Riley’s relentless journey

Courtesy / Riley Pearl

Courtesy / Riley Pearl

Elyse Greenwood

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“Cancer is relentless, and so am I, and so is God’s love.”

This motto has been guiding Grand Valley State University junior Riley Pearl since her initial diagnosis of Stage 3 Advanced Melanoma Cancer in January. It was also the inspiration to add the word “relentless” to a bracelet in her honor sold to raise money for the American Cancer Society at the 2019 Relay for Life. Since her diagnosis, Pearl has proved that she is indeed nothing short of relentless.

After two surgeries and nearly three weeks of absences, it was a priority for Pearl to return to school and regain a sense of normalcy. One of her many acts of relentlessness was her decision to continue her job at the GVSU president’s office, as well as her position as the Sigma Kappa president — all while catching up on school work. While her drive to maintain her prior commitments is beyond admirable, coming to the realization that her “normal” would have to be redefined was a big step for Pearl.

“After talking to my mom, we recognized that I had to redefine normal in my life,” Pearl said. “I’m used to operating at a super high level with work, school, sorority and all the other responsibilities that I’ve been trying to balance. Sometimes I need to pick between one or two, but right now I’ve kept all three. Some days it’s not the best choice, and I need to take a day for myself. It just depends on the day. It’s one day at a time.”

All of this is achievable through Pearl’s relentlessly positive and persistent attitude. Through her “tell me why not” approach to every situation, she has refused to allow others to limit her potential.

“There have been many steps in really being an advocate for myself in the sense of, ‘Tell me why not,’” Pearl said. “Don’t just tell me not to do it. There are a lot of people who tell me things like, ‘It’s okay. You don’t have to go back to school.’ And I questioned why not, because I really think I can finish. I really think I can do it. Since then, everyone has been really supportive.”

With Pearl’s determination in maintaining these previously set goals, she has learned the importance in reaching out to others for help. Pearl’s high school best friend and current college roommate, Mikayla Mason, urged her to allow others to assist in carrying this weight by creating a GoFundMe account. Even though Pearl didn’t specifically ask for this help, the two soon realized the power of the support. They have currently exceeded their fundraising goal by more than $3,000 in less than two weeks. By allowing a friend — and an entire community — to rally around her, Pearl has proven that asking for help reveals strength rather than weakness.

“Riley is so strong, and I am so proud of her,” Mason said. “She has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help when you’re down and when you need it. It’s really amazing to see all the people who have come through, supported her and reached out.”

Even throughout her own difficult situation, Pearl is selflessly considering the feelings of all others. She has learned the importance of compassion and is teaching others the same by extending understanding in all of her interactions.

“In the end, all of this will give me a stronger sense of compassion and understanding that everyone is going through something, even if you don’t know it,” Pearl said.

Riley Pearl is continually inspiring all those around her to question the restrictions others put on them, to recognize the strength in asking for help, to always extend compassion to everyone and, above all else, to live life relentlessly.

“She can handle anything,” Mason said. “She’s a fighter, and she will never give up.”