Brian Riva's Inspiration - Self Storage Association Globe

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Brian Riva's Inspiration - Self Storage Association Globe

ProfileThe Meaning of LifeStorage facility owner Brian Riva shares hisinspirational story of battling and beating cancer.The Riva family: Kate, Brian, Holley and Hayden.By Tom ComiAs Brian Riva was driving down theroad recently, his 8-year-old sonHayden turned to him and said, “Dad,fighting cancer is hard. But you did it.”Brian admits he almost had to pull offthe road to gain his composure. Hewas well aware what he had enduredand conquered over the past fiveyears, but it was at that moment thatit really hit him what his fight for lifewas all about. It was about Hayden;it was about his wife, Kate, and their10-year old daughter, Holley; and itwas about his brother, Michael, andtheir parents, Mickey and Tanya.Brian, along with his brother andparents, is part of a family businessthat owns and operates eight storagefacilities under three different namesin Connecticut, Massachusetts andVermont. And up until February 28of 2005, it seemed like his personaland professional lives couldn’t be anybetter.But on that fateful day while onfamily vacation in Florida, BrianRiva’s world was rocked.“I was feeling pain throughout thelower left back and wrapping aroundinto the left quad,” he vividly recalled.“The pain grew increasingly moreeach minute of each day, to the pointthat I could not sleep and my abilityto walk became less and less.”Fast forward a little over a month later,and an MRI would reveal a tumorfour inches wide by ten inches longgrowing through the pelvic cavity andalong his spine. The doctors preparedBrian and his family for the very-realpossibility that it could be sarcoma,a very deadly cancer that could havetaken his life in a matter of months.“We had to wait five days for thebiopsy to come back,” he said. “ThePAGE 18 ssA GLOBE JUNE 2010


diagnosis came back as non-Hodgkin’sB-cell lymphoma. It’s a veryaggressive form of cancer, but themore aggressive the cells, the betterchance of fighting and curing thedisease. I got the best of the threechoices that we were preparing for.This diagnosis was the only one thatgave us something to fight and cure.My wife and mother were huggingeach other. I won the cancer lottery!”In TreatmentThe news was indeed positive giventhe alternatives. But that was onlythe beginning of what was in storefor Brian and his family in next eightmonths. Less than a week after hisMRI, he was put on the first of sevenchemotherapy treatments and then25 sessions of radiation. Over thecourse of that time, he also had toendure being confined to bed, lengthyhospital stays, bone marrow tests,seven blood transfusions, a blood clotin his leg, rashes, fevers, back-to-backepisodes of kidney stones and a caseof shingles.But there was no medicine or innerstrength that could have possiblydampened the pain he felt when aneurologist told him the femoralnerve to his left quad was permanentlysevered and that he wouldnot be able to walk without a caneor brace.“My wife and I probably cried forthree hours after hearing that news,”he said. “That was the hardest part ofthis whole thing for me. My childrenwere five and three at the time, andI was being told I was never going torun or jump with them. I will neverbe able to react quickly enough tokeep them out of harm’s way. I reallystruggled with that.”Kate Riva said her children were wellaware that their father was sick andsuffering, and she admitted that theyprovided the perspective and inspirationboth she and her husbandneeded to get by.“They kept us going,” she said. “Wewould talk about Brian’s cancer veryopenly. It was harder some times thanothers. Brian’s leg was something thekids focused on about him being sick.But Daddy’s leg was what made senseto them. It was their visual of whatthe cancer was to them. It was whatkept Daddy in bed.“Holley and Hayden would visit Brianevery so often in the hospital,” shecontinued. “The nurses were great.They taught them how to listen tohis heart with the stethoscope andtake his blood pressure. They woulddraw pictures for him to decorate thewall of his room. Holley’s entire classmade a huge mural of an underwaterocean scene. We would bring this andHayden’s artwork along with photosof everyone to keep Brian’s room themost decorated room on the floor.”Michael Riva, who is two yearsyounger than Brian, said it was difficultdealing with the prospect oflosing his brother.“Anyone that has gone throughanything remotely close to this hashad those thoughts,” he admitted.“Luckily for us, for me, the outcomewas very good once they knew whatthey were dealing with. For me, it wasa matter of having faith in that positiveoutcome and not letting myselfget wrapped up in the bad thoughts.There are a lot of people out therewho get a different prognosis, andthat is something I hope I never haveto deal with.”Family MattersMickey and Tanya Riva started thebusiness with one storage facilityin 1989, and the family has sinceexpanded it to eight locations underthree different names. Stor-It-All hasfacilities in Connecticut and Massachusetts,All-Star Storage has threesites in Connecticut, and BenningtonSelf Storage is located in Vermont.Being out of work for a year wouldbe tough on any businessperson, butBrian was fortunate he had his familyaround in both a personal and professionalcapacity. They were there byhis side throughout his treatments,and they were able to cover for himwhile he was sidelined.“I have gained a greater appreciationfor being so lucky to be involved in afamily business,” he said. “We couldhave been in huge trouble if it werenot for a family business. I was outof commission for basically an entireyear. If it were not for the family business,I would have never been ableto pay our bills and keep the familyrolling. For that, I am forever grateful.”He is also appreciative of the roleKate played both at home as a motherfor his children and as a wife who hadessentially become his full time nurse.“The ordeal that we went through putmy wife onto an entirely differentplateau—one that I thought neverexisted,” he said. “She was amazing.She never showed fear or doubt.She put up with all my moods andwhining. I honestly do not think I canever repay her for what she did. Shewas my rock and my pillow.”Michael and Brian are taking overmore and more of the business astheir parents slowly edge closer toretirement. Sharing in that workwith his brother and coping with hisillness has also gave Michael a newperspective on how to juggle his ownpersonal and professional lives.“You really never know when somethingis going to happen,” Michaelsaid. “His cancer literally came fromout of nowhere. I think I now have agreater understanding that I need tobe doing what makes me happy andworking towards providing for myfamily in the event something likethis happens to me.”Lessons LearnedAlthough Brian is cautious aboutusing the term “cancer-free” todescribe his condition, his prognosisis very good. His immune system hasessentially been wiped out due tothe chemo, so he still has to undergotransfusions every four weeks toensure he has enough antibodies tofight off viruses.See Riva, page 20PAGE 19 ssA GLOBE JUNE 2010


