By Jonathan Phelps
---- — 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.
The rare form of cancer is called esthesioneuroblastoma, or ENB. Riley has been treated at both Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Fessenden said Riley’s prognosis is not good, with a recent scan showing the cancer has spread to her brain.
“At this point, there is not much they can do,” she said. “The radiation is to relieve pressure to the brain.”
Titan coach Kelli Roesener called Riley “the hardest-working girl on the team.”
Riley’s spirit is infectious to the rest the team, said assistant coach Jenn Burnett.
“She comes to every practice, even after treatments,” Burnett said. “She doesn’t say a word; she just cheers. She loves cheering.”
It was a difficult decision to decide whether to go to the event at the stadium. Many weren’t in the mood to celebrate.
“We had found out at the same time the prognosis for Riley wasn’t good,” Burnett said. “I spoke with Kamie, and she said that Riley’s face lit up about going.”
Fessenden said the trip to Gillette Stadium has helped take the family’s minds off the treatments and hospitals visits.
“It is unbelievable that she is having these opportunities to meet these famous people,” Fessenden said. “It keeps her spirits up.”
Burnett said Riley is an inspiration.
She is strong,” she said. “She is a fighter.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.