WILLMAR — By all accounts, more people are becoming proud owners of campers than ever before.

The latest to join this growing club is 7-year-old Deacon Brethorst of Willmar. He and his family gave their new camper a test run at their home on Friday night, with plans to take it on the road this August for a camping adventure in the Bemidji area.

“He loves it,” said his mother, Jenna Brethorst.

The family picked up the camper in Monticello from Camping World of Minneapolis on July 12, courtesy of Make-A-Wish Minnesota and Camping World.

The Brethorst family of Willmar will be taking what they call "Deacon's Journey" in style, thanks to this camper provided by Make-A-Wish Minnesota. Deacon Brethorst, 7, was diagnosed at age 4 with a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma brain tumor. Deacon is shown with his parents, Kyle and Jenna, and 4-year-old sister Dawson. 
Courtesy photo
The Brethorst family of Willmar will be taking what they call "Deacon's Journey" in style, thanks to this camper provided by Make-A-Wish Minnesota. Deacon Brethorst, 7, was diagnosed at age 4 with a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma brain tumor. Deacon is shown with his parents, Kyle and Jenna, and 4-year-old sister Dawson. Courtesy photo

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Camping World supported Deacon’s wish and those of two others that day by providing a $2,995 discount on each camper, as well as providing each of the recipients with $1,000 gift cards for camping equipment, according to Amy Wartick, marketing and communications director with Make-A-Wish Minnesota.

The Brethorst family has been on what they call "Deacon’s journey" since he was 4 years old. A tumor on his brainstem was diagnosed as Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma.

It causes gait abnormalities and left side weakness. Jenna said it was first noticed by Deacon’s teacher while he was enrolled in a preschool program at the Jefferson Learning Center in Willmar. Before the teacher called attention to it, Jenna said she and her husband, Kyle, thought their young boy was just a little clumsy, and “had to grow into his feet.”

The diagnosis followed doctor visits and tests for a variety of conditions. It led to surgery, where doctors extracted a small sample of the tumor to confirm that it was JPA. Complications from the surgery required a one-month hospital stay.

The tumor’s location precludes its removal by surgery. Deacon has undergone chemotherapy to shrink it. He proved to be allergic to one of the drugs, making his chemotherapy all the more difficult.

Yet through it all, Jenna said he has remained very much the trooper.

“He is pretty good with it,” she said. “Some days (he’s) a little emotional, but for the most part he doesn’t let it get to him.”

Deacon may need to do another regimen of chemotherapy if his tumor grows. Doctors are keeping an eye on it. Overall, he is doing well, said his mother.

She said an oncologist treating Deacon had initially contacted Make-A-Wish Minnesota. It surprised the parents, since they always believed the organization served only children in end-of-life care.

At first, Deacon was planning to lead his parents, and 4-year-old sister, Dawson, on trips to Disneyland and LegoLand thanks to Make-A-Wish. The COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on hold, and Make-A-Wish offered Deacon other options.

Deacon Brethorst, 7, of Willmar, holds the keys to his new camper. The family picked it up on July 12.
Courtesy photo
Deacon Brethorst, 7, of Willmar, holds the keys to his new camper. The family picked it up on July 12. Courtesy photo

It was an easy call for him to decide on the offer of a camper. Two years ago, the family had rented a camper and made a trip to a Bemidji campground.

“He loved it,” said his mother. “He’s talked about it ever since.”

The family intends to repeat that very trip and stay in the same campground. Thanks to the new camper, Deacon’s mother said they are looking forward to making tons of family memories by going camping and having a good time.

Wartick, with Make-A-Wish Minnesota, said the organization tended to have just a few camping wishes each year. Now, there are 16 Minnesota children waiting for camper wishes as inventory is limited, she said.

The organization relies on charitable giving to grant wishes for Minnesota children with critical illnesses, so discounts like these from Camping World make a big difference, said Wartick. To learn more or support Make-A-Wish, visit mn.wish.org.