Riva, from page 19But that is a small price to pay whenhe considers what could have been,which is why you will rarely if everhear him complain about the canceror his damaged leg. And anybodywho has met Brian knows how contagioushis personality, sense of humorand positive outlook can be.Brian’s wife, Kate, said peopleshouldn’t dismiss the meaning ofsayings such as “don’t take things forgranted,” “live life for today” and “bethankful for what you have.”“You usually hear these sayings aftersomeone has died or is terminallysick,” she said. “Brian, his family and Iknow what these mean, and we hopeno one else would have to learn it ourway. It means to take a moment everyday to say thank you to the worldaround you. Acknowledge whereyou are today; and if you aren’t happywith it, start changing it now.“Brian, Holley, Hayden and I have hadour lives changed, but it isn’t over,”she continued. “We are like everyoneelse trying to do the best we can withthe things we are dealt. Our bookisn’t done. The chapters are still beingwritten. It can be changed at any time.Until it is in ink, we have some say onhow it is going to be written.”The Riva brothers are different inmany ways, including the roles theyplay within in the company. But theyare also very similar, especially intheir personal lives. Michael and hiswife, Sarah, have a daughter (Ellie, 20months old) and another baby on theway, so Brian’s role as a husband andfather really hit home.“I can’t even relate to what he wentthrough, and I was standing rightthere,” said Michael, who sits onthe SSA board of directors. “For me,it’s more about watching someonego through something like this andrealizing what you as a human beingare capable of. There is nothing Ihave gone through that is in any way,shape or form comparable to what hewent through, and I remind myself ofthat every day.”So what message does Brian Rivahave for those who have now heardhis story?“Be thankful you are healthy andblessed to be surrounded by familyand friends,” he said. “And if somethinghappens, figure out a way towork around it. I go to as many activitiesas I can for my kids. You neverknow if you will be there tomorrowto see them. Life is good.” vBrian’s family, shown here in 2005, was by his side throughout his treatment and recovery.PAGE 20 ssA GLOBE JUNE 2010

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