Defying the Odds, One Mile at a Time

MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa  --  A diagnosis in 2012 changed everything for Debbie Gunn and her husband Randy.

“It affected my speech and walking,” said Debbie.

It's called paraneoplastic neurological syndrome: an extremely rare condition that results from antibodies attacking cancer cells, but also causes collateral damage elsewhere in the body.  In Debbie’s case, fighting breast cancer damaged parts of her brain.

“It's so rare that no one knows what it'll do,” said Debbie.

At one point, doctors were not sure Debbie would ever walk again.

“It was like losing myself,” she said.

But Debbie didn't let doubt stop her; she can move around with the help of a walker, and she’s confident at some point she'll be able to walk unassisted.

“Oh I know I am, I'm going to fight it every step,” she said.

To make it to that goal, Debbie has been in physical therapy at Mercy Riverside Rehab. Part of her program involves participating in the Grand Blue Mile on Tuesday. Next week will be the fourth time she's participated.

“I don't like doing it, but I sure like when it's done. Last year I did it in 41 minutes and I hope to beat my time,” she said.

The race takes every ounce of strength Debbie has, and she says she hopes the effort she puts forward inspires other people struggling with their own fight.

“I hope it shows others they can do it, too. I always think to myself or try to tell myself, 'well, if I take one more step, that's one more step towards walking,'” she said.

Debbie says beating her best time would be great, but it just means she has a new time to beat next year.