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Neva Shepersky's family celebrates

There are many milestones in a baby's life. Their first word, first steps, and first birthday just to name a few. For Neva Shepersky's family of Ponsford, there was a different kind of milestone recently.

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Neva Shepersky, 18 months, and her family are happy about her progress toward beating cancer, and thankful for the community's support. (Submitted photo)

There are many milestones in a baby's life. Their first word, first steps, and first birthday just to name a few. For Neva Shepersky's family of ​Ponsford, there was a different kind of milestone recently.

Feb. 21 marked a year since Neva was diagnosed with leukemia. After treatment at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, she was able to transfer to ​Sanford in Fargo.

Now 18 months old, Neva is nearing the end of ​her intense inpatient ​treatments before moving into scheduled maintenance. Her family is looking forward to resuming ​to a somewhat normal life and introducing their special little girl to people outside her immediate family.

"By April, she should be able to start seeing the rest of the world," her dad Jeremy said. "So far, all she has seen is her family, the car and staff at ​the hospitals and clinics."

A roller coaster year

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It has been a long year for the ​Jeremy ​and Carin ​Shepersky ​family, a year marked with both struggles and an incredible show of community support that helped them get through it.

"It's been a bit of a roller coaster year, but it's getting better," Jeremy said. "Neva is doing very well. Every Wednesday since December, we have been driving to Sanford in Fargo for a weekly dose of chemo."

​Carin said Neva will be going ​in for a week of inpatient treatment on Feb. ​27 and will be in the hospital about six days.

"She usually gets sick a few days later, and ​then we go back to the hospital for a few more days," ​Carin said. "The whole process takes about two weeks, ​and then another month to fully recover. It's a pretty intense period. ​This will be her last inpatient stay. After that, we'll move into maintenance, which is once a month ​for about 16 months. This will ​mark a major milestone."

During the past year, they have had to be very careful Neva is not exposed to illnesses, as the treatments weaken her immune system. That has meant keeping her at home.

"The grandparents have done a lot of babysitting," ​Jeremy​ said. "They've been a huge help through everything. ​Carin's parents are right next door ​and help with the day to day stuff. My mom has watched her many Sunday mornings so the rest of us can go to church together."

Jeremy said that supporting Neva through her illness has made their bond especially close. "I've spent more time with Neva by far than with any of our five other kids when they were small," he said. "And Neva just loves her siblings. She's all over all of them."

He said the hardest time for the family was in December when Neva had an inpatient treatment in the middle of the month, came home, and then got sick on Dec. 23 with a fever and had to go back to the hospital.

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"She missed all of Christmas Eve, which we do with my wife's family, and then Christmas morning Carin called and said they were coming home," Jeremy said. "She got to my family's the afternoon of Christmas day, and then we waited to celebrate our family Christmas on Dec. 26. It was a little stressful. The kids ​were great about it though. They all woke up Christmas morning, looked at all the presents, but decided to wait until mom and Neva got home. They set their alarm clocks for 5 a.m. on Dec. 26, and that is when ​we celebrated ​our Christmas."

Waiting to share Neva with the world

Jeremy says his little girl is amazing. "Of course we've got a special spot for her," he said.

"She's up early in the morning and helps wake everybody up for school with a kiss," he said. "​We've never let any of the kids kiss her on the lips, because we don't want her to get sick, so she's always been kissed on the top of her head. So when you ask her for a kiss, she bend​s down and puts her forehead to your mouth."

Things that most families do with their children like going to church or a basketball game haven't happened ​for the past year for Neva.

"I'm excited for other people to meet her because she's so fun," Jeremy said. "And really, nobody really knows her. The only time she has ever ​leaves our house is to go to the clinic. She laughs and plays with the nurses, who think she's absolutely adorable. It's only the 20 seconds when ​they access her port that she cries. Once they put a bandage on she laughs and giggles the rest of the time. She takes her chemo drugs like a champ. From what I understand, the treatment process has gone as good as it can go."

Jeremy said Neva was a little slow walking, but she's moving around really well now. "She still doesn't have any hair, but that's because of the chemotherapy," he said.

A journey of faith and community support

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Jeremy said the Bible verse they have clung to during the past year is Romans 12:12: "Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer."

"It has been absolutely huge just knowing that while this wasn't our plan, ​it's God's plan," he said. "​Having to ​have gone through this, it's brought us all closer."

The family belongs to Faithbridge church in Park Rapids. "We're still ​receiving prayer and well wishes from our church family, who also started the meal train ​plan and gave us financial support," Jeremy said. "​And the overall financial ​and uplifting support we received from our community ​and cancer organizations was absolutely unbelievable. The ​amount of money the GoFundMe page ​and drop offs at the bank raised was astonishing." ​

One of the first checks the family received came from the Audrey's Purple Dream foundation in Akeley. They also received help from the Princess Warrior Foundation in Wadena.

While it has been a difficult year, they have kept focused on moving forward in faith.

"With five other kids, there's not a whole lot of time to sit and reflect," Jeremy said. "Every night ​it seems we have ​some type of activity. Whether it be a practice, AWANA or a gathering of some kind, and ​a lot of weekend games."

Support from family and friends ​helped them stay positive. "We have a couple of different families that help out every time we need someone dropped off or picked up," he said. "We had some good friends who took care of our dogs when we were in the hospital down in the Cities. ​As a whole between our family, friends, church and community, they helped us take a bad situation and find a lot of good in it."​​

Carin recently went back to work at CHI St. Joseph's Health, where she is a registered nurse, ​and soon Jeremy will go back to pouring concrete every day with Gemstone Masonry.

"We're finally getting back into our normal swing of things," Jeremy said.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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