than ever.
“Now it’s kind of like things are back to normal, so it’s even better,” Rileigh said. “That’s almost better than being celebrated — being treated like a normal person.”
“We have some making up to do for some lost time,” Shanna said. “Schoolwork … trying to choose a college, being a normal high-schooler.”
Today, Rileigh has plenty to look forward to — just like any other high-school senior. She gets to paint her own parking space. She gets to go to prom. She gets to walk at graduation.
“I’m excited, it’s senior year,” Rileigh said. “I couldn’t go to football games or sports events or pep rallies (because of the health risk with a low immune system). I can do that this year, and it makes it even better, because it’s my senior year. It’s the year school spirit is at an all-time high.”
There’s also a lingering spirit of gratitude to everyone that’s been with her on her journey so far, Rileigh said. Every card. Every hospital visit. Every person who’s stopped her in the hallway at school to ask how she’s doing. It all means so much, she said.
Hundreds of wrist bands bearing “#RileighStrong” have spread throughout the Winter Park High community.
“I’m really quite thankful,” Rileigh said. “It shows you who your real friends are at the same time. It also makes us all a lot closer.”
“Rileigh kept a positive attitude and we were surrounded by people that loved and cared for us and wanted the best for us,” Shanna said. “There’s a hashtag in the cancer world that says, ‘No one fights alone.’ It’s true.”