‘The kid just has got this fighting spirit’

Heppleston family thankful for community support

Diane Crocker dcrocker@thewesternstar.com
Published on August 11, 2014

As the group of walkers and vehicles in the Parade for Stella gets further ahead of him, Paul Heppleston said it’s things like the walk that buoy his family.

The parade of more than 100, walkers and those in the vehicles, from Pasadena and Deer Lake, was all for Paul’s daughter Stella, who was diagnosed with brain cancer almost a year ago.

“This is what living is all about to me, being in a community,” said Paul.

 Seven-year-old Stella Heppleston wasn’t with the walkers, but she was at home where she’s continuing her recovery.

Paul, a local teacher known for his support of young people in the arts, joined the walk at Elwood High in Deer Lake. The school is just one he’s taught at in the area. The parade made its way out to the Trans-Canada Highway at St. Judes and from there the participants drove in vehicles along the highway to Exit 13 at Pasadena. The walk then continued along the main road of the town the Heppleston family — Paul, his wife Janice Preston, Stella and her younger sister Charlotte — call home.

As Paul walked the nearly three and half kilometres from just past the highway exit to Pasadena Elementary, Stella’s school, he spoke candidly about the past year, describing it with one word, “excruciating.”

In the 11 months since Stella took ill there have been a number of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, some mixed opinions and many, many ups and downs.

But through it all Paul said Stella is coming along.

From a cancer standpoint things are good, her treatment is going well, she’s had minimal sickness with the chemotherapy and the last couple of MRIs have given the family good news about the tumour being gone.

Now the focus is on her rehabilitation with physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

“She works her butt off in rehab,” said Paul. “The kid just has got this fighting spirit.”

Just how long Stella’s recovery will take is unknown, after all the brain and how it works is a mystery.

“My hope for Stella is she’s able to be Stella again, fully,” he said.

One day he’s sure she’ll be the very busy little girl she once was — running, talking, singing and dancing.

“We’re dying to hear her speak for the first time, so we can get her reaction to so many things that have gone on.”

And then together they’ll write a story that Paul hopes will encourage others.

As he continues to walk under a bright sun people driving by stop to ask him how things are going, wish him well or just honk and wave.

For Paul it’s just another show of support from the community, close at home and far away, have shown his family.

He said it’s something that was never expected or even asked for, but something his family is happy to have.

About $10,000 was raised for the family through the parade.