No one should have to face their struggles alone, and one Winter Park Wildcat is thankful for the support of her family, friends and her school when she needs it most.
Winter Park High School students have rallied around junior Rileigh Hanson, who was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November.
Local Wildcats have started selling bracelets to go toward Hanson’s recovery. The purple bands read “#RileighStrong.”
“It was their idea to come up with the wrist bands as part of their fundraising efforts to help Rileigh out,” Rileigh’s mother, Shanna Hanson, said. “I thought that was really cool for a group of teenagers. We feel really blessed — they’ve rallied around her and shown tremendous support, not only through the wrist bands. They’ve come to the hospital, showed up at our house.”
The 17-year-old’s fight against cancer started when she was getting a sports physical in November to play water polo this year. 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 that she had an abnormality though, and on Black Friday, Rileigh was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I was devastated,” Shanna said. “You never want this to happen to your kid. There were no signs of anything beforehand. She’s been perfectly healthy her entire life. The occasional allergy and sinus infection, but other than that, nothing.
“It’s asymptomatic, which is not common for teenagers,” she said. “She doesn’t show any signs of the traditional cancer. ... Had she not gone necessarily to get that sports physical, we could be dealing with a whole different set of issues.”
Rileigh has been in and out of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children for chemotherapy treatments. The entire time, the love and support has continued to come from the Winter Park High community.
The junior portion of the Powderpuff football game later this month will benefit Rileigh, and a recent Children’s Miracle Network dance marathon benefited Arnold Palmer’s blood cancer and disorders floor — where Rileigh receives her treatment.
Winter Park student Bridget Collis is on SGA and helped Rileigh design the bracelets, while student Kira Diehl is applying for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Students of the Year, a leadership development and philanthropy program where high school students join a fundraising competition to benefit LLS.
Diehl is entering on behalf of Rileigh.
“It’s really great, because throughout high school, you kind of stop talking to some old friends and you get into new circles, but when something like this happens it erases all that,” Rileigh said. “It doesn’t matter that you haven’t spoken to one of your friends since eighth grade. Suddenly, you’re just as close as you were then.”
The support of her friends has made the fight so much easier to face, she said.
“This whole experience my friends have been by my side every single time,” Rileigh said. “They’ve visited me every round in the hospital. When they want to make plans to go out, one of them will go, ‘Well wait, Rileigh can’t do that, because her counts are low, so she can’t be doing that stuff right now.’ They’ll change their plans and we’ll all hang out at my house watching movies with masks on and Lysol. It’s really important to have that support system.”
Anyone looking to give financial support to Rileigh and her family can visit gofundme.com/Rileighs-Journey.