Ashland teen battles cancer with strength and determination

By KBJR News 1

May 7, 2014 Updated May 7, 2014 at 2:34 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A diagnosis of cancer is devastating no matter what your age, but when you're a teenager it can be a real game-changer.

But one 16-year old boy from Ashland has vowed that his disease will not shape his life or change his goals.

"I'm here for my treatment in treating my lymphoma," said cancer patient, Riley Bretting.

On October 10, 2013 Riley Bretting from Ashland got devastating news. He had lymph cancer and would need to start treatment immediately.

"I've had multiple sessions of chemotherapy differentiating as I go through the treatment," said Bretting.

Riley would need to undergo months of treatment and some of it was pretty unpleasant.

"Around Christmas, I got a little bit down," explained Bretting, "one of my procedures didn't go the greatest, and I got pretty sick from that. But, other than that, I've been doing really well through my treatment."

Riley's cancer doctor is Ross Perko, a pediatric oncologist. He says Riley's chances of full recovery are very good.

"When you hear the word cancer it sounds like a very scary word which it can be and it is, but to know the survival rates are as high as they are in the modern age is incredible," said Dr. Ross Perko, Pediatric Oncologist, Essentia Hospital.

Riley has to travel to Essentia St. Mary's in Duluth from Ashland for infusion chemotherapy three days a week and it's taken a toll on his school work.

"The teachers mostly modify work occasionally, but otherwise, it's a lot of work to catch up stuff I missed like around Christmas time I missed a lot of school so... I'm still catching up from first semester a little bit," said Bretting.

Riley was also an athlete and with the debilitating effects of the treatment running track became a great deal more difficult.

"It's a little bit harder than it was last year when I ran track. It's kind of self-explanatory. You go on as best you can? Ya," said Bretting.

"Going on" is made a little easier by the care provided by the cancer team at Essentia St. Mary's and by a special program called "beads of courage".

"We give the child a string and then we put their name with beads on the string and then the children get beads for all the different things they have done while they're here at the hospital or in the clinic," said Heidi Jusula, Child Life Specialist, Essentia-St. Mary's.

"The larger beads you get for bigger problems that you went through usually. Most of the other beads mean like pokes, every time you're poked with a needle, a high fever, a clinic visit, a hospital visit, an overnight; stars are surgery. It's a thing you can wear around and say I survived everything on this necklace pretty much," said Bretting.

Riley has been in treatment now for eight months and though his chemo will have to continue for some time, as of now he says he's feeling good.

"I'm doing very well. The tumor I originally had is gone, and currently they are pretty sure that I am cancer free," said Bretting.

Essentia St. Mary's realizes cancer treatment for children is different from that of adults and as part of the team of medical experts each child patient is assigned a child life services specialist to help them understand their treatments and cope with stress and anxiety.

Barbara Reyelts