Riley’s Urgent Mission: Cancer Cures

Marcus Neblett 06.22.2020
Riley kid Marcus Neblett with Audrey Leisinger, RN

Three-year-old Marcus Neblett is a “laid-back, cool kid,” according to his mother Sherri. Marcus’ personality has served him well during a difficult medical journey.

Marcus was diagnosed with orbital rhabdomyosarcoma at 15 months old. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancerous tumor that forms in soft tissue―in Marcus’ case, around his eyes. When Sherri learned her baby had cancer, she knew they could find the highest quality care in their hometown of Indianapolis. “I had heard how great Riley is,” she recalled. “I wanted Marcus to have the best treatment, so when we found out, Riley was the first thing I thought of.”

Riley Pediatric Oncologist Michael Ferguson, M.D., led Marcus’ treatment, including 46 weeks of chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, and five weeks of radiation. After a brief cancer-free period, Marcus relapsed last fall and is undergoing more chemotherapy for at least nine months.

The Neblett family has developed a special bond with their Riley caregivers. “They’re like family,” Sherri said. “They watch your kids grow up. Marcus had barely started walking when he was first diagnosed.” She is especially grateful for Riley’s Child Life team―supported in large part by donors―for providing welcome distractions during lengthy appointments. “They always seem to come in right on time.”

Dr. Ferguson is optimistic that research will result in better treatment options to help kids like Marcus grow up healthy. He is collaborating on a study at the donor-funded Wells Center for Pediatric Research, using tumor cells from his patients to test new therapies. “This is vital work,” he said. “The research will help to define new treatments for patients with aggressive or recurrent sarcomas.” The $14.5 million dollars Riley Children’s Foundation granted to the research team last year has helped this “vital work” accelerate. 

For now, Marcus visits Riley with energy and hugs to spare. Sherri’s message for Riley Children’s Foundation donors who support her son’s care comes straight from the heart: “We love you!”

To join Riley’s quest for cures by making a gift, visit

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