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  • Nancy Vonruden experienced at least four separate occurrences of cancer during a 20-year period. In spite of the debilitating effects of surgeries and treatments, she worked diligently to regain lost ground and maintain the highest possible level of function.

    She came to Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - Owatonna (now Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute) in November 2010, after having had surgery to remove numerous lymph nodes and her right iliac vein; and treatment for tumors in her right lung.

    She had developed lymphedema, for which she wore compression garments. Right femoral nerve-associated muscle weakness made gait and stair climbing difficult, especially problematic because Vonruden and her husband live in a multi-level home. Her right knee would give out at times on the stairs, resulting in occasional falls.

    When Vonruden arrived for her first appointment, she was using a rolling walker and a splint to prevent her right knee from giving way. Her therapists - Sheryl Mans, PT, Christy Christianson, PTA, and Gina Boyd, PTA - report that Vonruden worked hard in therapy; and by early 2011, she was walking without the walker or splint. She was able to work full time, navigate her multi-level home, and have mobility in her community.

    However, by mid-2011, a recurrence of the tumors and their subsequent ablation/removal resulted in recurrence of a buckling right knee, balance problems, stair climbing challenges, and the need to use the knee splint and a cane for ambulation.

    At the end of 2011, Vonruden returned to physical therapy to work again on strengthening and gait. She progressed well, despite some additional setbacks that caused a brief hiatus in her therapy.

    With hard work and determination, she was subsequently discharged from physical therapy in spring 2012, able to walk without the brace and using a single-ended cane. She resumed her life and work with confidence, while continuing to do strengthening exercises at home and in the fitness center at her place of employment.

    Vonruden always maintained a positive, optimistic attitude despite all of her surgeries, treatments and therapies. Arriving for therapy most days at 7 a.m. before going to her full-time job, she rarely missed a session. Her therapists say that she was always pleasant and extremely motivated. She worked through her weakness and pain and always asked her therapists to challenge her further.

    Vonruden's diligence and persistence, combined with her consistently positive attitude, have been a source of inspiration to her therapists and to all who know her. She continues to challenge herself to achieve new personal goals.

    Currently, she is planning the adventures of zip-lining and white-water rafting. Now that's surely an inspiration to us all!