Mom Loses Son to Cancer, Raises Money for 6 Starlight Fun Centers

Riley with his mom Andrea.

At age eight, brain cancer took Riley Roman’s life – but not his legacy.

Riley spent 10 months at Boston Children’s hospital in the neurology department battling brain cancer when he noticed the general oncology floor had multiple Starlight Fun Centers. Riley’s neurology floor did have one Fun Center at the time, but there was a long waiting list. 

“Their whole stay was spent hoping to play on the Fun Center,” Andrea said. “Riley wanted to raise money for multiple Fun Centers so kids didn’t have to wait to have fun.”

Andrea, Riley’s mom, unveiling a Starlight Fun Center at Mass General Hospital for Children.

Andrea said that’s how her son always had been, always thinking about others and – “a kind, old soul, but so hip and trendy and modern. He had friends all over and made friends everywhere.” 

Tragically, Riley’s prognosis changed and he passed away suddenly. Andrea wanted to make sure his wish was seen through, and the idea of an UNO Tournament came together. 

Each year, Riley’s mom, Andrea Roman, hosts a UNO tournament that raises money to sponsor Starlight Fun Centers. Starlight Fun Center’s are mobile entertainment units powered by the Nintendo’s Wii U and feature platforms like Netflix and Hulu. The Fun Centers offer online access to family-friendly video games and movies that provide entertainment, distraction and a sense of normalcy for hospitalized kids.

Since 2013, Riley’s UNO Tournament has raised $30,000 and provided six of these mobile gaming units!

On December 5, another Starlight Fun Center paid for from this year’s UNO tournament, was delivered to Boston Children’s Hospital. Another one will be delivered to Baystate Medical Center next week.

You’ve Been Riley Superheroed 

Sticker that appears on every donated Starlight Fun Center from Rileys UNO tournament.

When the Fun Center is delivered, it’s done “Riley Style” – meaning it’s done as a surprise for those on the floor who are receiving it.

“They are so thankful and they get a kick out of it,” Andrea said. “We like to be funny and silly. We don’t do a formal presentation. We kind of just go in as regular people.”

Riley’s nickname was Riley Superhero. He made it up while in treatment and contemplated one day how weird it would be if Superhero was someone’s last name. Andrea and his nurse started calling him Mr. Riley Superhero and it caught on.

Now, each Fun Center delivered has a special sticker that reads: “You’ve been Riley Superheroed.” 

Riley’s UNO Tournament

Riley’s 5th Annual UNO Tournament.

“UNO was one of his favorite games and we would have family UNO parties,” Andrea said. “He would love to have tournaments and play over and over again. I decided to bring some of Riley’s essence to the way that we spend his ideas and the UNO tournament was a way to raise funds.”

It all just came together. Andrea found a great venue, sponsors and the event sold out. Participants pay an entry fee of $25. And the tournament goes to first, second and third place. UNO is one of the world’s most popular family card games, with rules easy enough for kids, but challenges and excitement enough for all ages. The winner gets a cash prize, and their original teammates that they started with receive gift cards.

The tournament is held each May, which is National Brain Tumor Month.

“Over the years, it’s remained something for all ages. It’s not really thought of in the community as a kid’s family fun night. It’s not just a grown up night out either. We keep it exactly in the middle,” Andrea said.

In the end, the community has fun – just like Riley wanted.

If you would like to help brighten the lives of seriously ill children like Riley, you can donate today. Your gift combined with the gift of others helps turn pain, fear and stress into laughter, fun and joy – because a sick kid is still a kid at heart.

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Tara Millspaugh

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