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Rehab program helps Merrill patient with cancer recovery

​​​The numbers tell part of the story about Jill Weber's physical therapy program after treatment for ovarian and endometrial cancer.

When she started the Stepping Stones Cancer Rehab and Recovery Services for cancer survivors, she could only balance on her left leg for 2.4 seconds. After just two months, she had gotten to 45 seconds. And in terms of walking distance, she's gone from just one-fourth of a mile to almost limitless distance.

But more than numbers, it's a subjective feeling about how the 52-year-old Merrill resident feels after surgery and chemotherapy.

"For me, the program has been wonderful. I think more people should take advantage of it to get them back to normal," she said. "Everybody's normal is different, but I need to be able to go full speed ahead."

Weber oversees nine Subway stores, some in western Wisconsin and others in the east. By necessity, she drives a lot and last summer started noticing a pain in her right side while traveling. By November, she had an ultrasound and CT scan that showed a tumor in her right ovary. She was referred to Dale Larson, M.D., a gynecological cancer specialist at Marshfield Clinic Marshfield Center.

"He is fantastic. He wasn't scary about it but told me it probably was cancer," she said. Surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled for early December, at which time cancer was found in her uterus as well. Surgery was followed by six chemotherapy treatments every three weeks with Oncologist Arlene A. Gayle, M.D. The treatment worked and she now considers herself cancer-free.

During a visit to Dr. Gayle, she saw a brochure about the Stepping Stones program at Marshfield Clinic and thought it sounded good. Weber scheduled a session with Mary Repking​, a physical therapist at the Clinic's Merrill Center.

"We started on strength and balance, and the first exercises were geared to my left side," she said. "I had not noticed myself but it was very obvious to Mary that I had trouble balancing."

Standing on one foot and turning your head and upper body forces you to focus more so you find ways to keep your balance without using your hands. Repking also gave her exercises to improve her strength.

"Stepping Stones is targeted specifically to help patients who have significant side effects from cancer and its treatment," Repking said. "One of them is cancer-related fatigue, a persistent sense of tiredness that's not proportional to any day-to-day activities and isn't improved by resting.

"Working with Mary was great," Weber said. "She has a good way of working with you, could see what I needed and gave me good instructions. I had a great workout when I was there, almost like having a personal trainer."

Weber's sessions focused on stretching and regaining her stamina.

"I wake up feeling better almost every day and I'm back to where I was before, if not even better," Weber said. "I think Stepping Stones is a great program. It was a way for me to take control of my life again."

A physician referral is necessary for Marshfield Clinic Stepping Stones Cancer Rehab and Recovery Services. The Clinic will work with health insurance providers to complete prior authorization when it is required.