ODTUG Family Rallies Around Rileys


Well, how do I start this whole thing? Well, perhaps an Alcoholics Anonymous type opening might work…

My name is Mike Riley, and I have rectal cancer.
Seems strange writing it down. My journey started earlier this year,   in  fact right around the time of Kscope13 in June, when some symptoms    arose. I got my official diagnosis in August (nice 50th birthday present), started aggressive radiation and chemotherapy in    September, and finished in October. Come December, it’s time for surgery    to remove the cancerous tissue, then recovery for a short period,    followed by a four to six month course of chemotherapy. I hope to be    finished and have beaten the cancer into remission by the time Kscope14    rolls around, but only time and my body’s healing will determine that.

You see, radiation therapy is really not much fun. While they are trying to kill the cancer, they are actually killing a good amount of perfectly fine tissue as well. Unfortunately for me, this tissue is a critical part of my digestive system, so the effects have been, well, challenging to say the least. On top of that, the chemotherapy had some side effects as well. The drug is so powerful; my body’s reaction to it was powerful as well. As the drug makes its way through the bloodstream, it looks for ways to escape. The easiest places for this to happen are in your hands and your feet (and other areas), where the capillaries are easily damaged. This causes the chemical to seep into the tissue, which basically causes a burn. My feet are blistered; my hands are similarly affected with extremely dry skin. Needless to say, this stage of my battle has been difficult.

Support Mike's Fight

A GoFundMe campaign has been created to help Mike Riley and his family. A goal of $10,000 has been set. Help us reach that goal by giving here.
While I’ve dealt with the pain and  other issues during this period, perhaps the most affected by this are  my wife, Lisa, and the kids, Cameron and Morgan. They have to deal with a  family member that is grouchy (more so than usual), in pain, and they  still have to go on with their lives. And support me. And they have been  incredible in doing so.

So why have I started this blog post this way? It’s to tell you an incredible story of community and caring. You see, I’ve made many friends during my time in ODTUG and we really are a community. I may not see all my friends all the time, but we fall into an easy pattern of familiarity when we get back together. It feels like an extended family, and I guess being a volunteer organization engenders those types of connections. It was only since my diagnosis, and more recent events, that I really understood this community.
Chet Justice on Twitter @ oraclenerd

You see, Chet Justice (aka the oraclenerd—please follow him on Twitter @oraclenerd, he is both funny and informative) is one of the best friends that a guy could have. While I’ve only known Chet for a couple of years and you may have to dig a little bit beyond Chet’s larger-than-life persona to get to the real Chet, I have now seen the real Chet. This particular chapter of my life deals with about a 24-hour period from Sunday, October 27, to Monday, October 28. This was the start of the week after I finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments on October 24. At the end of the five and a half weeks of treatment (chemotherapy daily – oral medication) and after undergoing radiation every single weekday (off on Saturdays and Sundays), you get to “ring the bell,” signifying the end of this phase of your treatment.

Ringing the bell with my family!

Chet had been asking me several times if there was anything he could do for me. And then he came up with an idea. As I live just outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, and my St. Louis Cardinals were getting ready to play in game 4 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox (congratulations to Boston on the victory in the Series!), Chet thought that I might like to watch game 5 in Saint Louis from inside the ballpark. I told him that I wasn’t sure that I could handle it (restroom issues, walking issues, pain issues, seating issues). He said, “What if it was your whole family, and at least most of the issues (beyond the pain) could be taken care of?” Well, Chet is a persuasive guy and I am a true Cardinals fan, so I said, OK, I’d consider it.

Ice sculpture - Cardinals vs. Red Sox

About the middle of the game (only a couple of hours later), Chet asks me for my email address. I said, why? He told me that he had gotten my family four seats in the Redbird Club section of the ballpark, and that we were going to the game. What?!?! How?!?! Well, I think that I said that Chet was a very persuasive person, right? Well, Chet took the idea to a whole new level, reached out to a network of my friends (and yes, some of my co-workers), and they all pitched in with a monetary donation to get the tickets. To say that I was astounded would be an understatement. I think Chet is planning a blog post about his side of this amazing story, so I’ll let him speak to this great group of folks and how he accomplished this.

Way to go Chet (and friends)!!

However, this chapter is not over yet. Chet asks me the next day if we all have jerseys for the game. I say no, but Chet says to me that he has a solution for that as well. He tells me that when I get to the game, he wants me to get a jersey for all of us, and to send him the receipt. And he emphasized “don’t skimp.” Well, we all have World Series 2013 jerseys of our favorite Cardinals, and Chet had already deposited an amount back into my account to pay the bill in full within a couple of days!
The Rileys sporting their new Cardinal jerseys. Holliday, Freese, Molina, and Wainwright ready for game 5!

The last surprise was incredible as well. Lisa gets a message from Chet early on Monday afternoon telling us we don’t have to worry about driving to the game or paying for parking because he arranged for a limo to take us to and from the game. What?!?! The most priceless moment is that Lisa had to pick the kids up from school to get home in time for us to get to the game, and she didn’t tell them about the limo. They pulled in our driveway and as Morgan was getting out of our car, I told them to hurry up, the limo was already here. Morgan screamed at the top of her lungs, ran in the back door of the house and out the front door directly to the limo. I have never seen my child’s eyes so wide with wonder (at least not since the early years at Christmas). I would gladly pay for that reaction, and it is now etched in my mind for all time.

Lisa, Morgan, and Cameron standing outside the limo.

We had a great trip over, a great time at the game, and a great trip back. I am so appreciative for what Chet was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. And I am thankful to all of the folks that chipped in and made this happen. The game was fun (even though the Cardinals lost), but what I treasure most about this was the fact that Lisa and the kids were able to forget about my cancer for a few hours and really enjoy themselves. It helped motivate me and recharge me for the fight that I still face. I will never be able to thank Chet enough, or any of the investors for that matter, except perhaps by beating this disease and celebrating with them for a successful remission. I only hope to help someone out like Chet and the others have helped me. I look forward to paying it forward to someone else upon my recovery.

Morgan and Cameron inside the limo on the way to the game.

My fight will continue for the next several months. Surgery, chemotherapy, scans, more surgery are in my future. I cannot relay to anyone how grateful I am for this “break” from cancer. My friends and family have been hugely supportive during this, sending emails, cards, calling us on the phone, sending us small gifts, cooking meals for us, taking and picking up the kids from school, and countless other things. We have gone down the road quite a ways already, but still have a tremendous journey in front of us. With the help of our friends and family, we'll make it!

It is an incredible community that we are all a part of. I just wish it didn’t take an event like this to truly and fully appreciate those friends within the community. I always knew the community was great (volunteers from all over the world coming together once a year to learn together—and many of those same folks giving back to the communities in which we visit at our Kscope Community Service Day), I just didn’t put it all together. I think I have now!

Thank you to everyone. I hope to see you all very soon, with my cancer in permanent remission!

Chet Justice shares his experience with the Rileys on his blog. Read it here.

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