Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Student Chef's 'Inner Spark' Helps in Health Struggles

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Student Chef's 'Inner Spark' Helps in Health Struggles

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY MARAGHY

In a recent regional high school cooking competition, Middleburg High School culinary student Donald Wearstler won a ribbon for an edible display of frogs, fish and turtles he sculpted from lemons, walnuts, pecans, cloves, olives and other foods.

"It was really cool. He's just unbelievable. He has an inner spark that glows and he just spreads it," said Middleburg High culinary teacher Julia Parnell. "He's exciting to be around. He's dynamic. He's a leader. He's going to really be something special. He already is, but he will be a notable person someday, I know."

Wearstler, diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last year, is among more than 1,900 seniors graduating from Clay County public high schools on Friday.

The cause of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common malignancy in children, is unknown but medical improvements have produced cure rates that now exceed 70 percent.

Teachers, family and friends said despite nauseating cancer treatments, the 17-year-old has kept his, and their, spirits high. In addition to keeping his grades up, Wearstler continued working his part-time job making pizzas at Domino's Pizza on County Road 218.

Wearstler said his attitude and faith in God have helped him persevere.

"You just have to keep in mind that it won't last forever," he said. "It's just like a phase."

He's also kept focus on his aspiration to become a chef.

His family said Wearstler has been an Emeril Lagasse in the making since he was a kindergartner making Jello. He's known for his orange-chocolate cappuccino brownies and Jamaican baby back ribs. For his 16th birthday, he asked for, and received, a barbecue grill. After his diagnosis, he tried some recipes from the Living with Cancer cookbook designed to help battle fatigue.

With his cap and gown on Friday night, he'll wear a National Honor Society collar and a gold tassel, symbolizing that he's in the top 10 percent of his class.

Having cancer, he said, has changed his perspective, given him more compassion for others and deepened his faith in God. It also made him eligible for a $2,000 scholarship from the American Cancer Society. …

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