Riley DeClercq joined the Millwoods Grizzlies in 2015 at 8 years old. Having never played football before, he learned the game quickly and soon became a serious defensive threat to all other opponents on the grid iron. His love for the game and the thrill of ‘crushing quarterbacks’ earned him the nickname “War Machine” from his coaches and the title of Defensive MVP for 2015 in the Atom division. Quite literally, at the awards banquet that year, in hindsight, we recall Riley complaining of a slight headache and being really tired. Didn’t think much of it at the time, but as the weeks went by, the headaches became more frequent and severe, it was time to see a doctor.
Long story short, an MRI on Dec 18 showed us why he was having the headaches. It was a brain tumour that required immediate surgery to remove.
He endured an 8 hour surgery 4 days later and spent Christmas and New Years at the Stollery recovering. Things looked good, the doctors were happy with how the surgery went and confident they had removed it entirely, and then the devastating news came….the tumour was a Grade IV Medulloblastoma….BRAIN CANCER.
This news brought on a whole new round of tests, another surgery and an action plan came into place to deal with the cancer diagnosis as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Within 3 days of being released from the Stollery in January, we were sent to Jacksonville, Florida to immediately start Proton Radiation. This was an incredibly tough time for us. Our family was split in two as mom and Riley were in Florida while dad and Riley’s brother Tyson came back to Edmonton to get back to school and work. Through all of this, Riley was worried that he wasn’t going to be able to play football again. We always told him that he was definitely going to be back out on the field. After 30 treatments and 8 grueling weeks in Florida, on March 7th 2016, Riley rang the bell at the Proton Institute marking the end of radiation therapy and came back to Edmonton a couple of days later.
I’ll never forget the day of Grizzlies Spring Camp 2016. It was a scorcher. Riley was feeling pretty good and told me that he wanted to go say hello to his old team mates and coaches. He just wanted to get back around the football gang and get out in the sun. He had no intention of getting on the field or doing any part of the activities. After an extremely warm welcome back in the huddle, Riley decided he would give it a try. He was tired and a bit off balance, but he stepped back on the field and managed to make it through the entire day, ran every drill and played hard with every exercise. It was so great to be back in amongst the Grizzlies family and a very proud moment for Riley and myself.
Soon after camp, Riley began chemotherapy treatment. It was a long haul. He started in April 2016 and finished the 9th round at the end of February 2017. Chemo really hit him hard and took a lot out of him over the course of the rounds. There were many days where he did nothing but sleep. There were a few scares along the way and even an ambulance trip to Emergency. He lost roughly 5 pounds and struggled to keep the weight from dipping any lower. During chemo, we did make it out to one of the Atoms games to watch his teammates play. That day definitely kept his hunger for football alive. He wanted to play so bad!
As mentioned, Riley completed his last round of chemo in February of this year. He decided that this year he was only going to play football because it was way more fun than hockey. We made camp this year and he’s back on the field trying his hardest to get back up to speed every day. Although he’s not quite back up to the old War Machine speed and ferocity just yet, you can see it surfacing every play just a little bit more. He will strike fear in the QB’s eyes once again….you can bet on that. At 10 years old now, there’s a lot more football in his future.
Riley still is required to have MRI’s every 3 months for the next year and a half to ensure that the cancer has not returned. After that, the frequency of MRI’s slows a bit to every 6 months until we hit the 5 year mark. We still have a journey ahead of us.
With that being said, as of yesterday, we are 6 months post treatment and the results of the 2nd MRI came back “ALL CLEAR!!!”
I can’t tell you how stressful waiting for results actually is. When you hear those words, the weight of the world lifts of your shoulders. We are extremely relieved and very grateful!
During the entire time we had been in contact with Make-A-Wish Foundation because of Riley’s diagnosis.
They held an interview with Riley to discover what made him tick, what he liked to do, and what would be the one thing he would wish for if he could have anything at all. After some discussion about possible destinations in Australia or private island treehouses in the Caribbean, he told them he wanted to go on a big boat. At last practice, I arranged with our coaches to hold his wish reveal right after Grizzly breakdown and had 2 representatives from Make A Wish attend. We held a very short celebration with the team and the parents regarding the MRI results and then Kendra and Jack from Make a Wish presented him with the envelope. He had no idea they were coming there.
The video says it all. His team mates cheering “War Machine! War Machine!” was incredible!!! He was so excited when he read that he was going on a cruise!!! Such a long battle….finally a huge reward. We could not have wished for a better moment. We are so happy to be back.
Thank you to all of the Millwoods Grizzlies family for your support over the last 2 years.
Loud and Proud and as a Team
Damien, Susan, Tyson and of course Riley “War Machine” DeClercq