Chippewa Falls cancer patient relies on exercise for health

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (AP) — Lisa Willkom walks three miles every day. She also does yoga four days a week. She sees exercise as vital activity to suppress her cancer as she moves into the last few months of her fatal diagnosis.

The 60-year-old Chippewa Falls resident has been putting up a fight for 40 years now, The Chippewa Herald ( ) reported. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease when she was 20, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

She said the treatment for it involved heavy radiation, which is believed to have sparked a series of cancers that followed it. After beating it, she got it again when she was 25.

When she was 45, she got breast cancer. Then again at 50. At 55, she had her first pacemaker put in after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Last summer she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

In March, doctors told her she has six months left to live.

Being a nurse for the weight management department of the Mayo Clinic Health System, Willkom sees the importance of fitness and staying healthy until the end.

Willkom is a member of the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA in Chippewa Falls and has been for the last 27 years. There she walks on the treadmill and does yoga, two things she said have helped her immensely.

During doctor visits, she finds out the amount of exercise she is doing and how much that is helping her treatment. She said they're amazed at how well she is doing. When talking to her oncologist about her previous diagnosis, he said they may have to push the timetable back.

"I don't know how long my journey will be but I just would like to feel as good as I can as long as I'm here," Willkom said.

Today she said she's feeling good, something she contributes to exercise.

Her daughters got her into yoga four years ago and when she first started, it was terrible. She said the exercises can be hard and she gets short of breath easily but everyone in the class has been encouraging to her. Now she can't get enough of it.

"It's kind of addicting," Willkom said. "Like, I can't not go. I don't do it because I love it, I do it because I know it's important."

She thinks it sounds cliche, she has appreciated every single day and is happy to have the friends and family she does in her life.

Even though Willkom's situation is more severe than most, she said everybody will have stresses in their life and it's important to be in the healthiest state possible to face those stresses.

Six years ago, when Willkom got a new internal medicine doctor, he said, "Lisa, things are going to continue to come down the pike at you and I want you to be in the best state of health so that you can tackle those."

Those were words she has never forgotten.

Today, Willkom doesn't worry about much. She has written every letter she needs to write. Her funeral arrangements are all in order. She doesn't worry about herself but does worry about her family and how her husband and four children are handling the situation.

"The beauty is that now I can just live every day," Willkom said. "I don't have anything I'm worrying about. It's kind of freeing in a way."

Throughout this experience Willkom said she couldn't have done it without her family, friends and her faith community. Part of combating cancer, she said, is having to be realistic about the situation but to also see the good.

She said God gave her the personality to "see the glass half full." She's been grateful for the gift of staying strong and upbeat and doesn't believe she could have made it through the last 40 years without it.


Information from: The Chippewa Herald,

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Chippewa Herald.

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