LAKE CITY—“Come on, let’s go,” shouts Riley Mozingo as she drags her good friend, Anderson County Schools junior Emilee Hooks, toward the bounce house outside Lake City Elementary School.
Riley is a typical five-year-old. She loves princesses—especially The Little Mermaid, Ariel—and has big dreams to become a doctor when she grows up. But one thing sets Riley apart: she was diagnosed with astrocytoma grade 3.
She has had eight procedures since she was diagnosed with the brain tumor on May 14, 2010, and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Now, she has to attend physical therapy sessions because she has trouble with her left side. Her tumor hasn’t shrunk—it actually got bigger during chemo—but it’s stayed about the same size with radiation.
But it’s not all bad for Riley. She’s about to have her bedroom renovated by Special Spaces of Knoxville. The nonprofit organization renovates rooms for sick children all across the country, especially those with life-threatening illnesses. Riley is getting a princess-themed room.
Melanie Lamberson of Special Spaces said that once she heard about a five-year-old with cancer, she knew she had to help.
“She was diagnosed when she was two, and I have a two-year-old,” Lamberson said. “So that hit me pretty hard.” She said that Riley immediately shot to the top of her waiting list.
Lamberson is also a teacher at Clinch River Community School. Her service-learning students will join a team of teachers to renovate the bedroom. Riley will also receive a custom-made bed from Wood Maryville.
One of Riley’s favorite things to do is play and dress up as a princess, so a princess (and pirate) themed carnival was held at Lake City Elementary on Friday in her honor. A parade was also held in town to announce Riley’s arrival to the carnival. She rode in on a horse and carriage fit for a princess on her way to a ball.
She said her favorite is Ariel, and her outfit made that clear. She wore a Little Mermaid shirt with her name professionally sewed on and a skirt with Ariel to match.
Riley is homebound, but she is assigned to spend several days a month with a kindergarten class at LCES. Her teacher there, Heather Herrin, was dressed as the Little Mermaid, and others were dressed as Cinderella, Snow White, and other Disney princesses.
“She is amazed,” said mom Tomeka Mozingo. “She loved the horse carriage ride…and when we pulled up (at the school) she started naming the princesses.”
After she arrived at the carnival, Riley got to take a ride in the Life Star helicopter and then spent the rest of the evening at the bounce houses, with a few on-stage appearances in between.
In addition to the inflatables, there was a petting zoo, a silent auction, games, face-painting, and even Elvis. Adults were admitted for $5 and children for $3. All proceeds went toward the renovation.
Mozingo said that the family is amazed by the community’s support. All of Anderson County’s schools held a Hat Day, where kids could wear a hat with a $1 donation to Riley’s room. Friday’s carnival was expected to finish the fundraising.
“After this is shopping,” Lamberson said. The renovation is scheduled for May 10 and before-and-after pictures will be posted publicly to Special Spaces Knoxville’s Facebook page.
See photo gallery here.
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.