My cousin Danny Riley (http://DannyRiley.com) is one of my biggest inspirations, as he perfectly embodied his triptych mantra — life, love and light. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 17. Despite this, he graduated high school with honors, attended UC Santa Barbara, and even moved into an off campus apartment while making the Dean’s List just months before leaving us at the age of 19. He left hundreds of songs, poems and writings, full of wisdom beyond his years. He’d be 29 today, but still brings love and light to thousands of lives.
Below is a story from Danny that he shared with the Dean of UCSB, and our family. I nominate him as the ultimate 3rdNutter in my life. I miss the hell out of him, and am so grateful his legacy lives on through music, words and love.
I hope you enjoy this story. Thank you for reading.
I cannot be expressed in words, but I will do my best to share a part of myself with you. This is the story of the greatest experience of my life.
I have always been a thoughtful individual, with many desires and passions. Education has always been a way for me to better myself as a person and enrich my life through engaging my mind. Over a year ago, as I entered my junior year in high school, I was just starting to get a better sense of myself as an adolescent. Then it happened: the headaches.
I would describe the utterly blinding and crippling pain for you in full detail, although, I have blocked out most of my memories of the experience. They started on Saturday night, waking me up from a peaceful and much needed sleep. My mother consoled and tended me as best she could, but the agony persisted through the night and into the next morning. I’d never had serious headaches before, so we all just assumed it was a temporary migraine, probably brought on by over exertion at school and soccer (my mom always warned me about doing headers.). I took some Tylenol, but the pain pressed on through the day. By Sunday night it seemed much worse. I felt nauseated and vomited up what little food was in my stomach. At the same time I noticed some of my fingers were going numb with a strange tingling sensation. As has always been my best defense, I tried to laugh it all off, and soothe my pain away with deep breathing. My mom, dad, and I had all decided that I should stay home from school the next day.
Monday came around and my dad stayed home from work to be with me. I was feeling much better during the day, and my dad and I had some fun being lazy hanging around the house. The day was bright and warm, and I began to forget that I had ever felt bad at all. That night I made up some of my uncompleted homework and slept beautifully.
School the next day was a bit of a blur. Mildly concerned friends wondering where I had been the previous day were matched by a nice amount of work I had missed out on. I played left defense in the varsity soccer game late that afternoon, drove home and crashed out on the couch for a immediate nap. I woke up for some dinner and homework, then went to bed.
That night at 4 o’clock it hit. The headache came back with relentless waves of terrible pain. By this time we needed to figure out a way to make the pain stop so I could get on with school and such. Wednesday morning, my mom and dad took me to the doctor to get some medication to keep the pain down.
At first I was met by a student doctor who diligently examined every bit of me that could possibly be involved with my mysterious headaches. Then a very wise and regal looking doctor with a snowy white beard entered the room and effortlessly examined me while his student gave his report. I explained what had happened to him slowly and carefully. He seemed about ready to prescribe some routine painkillers, when my mother remembered to mention how my fingers had gone numb during the headaches. I showed him which ones, and he assuringly suggested that I have a CAT-SCAN just to make sure it’s nothing serious. He had such a warm and benign aura that we were all certain that nothing was at all the matter with me, but its just good to get proof.
My mom left for work and my dad hung around with me to get the CAT-SCAN over with. I was excited about it. It was absolutely intriguing for me to find out what this scan was like. They laid me down on the table, strapped my head in place, and slide me back. It wasn’t the scary, dark hole that I had envisioned but more like a loud, techno donut. The only bad part was when they injected some contrast into my arm (I hated needles.). It lasted for a good 30 minutes and after, we slouched down in the waiting room. That’s when it hit: the heartache.
“Mr. Riley… We are going to send you up to admittance. A doctor will meet you there.”
I vaguely knew what that meant, but nothing in me said it was going to be a bad thing. Dad knew it could only mean bad news. As we walked up to the admittance building, my father held me tight against him. I tried to console him. We walked with arms over each other’s shoulders. The clerk told us to take a seat. As we did, a familiar face walked towards us. It was my pediatrician, Dr. McQuaide. He greeted us with a deep affectionate smile.
“Lets go have some privacy.”
He led us to a small consult room. We sat down and everyone took a deep quivering breath of air. He wasted no time with pleasantries and got straight to the point.
“The CAT-SCAN showed a tumor in the right frontal lobe of Danny’s brain.”
The news came as a terrible shock to my father, but I listened intently with my eyes fixed on Dr. McQuaide, briskly nodding my head up and down as if I knew what he was talking about. Dr. McQuaide proceeded to explain that I was to be held over night in the hospital so they could take some more scans and tests. He took us out of the room and explained to the nurse at the counter that I was to be admitted.
“What is he to be admitted for?” the nurse asked politely.
I watched as Dr. McQuaide tried to say “brain tumor” but couldn’t quite muster the heart to do it. Instead, he dropped his eyes, scribbled something down on a piece of paper, and slid it towards the nurse. The nurse asked us to have a seat until we were called. Dr. McQuaide said he would come visit me later that day.
Once again we sat in the waiting room. Dad leaned over towards me. With glossy eyes and a voice full of trembling pride he said, “You’ll be our Lance Armstrong. You’ll beat it.” “I know”, I thought to myself.