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Fundraiser set to benefit Mark Heesch

Mark Heesch, a 1979 graduate of Hastings High School, hasn't had the smoothest life.

At the age of 30, he became a single father of three children ages 4, 3 and 1. His wife had left them, and the couple eventually divorced, said Eden Prairie resident Mallory Heesch, Mark's second oldest.

"He, without even questioning it, just took responsibility," Mallory said.

He moved his family to Rosemount, remarried and had two more children, but the second marriage didn't work out either, and he was left with the responsibility of raising his five children on his own.

Mark didn't let his circumstances get the better of him, however.

"He was a very involved parent," Mallory said. "I think he realized that because he was the sole person raising us that he needed to be active in our lives."

Even the fact that four of his children were girls didn't stop him from involving them in his interests. Mark is an avid outdoorsman, Mallory said, and he took the kids fishing and hunting a lot and on other sorts of "manly" activities.

"It's kind of a wonder that none of us girls turned out to be tomboys," Mallory said.

His attitude was what stood out to Mallory.

"I always remember him having a positive attitude," she said.

Mark's example had a strong effect on his children.

"I think being raised solely by my father has definitely given everyone in my family a strong sense of independence," Mallory said. "He really taught us to think for ourselves."

His oldest daughter, Meghan Heesch, a 2004 graduate of Rosemount High School, just graduated from Harvard Law School in May.

"She has said time and again that she would never have reached such heights without his support, encouragement and love," Mallory said.

Battling for his life

The story could have easily ended with Mark's children growing up, but there was more in store for him.

Toward the end of last year, at the age of 50, he started noticing that his vision - especially his peripheral vision - was deteriorating abnormally fast. He went to several eye doctors, all of whom confirmed that there was nothing wrong with his eyes.

In March, he had an MRI of his brain done. The results were not good. The MRI showed several tumors in his brain indicative of late stage cancer that had spread from elsewhere in his body. Further tests identified the exact issue. Mark had stage four lung cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes, the bones in his lower back and his brain. Although the cancer is treatable, it's not curable at this stage, Mallory said. Chemotherapy and radiation will buy him time, but he'll never be rid of the cancer.

It's been a difficult time for the family. There have been many issues, such as figuring out who will take care of the younger children (Mark's youngest is 16 and still living with him), helping him get to doctor appointments, taking care of the house and more.

"And that doesn't even compare to the emotional side of things," Mallory said.

"We just don't know how much time he has left."

With no treatment, doctors estimated Mark would live about a year, and he would have a lot of pain toward the end.

Family and friends have stepped up to help as much as they can; his son has been instrumental in helping around the house, as has the youngest daughter. Mark's mother recently retired and has been highly involved as well, especially with getting Mark to his appointments. Because of where the tumors are in his brain, Mark is at risk for seizures and the effects on his vision have made it difficult to drive.

Mark's treatment started in early April with radiation for the brain tumors. After 20 sessions and a couple weeks' break, he started chemo. His treatment will continue for the foreseeable future.

So far, chemo and radiation have been working as well as can be expected, Mallory said. The tumors in his brain and lung shrank by 50 percent. It hasn't done anything to reduce the cancer in his lymph nodes and lower back, but they don't expect those areas to improve. However, the cancer in those areas is not getting worse, Mallory said.

Asking for help

With no end of treatment in sight, costs are accumulating for the family quickly. For the past four to five years, Mark has run his own eBay business, but since treatment began he's been unable to work.

To help with expenses, a benefit dinner is planned for Aug. 18 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be sloppy Joes, chips, coleslaw and dessert. The cost is $7 per plate. There will also be a silent auction and drawings for door prizes. The dinner will be held at the Eagles Club in Hastings, 1220 Vermillion St.

The Mark Heesch Donation Fund has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank, 400 Vermillion St. in Hastings. Money raised at the dinner will go into the fund and will be used to help with medical expenses.