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East Grand Forks girl treated for cancer goes on family houseboat adventure

Rylie Heisler of East Grand Forks and her younger sister, Hadyn, show off a couple of walleyes from a family fishing trip to Devils Lake in this undated photo. (Submitted photo)

Rylie Heisler and her family have endured their share of rough water since the East Grand Forks 19-year-old was diagnosed in October with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer.

Next week, though, any rough water the family encounters will be aboard a deluxe, 44-foot houseboat—complete with hot tub and water slide—cruising Crane Lake and Voyageurs National Park in northeast Minnesota, courtesy of Voyagaire Houseboats and the Minnesota Outdoor Adventure Foundation.

The foundation provides outdoor adventures, mainly hunting and fishing trips, to children and young adults with life-threatening illnesses, along with military veterans disabled in combat.

Rylie and her parents, Doug and Dee; sister Hadyn, 16; and aunt and uncle, Bill and Leann Heisler of Devils Lake, will be on the houseboat from Sept. 7 to Sept. 11.

Voyagaire Houseboats is donating the houseboat, and the Minnesota Outdoor Adventure Foundation is covering the rest of the trip, including two days of guided fishing, insurance, groceries and gas for the houseboat.

"We haven't been anywhere like that, but she's fished all her life on Devils Lake," Rylie's mother, Dee Heisler, said Wednesday. "We're really excited."

Rylie, who recently turned 19, missed most of her senior year undergoing treatment for her bone cancer at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. First, she had surgery to remove the tumor in her leg. That was followed by extensive chemotherapy.

Dee Heisler said she and her husband, Doug, spent almost nine months living at a nearby Ronald McDonald House to be close to their daughter.

That's where they came across a brochure about the Minnesota Outdoor Adventure Foundation. It was kind of an afterthought, Dee says, but they decided to contact the foundation about applying for a fishing trip. Dan Oliver, the foundation's volunteer state director, followed up and suggested either a guided fishing trip on Devils Lake or the houseboat trip.

Dee says her reaction to the houseboat idea was obvious, and within days, Oliver had put the trip together. They learned about the adventure in early June, shortly before Rylie returned home to East Grand Forks.

"Whatever he could put together would have been fine," Dee said. "We didn't ask for anything, but he put it all together. It didn't seem real at the time.

"With Rylie missing her whole senior year, she's missed out on a lot this year, so to be able to give her this kind of happiness and be able to do some fishing and spend some family time without the stress is going to be nice."

Oliver says proceeds from a big fundraiser auction every February pay for most of the trips the foundation provides. So far this year, the foundation has arranged nine outdoor adventures, including the Heislers' upcoming houseboat excursion, he said.

"Through our association with Voyagaire Houseboats, we pretty much had that available just waiting for the right situation and the right family," Oliver said. "Once Rylie came along, that was just a perfect fit."

Rylie, who likes to fish, says she's feeling good but admits she gets bored because she still can't do as much as she could before her treatment. She has physical therapy three days a week and plans to attend Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks in January to pursue a nursing degree.

In the short term, though, Rylie says she's looking forward to fishing and trying out the hot tub and the water slide on the houseboat.

Dee says the timing of the trip is perfect, because Rylie returns to the cities Sept. 28 for a recheck. Besides undergoing scans to determine whether her cancer is still in remission, Rylie will have tests to check her heart, kidneys and hearing for any possible negative, long-term effects from the chemotherapy.

Knowing the houseboat trip is on the horizon is a welcome diversion, Dee says.

"It's given not only Rylie, but our whole family something to look forward to, something to talk about," Dee said. "The planning of it is as important as the trip itself, and Dan Oliver has been so generous and so kind. It's just a very wonderful feeling to know people out there care about other people."

For more information on the Minnesota Outdoor Adventure Foundation, check out the website at or contact Oliver at

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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