Edward Riley’s newly published book isn’t about him being sick.
But it is.
Then again, it isn’t.
While the story may be related to business ethics, the timing and motivation has to do with Riley’s struggles with personal health issues and the feeling that time is truly of the essence to accomplish life goals.
“With my mortality hanging over me, it’s about time,” Riley said. “I’ve got (stuff) to do. I wish I hadn’t waited so long on so many things. I think the lesson I can impart is don’t be like Ed. I’m never going to fulfill a lot of what I’d hoped to but I’m going to do as much as I can.”
Riley, of Napavine, is already a published author with his 2012 children’s book “My Monster and Me.” A former massage therapist and massage practice teacher, Riley most recently worked as social media coordinator for Centralia College after graduating there with his associate’s degree.
In August 2014, Riley was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Leukemia and underwent five rounds of chemotherapy. In April 2015, he underwent a stem cell transplant and was hospitalized for a month. The procedure involves chemotherapy to completely destroy the natural immune system in order to replace it with a new one. Soon after his transplant, Riley appeared to be adjusting well and was sent home a few days earlier than expected. Four months after the treatment, he went back to work at Centralia College. Five months after, he restarted work on his bachelor’s degree in marketing.
“I was essentially starting my life over,” he said.
Then in about November or December of 2015, his body began showing signs of what is called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The condition, which presents in different ways in different people, causes a variety of maladies in systems throughout the body as the new immune system basically sees the host body as foreign and attacks it. Graft-versus-host disease-like symptoms are expected to an extent with transplant patients and are a sign that the transplant has worked. But for Riley and many others like him, the disease runs rampant through the body and the diagnosis means knowing he will live the rest of his life with various unknown acute illnesses caused by GVHD.
“It’s something the doctors don’t really tell you going into this,” he said.
Because of the host of issues caused by GVHD, Riley had to drop out of college classes and cut his work for the college back to volunteering when he was able, which was not often. He said he has been grateful for his supportive family, as well as his co-workers at Centralia College who have really rallied around him.
“I keep as busy as I can,” he said. “It depends on how well I feel, and this last year was pretty awful.”
But for Riley, giving up is simply not an option. Even through some of the darkest parts of his illness, he has continued to work to help his community. In April, he helped facilitate an installation of photography by his oncologist Dr. Dustan Osborn at Centralia College, the sale of which benefited scholarships. He has also helped his mother’s gathering of the Lewis County Breast Cancer Support Group organize their annual tea and fashion show, which raises money to help local families with expenses incurred when a loved one is undergoing cancer treatments. He and his mother would like to someday help raise money to have a hospitality house where cancer patients and their caregivers can stay free of charge during treatment, built near the Centralia cancer center. In addition, the pair dream of a local hospice house nearby.
Riley also decided to work on getting his latest book, “Opening Day: A Big Idea in a Little Book,” published. He said he wrote the original story about 15 years ago and it was one of many stories that he has had in progress for some time.
“I have a whole catalog of stuff that isn’t complete, so I’m at the let’s get something completed stage,” Riley said.
“Opening Day: A Big Idea in a Little Book” is a short read at only 28 pages and is meant to be an inspirational book for the workplace. Partly autobiographical, partly fictional, it is a story of a family-owned business in a small town and the idea of truly putting people before profits. He said while the story is not about his family, many of the lessons in the book are ones he learned from his parents about going the extra mile to help people.
“My folks have always been the kind of people that when others are in need, you’d do what you could,” Riley said.
The story is told from the point of view of the fictional small-town grocer’s son who, upon growing up, reflects on the life and legacy of his father. It is a story that speaks to themes of great passion for Riley including honesty, equality and connectivity, as well as the idea of what it means to truly look out for your fellow man.
“We’re the most generous place on the planet, but we’re not generous with each other,” Riley said. “That person working two jobs, somehow they don’t deserve health care or deserve good benefits.”
Riley said he hopes in the coming months that his health will allow him to continue to work on publishing some of his other books. He is also just 22 credits away from completing his college degree in marketing and he hopes he may be able to convince The Evergreen State College to work with him to create a course of study that can help him complete his degree. He said he envisions it could be a self-guided project of some sort, perhaps telling his own story or the story of others as a way to promote education.
“I had to overcome substance abuse and one of the things that solidified that with me was education,” Riley said. “Education for the transformative possibilities. I’ve seen people change their whole life and the possibilities of their life and their children’s lives through education, so I really fell in love with the marketing of education.”