A single life can hold many facets. Rileigh Denis, 30 years old is a registered dietician. She’s the wife to Brock who serves in the US Army. She’s a mom to a sweet 1 year old boy. She’s a CrossFitter. She has survived a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car and now Rileigh is battling cancer.
Rileigh isn’t new to the CrossFit world. In March of 2018 CrossFit Headquarters posted an article about Rileigh in their online publication, The Journal. The article describes an incident on July 4, 2016 in which Rileigh was walking across the street in Siesta Key, FL and struck by a drunk driver at 40 miles an hour. The speeding car swerved around a stopped car and into the crosswalk. Rileigh’s 120 pound frame took the full impact. Shockingly she suffered no broken bones, injuries to muscle, tissue or organ damage. After 2 days in the hospital intubated she regained consciousness. The road to recovery from the head trauma and a small brain bleed was extensive. Medical staff did however note in her file that Rileigh was in “excellent physical health”, helping her survive the impact. Muscle covering the bone served as a type of armor, helping protect her. The foundation of good physical health through nutrition and exercise helped make recovery attainable from such a traumatic experience.
Rileigh began CrossFit in September of 2011 with her husband’s encouragement to join him. Right away she was hooked. The two are members at Iron Forged Athletics, a CrossFit box in Fayetteville, NC. Rileigh says she drives past 6 gyms because the people at IFA mean so much to her. “They are so supportive and caring”. Currently, Rileigh is using the garage gym at her home due to a weakened immune system from treatment.
In mid August 2018 Rileigh noticed swollen lymph nodes on the back of her head. Shortly followed by a bad menstrual cycle. As a dietitian and someone driven by wellness, Rileigh is attuned to her body. She made an appointment with her obstetrician-gynecologist. An ultrasound came back clear. Hemoglobins were low, but no cause for alarm considering her recent menstrual cycle. Rileigh continued on with regular life, but noted she was bruising more easily and fatigue while working out. Additional lymph nodes began to swell. She suspected a tooth infection so made an appointment with her dentist. All was clear so the dentist referred Rileigh to a otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). The ENT quickly dismissed the symptoms. Without a blood draw or any further testing the doctor prescribed antibiotics. Still, the bruising persisted, more lymph nodes became noticeable, the fatigue increased. Lightheadedness and sometimes dizziness began to present as symptoms. On Oct 15, 2018 Rileigh met with a new primary care provider. 10 vials of blood were drawn and the doctor called the next morning telling Rileigh to go to the emergency room for a bone marrow biopsy. Rileigh and Brock went to the hospital on base in Ft. Bragg. On October 16, 2018 Rileigh was diagnosed with T Cell Acute Lymphoblasic Leukemia. Rileigh was transferred to Duke University and remained there for 23 days while receiving inpatient chemotherapy. The most recent bone marrow biopsy shows complete remission. The chemotherapy schedule will continue as planned.
Brock so honestly shares, “the initial diagnosis was crushing. It was like my heart was torn out of my chest. She asked me if she was going to die and I told her absolutely not and that we will get through this together. We have been taking this day by day and making sure we set daily goals and not get carried away with what the future holds.” The two have a strong bond. They’ve been married six years and met in college while Rileigh was bartending. Brock adds “she was an absolute rockstar during her inpatient treatment. I was there the majority of the time and made sure she was taken care of in every way possible because I know she would do the same for me. Through thick and thin.“
Rileigh knows cancer does not define her. “I am happy and positive” she says. The most difficult part is considering her son and the possibility of not being around for him. He is absolutely her world and makes living and loving rich, full and tender. After being hit by a car and then receiving a cancer diagnosis, Rileigh knows the only route is positivity. “Despite all the crap I’ve been through, God has a plan for me”.
Jeremy McDaniel, a friend of both Riliegh and Brock notes that Rileigh is the epitome of Everyday Warrior. Jeremy met the couple at College Hill CrossFit in Greensboro, NC. Both men have a love of competition, both previously in the world of bike racing and bicycling. Jeremy says the community has rallied around Rileigh to help support her and her family. Rileigh echos that sentiment saying “my gym, family, friends have literally given so much support it gives me all the good feels”. Brock has been by her side the whole time. There love solidified through the trials they’ve faced together. Rileigh’s parents have also been vital. So many people have reached out and made sure the Denis family has been loved and taken care of. Brock says being the recipient of that is overwhelming.
With conviction Brock knows his wife is determined and driven. “She’s the hardest worker I know. If she sets her mind to something she will do everything in her power to accomplish it. That’s something I truly admire about her.” He rests in the knowledge of that as his wife continues the treatment for leukemia. Rileigh focuses on her son. The huge blessing that he is. She works from home and gets to be with him everyday. She continues to eat healthy and see clients. Rileigh takes the stories and advice that are helpful, she lets the rest fall away. Knowing soundly who she is in this world and what she needs to continue. She’s someone who stays positive. Who knows life isn’t perfect and can take the curve balls that are offered up. She’s happy each day.