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Running the road to cancer recovery

​​​​​​​Joanna Gustafson's reaction when she learned in October 2012 that she had B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was not one of fear, apprehension or sadness. Rather, she reacted with dogged determination to take the disease head-on.

"What's next?" recalled the 32-year-old Gustafson, of Marshfield, about her response to the diagnosis. "I was surprised to find out that I had cancer, but the doctors gave me a positive prognosis so I was ready to move forward."

Breaking the news to her three young children that she had cancer was difficult and the intense chemotherapy treatments were tougher, but she was completely unprepared for what came after each treatment — seven days of bed rest. For an active runner and a stay-at-home mom who raised her children and couriered them to school and events, this was almost too much.

"That was a bit more intense than I expected," Gustafson said of the extreme fatigue she felt after the treatments that lasted from October until late January.

Friends and family helped prepare meals and watched the children as Gustafson's health improved. Combined with treatment provided by her Marshfield Clinic doctors and nurses, including her oncologist, William Hocking, M​.D., she was ready to resume her active lifestyle once again.

Gustafson met Vivian Gamble​, an occupational therapist at Marshfield Center who works with Marshfield Clinic Stepping Stones Cancer Rehab and Recovery Services, after her last treatment. Stepping Stones offers rehabilitation and exercise programs designed to help individuals begin fitness activities for the first time or safely return to an already-established exercise program.

"With her active lifestyle, I knew she wanted to go back all guns-a-blazing. But she did a run a week before I started with her, and she was exhausted," Gamble said. "I advised her to take a step back and told her how to progress gradually so she could achieve her long-term goals safely."

Little by little, Gustafson added time and distance to her runs. She made it a goal to add one mile to her runs by the monthly anniversary of her last chemotherapy treatment.

"Dr. Hocking said some people will feel the effects of chemotherapy for six months to a year after their last treatment," Gustafson said. "By five months, I felt like me again."

On a warm, cloudy day in late July, Gustafson made it to six months cancer free since her last treatment. She celebrated by achieving her goal of running six miles under 60 minutes. She reached her goal with 19 seconds to spare.

Gustafson mixes running several days a week with bike rides and gardening to give her a well-rounded workout.

"I try to encourage cancer survivors to safely work on strengthening, flexibility and aerobics," Gamble said. "We provide the right kind of tools for survivors to achieve appropriate short and long-term fitness goals."