Amy Donaldson: Bingham football player faces his toughest foe — cancer — with help from his community

Published: Sunday, April 6 2014 8:45 p.m. MDT

In her journal that day, she wrote, “Many, many things had been happening in our lives over the past several months. You can ask any of my closest friends and they will tell you, I said it more than once … “I feel like Satan is working harder on us than he ever has, but at the same time, I feel like God is running block! Just when something potentially horrible arises, I feel God at work taking care of the details to change the outcome.”

A series of tests and appointments led her to that waiting room on March 24, where she sat for hours with her son and husband waiting for what she knew would change their lives. After Riley was led away for a tumor biopsy and bone marrow aspiration, she sobbed uncontrollably. She yelled. She prayed.

Then the doctor reappeared and ushered them into a room so they could talk privately. He explained what would happen in the next year — the port that would pump chemicals into his body, the surgery, the hospital stays, the risks of infection, the medical bills that “you’ll never be able to pay” and the “chance that your son will live.”

“That room has witnessed people’s lives changing forever,” she said. “I’m certain there must be angels in there. … This two-hour period is too much to take in or explain. Just pray to God that you never experience it. And pray for those who do.”

Now, instead of planning graduation celebrations and missionary send-offs, the Culleys are researching Ewing's sarcoma (bone cancer) and planning fundraisers to try and cover the medical costs of surgery and six to nine months of chemotherapy so aggressive, it will keep him in the hospital three to five days at a time.

It was during one of her research sessions that she ran across a video of a young girl who’d survived Ewing's sarcoma.

“She said the one thing that got her through her treatment was that her mom was a rock throughout her care,” Jackie said. “And that’s when I decided, I will be Riley’s rock.”

The “big, strong, tough kid that we all look to as a pillar of strength” will now lead his family through a journey that no one wants to take.

“I realized the only options I do have are that I can be positive or I can be negative,” said Jackie, who decided sharing their experiences might help others struggling with their own heartbreaking trials. She is sharing their journey on the Facebook page, Go Team Riley Tackle Cancer.

“Riley likes to come across like he’s a tough guy,” Jackie said. “He’s actually my most sensitive child. He’s always looking out for people. People come to me and tell me things he did, really nice things, that I knew nothing about.”

Jackie said the outpouring of love and support was immediate and healing. Some of the well-wishers are beloved friends and family. Others are people they barely know.

“I cannot imagine having to go through this alone,” she said. “I feel like Riley’s experience is affecting a community, not just a family.”

The first people to rally around Riley, outside of his family, were his Bingham teammates. Miners head coach Dave Peck met with coaches to discuss how they could help the family, while players visited Riley almost constantly.

“For me personally, it’s no different than if it was my own son,” Peck said. “We’ve had a few talks, and he’s going to see it through. Things happen for a reason, and Riley’s grown up trying to battle no matter what confronts you. That’s what he’s going to continue to do.”

Players and coaches decided the way to help would be to raise money to help the family navigate what doctors estimate could end up costing nearly $100,000.

The team has organized a clothing drive where they collect used clothing that a company will pay them for each 33-gallon bag. The clothing can be dropped off at Bingham High (2160 W. 10400 South) in the south parking lot on May 10 from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. The players also organized pick-up routes for any resident in South Jordan and promise to pick up any clothes left curbside.

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