By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Simmons surprised by Make-A-Wishs trip to Disney resort
Riley Simmons is joined by parents Rick and Gina Simmons on the set of Good Day Sacramento on Sunday, where the younger Simmons was interviewed by Amy Cabarra. - photo by Photo Contributed


• November 2012: Riley Simmons, 10, was diagnosed with a brain tumor

• Dec. 4, 2012: She has emergency surgery to remove a large tumor that had grown between her cerebellum and brain stem

• February 2013: Manteca Futbol Club raises more than $10,000 for the Simmons family at the inaugural Riley Simmons 6v6 Shootout. Simmons makes her first public appearance since her surgery, taking part in a ceremonial kick-off. She is carried off the field by her father, Rick.

• June 7, 2013: Visits the Wishing Center in Sacramento, where she casts three wishes: 1) to take a trip to Hawaii and swim with dolphins; 2) visit Paris; and 3) meet U.S. National Team goalie Hope Solo.

• Jan. 22, 2014: Completes her final chemotherapy treatment. MRI scan reveals no traces of the cancer.

• March 1, 2014: Make-A-Wish regional CEO Jennifer Stolo reveals Simmons’ wish in what is believed to be the first live reveal in the foundation’s history. Wearing a lei and surrounded by hula dancers, Simmons learns that she and her family will visit Hawaii.

• Late March/early April 2014: Simmons is scheduled to return to Colony Oak Elementary School in Ripon, where she is a fifth grader.

• May 2014: The Simmons family will spend a week at the Aulani, the Disney resort in Hawaii. 

RIPON – For months, Riley Simmons has been kept indoors and under close supervision while she underwent treatment for a brain tumor. 

The 10-year-old missed out on soccer games, sleepovers and pool parties while the chemotherapy attacked the cancer and sapped her body of its strength.

The normal rites of passage for a pre-teen girl were replaced by grown-up concerns: blood counts and body temperatures, surgery and procedures. 

“We couldn’t let her out of our sights,” her father Rick Simmons said. “If she even got a fever, we had to rush her to the hospital. She missed out on a lot.”

To be certain, there haven’t been many days like this: 

On Saturday evening at the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Winter Wine and Food Fest in Sacramento, Riley, more than a month clear of her last chemotherapy session and buoyed by a cancer-free MRI scan, stepped out in her best party dress. 

And she didn’t miss a single moment.

Wearing a pink gown accented with a splash of orange and “sparkles everywhere,” the 10-year-old was the belle of the ball.

Riley danced circles around the floor of the Sacramento Convention Center with three of her very best friends – Ariana Scholten, Malery States and Sydnee Torres. When the band leader called all four of them on stage, Riley and the girls obliged, stealing their spotlight. 

“To dress up and go to a nice event – with her friends there – she had more energy than we’ve seen since her diagnosis,” Rick said. “It really was her best night since it all started. You couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. She’s always smiling, but it was a little wider that evening.”

Riley, along with her family and friends, were the honored guests of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Northeastern California/Northern Nevada CEO Jennifer Stolo, who had a very special surprise in store for the Colony Oak fifth grader. During the dinner/live auction portion of the event, Stolo called Riley, Rick and mother Gina Simmons on stage.

Riley’s wish had been granted.

As hula dancers took the stage, Stolo announced that Riley’s dream of visiting the islands and swimming with dolphins – the one she cast on the wall of the Wishing Center in June – would be realized. 

The week-long trip to Disney Aulani on the big island is booked for May, but preparations will start in earnest. With Rick within earshot, Riley said Tuesday there’s shopping to be done. 

“I’ve never been to Hawaii and I wanted to go to Disneyland and I’d never seen a dolphin,” she said. “Put it all together and you got the Disney resort in Hawaii. It’s really, really nice.”

That wasn’t the only surprise.

Riley was also the given a signed picture of U.S. Women’s National Team goalie Hope Solo by the Torres family, who won it during Saturday’s live auction. On Sunday, the Simmons family appeared on Good Day Sacramento, where they were interviewed in studio by Amy Carabba.

Riley was diagnosed with brain cancer in November 2012. She had emergency surgery to remove a large tumor that had formed between her cerebellum and brain stem on Dec. 4 and began a series of taxing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Those treatments stopped on Jan. 22. 

An MRI revealed no remnants of the cancer.

“I’m excited that it’s all gone,” Riley said.

Riley will have MRIs every three months for the next two years to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned, but for now the Simmons family has been afforded a chance to breath. And dance. 

 “It’s indescribable. Right about that same time, a guy hit the Powerball and I commented that his feeling didn’t have anything on ours,” Rick added. “As a father, that’s all you can hope and pray for. We’re going to have to go through that every three months for the next two years. That day is going to be nerve-wracking, of course, but when you get the news that she’s all clear it’s such an emotional lift.”

Riley has been a pillar of strength throughout – so says everyone in her corner – using a smile and sunny disposition as her first line of defense against cancer and all of its nasty side effects. 

Rick says her maturity and grace were captured best in a conversation they had recently during a trip to Sacramento. He shared this story with 700 others on Saturday evening. 

“She asked me, ‘Do you remember the black-and-white photo album I received as a gift when I was in the hospital? I was wondering if I could make a memory book,’ ” Rick recalled. “She said ‘I want to remember all the wonderful things that have happened to me since I got cancer.’ It floored me. She had to learn to walk and talk again, yet she wants to remember all the wonderful things that happened to her.”

Saturday’s events fit the bill. 

 “The minute we walked in the door, she started pulling on my arm. ‘Dad, I got my dancing shoes on. Let’s go see the band,’ ” Rick said. “After all this time, all the doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy and this and that, to be out in a beautiful dress with her friends there, she absolutely had a ball.”