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Dreams For Kids organizers and ride participants pose with the Huesman family and others present on Saturday who have benefited from the ride's sponsorship and the Make A Wish Foundation. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Well-earned rewards

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He's already taken a journey for his life; now he's about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

After a nearly year-long battle with cancer, 15-year-old Joshua Huesman is ready to sail the seas on an eight-day Alaskan Cruise.

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The trip is Josh's wish come true, granted through the Make A Wish Foundation and sponsored by the Dreams For Kids Ride, a local motorcycle ride that raises funds for the cause.

The Lake Park-Audubon sophomore went through his final radiation treatment on Monday, and is now "looking forward to the views" from the ship's deck. He and his family leave Sept. 6.

"We're starting to feel like things are getting back to normal now," said Josh's mom Liz as she smiled warmly at her son. "He's even starting to get his hair back."

The family shared their story on Saturday evening during the Dreams For Kids celebration at Pioneer Village in Perham. In addition to Josh's mom, his dad Brian and little sister Brianne were also there - everyone except his older brother Jacob.

Josh was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last October, they said, and has since gone through chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and radiation treatments.

Early on, Josh's doctor advised the Huesmans to get their friends and family together for a fundraiser, because he was going to recommend Josh's case to the Make A Wish Foundation. The family found out right before Christmas that Josh's wish had been granted.

Initially, the family was scheduled to take the cruise in May, but Josh suffered an unfortunate relapse and the trip had to be postponed.

Today, however, things are looking up, and Josh says he's "feeling good." He even plans to participate in track next year.

Josh is one of two boys from the area to benefit from this year's Dreams For Kids Ride. The other, an 8-year-old from Frazee named Wiley, was unable to attend Saturday's event.

But Josh wasn't the only Make A Wish beneficiary there. Other young cancer survivors who were granted wishes in the past came to visit and express their thanks. There was Kerilyn Gerlach of Oak Grove, Minn., for example; a 15-year-old who got to swim with the dolphins in the Bahamas, thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation. And 19-year-old Brady BrandenBerghe of Eden Prairie, Minn., who got a new snowmobile last year through the charity.

Jean Carlson, who works with local Make A Wish-related fundraising groups (like Dreams For Kids) from all across the state, said this is the organization's 30th year in Minnesota. In that time, 3,800 wishes have been granted to kids with life-threatening medical conditions. Wishes can include trips, like Josh's Alaskan Cruise, celebrity meetings, a room makeover, things to have, such as Brady's snowmobile, or things to be, like a fashion model for a day.

"I would like to see every child with a life-threatening illness get signed up (with Make A Wish)," said Karen Umland, a volunteer 'wish granter' out of Ottertail who works with local families that benefit from the Make A Wish Foundation. "A lot of parents won't do it because they think their kids aren't sick enough."

Even so, there have been a lot of kids on the local referral list lately. Umland said she's worked with three from Perham, one in New York Mills, and two others in the area in the last few months alone.

"There are a lot more around the area than people realize," she said.

Groups like Dreams For Kids help sponsor a number of these local children, and in some cases other community fundraisers will also contribute. The Make A Wish Foundation ensures that every child granted a wish sees his or her dream fulfilled.

It's a cause that a lot of people believe in - many because they've experienced the pain of cancer or other serious illnesses firsthand, or know someone who has.

Take Wes and Kathy Peters of Litchfield, Minn. The couple took part in this year's Dreams For Kids Ride for the second year in a row, and plan to keep doing it. The ride is just one of several they take every summer to raise money for various cancer-related causes. Why? Because their own daughter, Tanya, fought a hard battle herself.

Now 25 years old and only recently considered 'cancer free,' Tanya went through multiple surgeries over five years to remove tumors in her pelvis, lungs and brain. Her parents supported her the whole way through. They now continue that support for others in need, through their charity rides.

"This is what we do," Wes said after the ride on Saturday, decked out in his bandana and black leather vest. "This is our crusade."

Shawn Weatherhead, of Perham, also had a special person in mind when he signed up for the Dreams For Kids Ride this year - and that person ended up riding along.

Thirteen-year-old Hannah Enge, the same girl that Shawn found stranded on the side of the road with her mother at the end of December, returned to town this weekend to take the 130-mile motorcycle ride with her "Christmas Angel."

Shawn, the owner of Little Bear Towing, drove the girl and her mother all the way home to Thief River Falls at no charge that night after learning about their ordeal. It turned out Hannah had been in and out of hospitals for months after suffering two concussions. The two had been trying to get home for the holidays from the Ronald McDonald House in Fargo, N.D., when their vehicle broke down on Highway 10.

They were emotionally and financially spent, at the end of their rope, when Shawn came to their rescue - in a Santa hat, no less. They later wrote a letter to the editor thanking him, and have kept in touch ever since.

During the ride on Saturday, Hannah "clenched onto my shoulders so hard I still have marks," joked Shawn. "She had never ridden more than a block on a motorcycle before... But by the end of the ride, she was a veteran."

Shawn said Hannah has been an inspiration to him. He's been trying to follow her life philosophy of putting others first, and raising money for charitable causes.

"If you do things for other people, it just comes back to you," he said. "It comes back."

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