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Inspirational Riley (6) is a real Highland hero as he marks milestone in his battle against cancer

By Val Sweeney

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Riley MacLennan (6) has rung a bell according to tradition to signal the end of his chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Riley MacLennan (6) has rung a bell according to tradition to signal the end of his chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Riley MacLennan may be only six years old but he is a true Highland hero.

The plucky youngster is celebrating a significant milestone in his inspirational cancer battle and during a socially-distanced gathering outside his home, friends and neighbours watched him ring a specially-delivered bell in a symbolic gesture of hope and looking forwards.

Riley, who has previously won bravery awards, has completed daily chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia a few months earlier than originally planned.

He lives with his parents Kevin MacLennan (53) and Moira Black (44), and older brother Evan Black in Ness Castle, and has been battling the disease for the past four years.

"There is still a long way to go, but he doesn’t have to get his daily chemotherapy," said Mr MacLennan, who owns Dornoch MOT Centre.

"He is doing absolutely fantastically. The future is looking really positive."

Riley was just two when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in December 2016 after developing bruises on his legs and stomach.

Following tests at Raigmore Hospital he was referred to the Schiehallion ward at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow which was to become home for the next 10 months as he battled the side effects of treatment, including sickness and hair loss.

After returning to the Highlands, the family relocated from their previous home to Inverness to be closer to Raigmore Hospital where Riley has received monthly doses of chemotherapy and steroids in addition to daily chemotherapy at home.

Despite the gruelling regime, Riley has never complained and is always on the go.

"All the way through his treatment, he never wanted to sit down to it – he always wanted to be up and doing something," Mr MacLennan said.

Riley remained cheerful during treatment.
Riley remained cheerful during treatment.

Two years ago, Riley was presented with an award for courage at the annual Amelia Young Highlander awards which honour under 16s for their contribution to the community and helped to launch Give Up Clothes for Good, a joint campaign between Cancer Research UK and TK Maxx to mark Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

He is also a recipient of a Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People star award – a scheme sponsored by TK Maxx to recognise the courage shown by youngsters who have been through cancer in the last five years.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, Riley’s concerned parents discussed the risks of him attending hospital appointments with his doctor who agreed it was probably in his interests to finish his treatment early and let his body recover.

Although Riley is in remission, he will still undergo monthly blood tests for the next five years and then every six months, and receive outreach nursing care into his 20s.

Usually, those finishing cancer treatment get to ring a bell in hospital but because of the pandemic, it was delivered to Riley’s home.

"It is a massive, massive milestone from when he began his treatment and that first night in Glasgow when we went down from the Highlands," Mr MacLennan said.

"We have spent since December 1, 2016 aiming mentally for the day when the bell would be rung at the end of treatment."

Riley with mum Moria and dad Kevin.
Riley with mum Moria and dad Kevin.

Mr MacLennan said that for the last few years, life for the family had been similar to that now being experienced by many people due to the pandemic as they tried to reduce the risk of Riley picking up infections.

"The way everyone is living now is the way Riley and ourselves have lived since 2016," he said.

"We kept away from other people and contact with the outside world was kept to a minimum."

He thanked Holm Primary, where Riley is a pupil, and neighbours for all their support.

Mr MacLennan is also related to Adeline Davidson (3), of Alness, who is fighting a rare form of blood cancer.

Her parents, Steph and Jordan, have launched an urgent appeal to find a bone marrow donor to save their daughter’s life.

Related story: Courageous Riley fronts new charity campaign

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