BEVERLY — Riley Fessenden loves cheerleading.
On Saturday, the 6-year-old from Beverly was able to practice alongside the Patriots cheerleaders at Gillette Stadium and also meet Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — her favorite football player.
During the trip to Gillette Stadium, Riley was joined by her fellow Beverly youth cheerleaders, the Titans.
Riley, a first-grader at Ayers Ryal Side Elementary School, was diagnosed in May with a malignant tumor in her nasal cavity. The trip was made possible through a fundraiser with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that encourages cheerleaders across New England from all ages and skill levels to join the fight against cancer. The entire team worked hard last month to raise funds through collections at local stores, a family dance and bake sales.
The group of first- and second-graders raised more than $17,000 and won the trip to Gillette Stadium. This was the most amount of money raised by the 89 teams participating in the fundraiser.
Riley didn’t know she would be meeting Brady during the trip. It was a surprise revealed while she was participating in a mock press conference.
“They asked her who her favorite player was, and she said ‘Tom Brady,’” said Kamie Fessenden, Riley’s mother, “and he came out from behind the screen.”
Brady signed a football for her and gave her a sweatshirt, T-shirt and poster. The entire Fessenden family was there for the moment, including her father Todd Fessenden, sister Meghan, 8, and brothers Drew, 10, and Daniel, 2.
Meghan is also on the team.
Fessenden approached the team’s coaches about participating in the fundraiser. The support was overwhelming, she said.
“I thought it would be great for her because Riley couldn’t participate in some of the practices, but she could help raise money,” she said.
Since her diagnosis, Riley has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy and is now receiving radiation treatments. She participated in cheerleading practices when she was able, even taking part in a competition in October.