Asahi for Cancer Survivors

Debra Wahlberg has survived cancer 8 times. It is her mission to encourage other people with cancer to do Asahi. If she can, so can they!

(Deb teaching her class at Little FInland, in Hurley, Wisconsin)


By Debra Hautala Wahlberg

I first was introduced to Asahi, the Finnish health practice, in 2016 by Margaret Vainio while we were on a FinnFest cruise. Margaret and I were friends from college and were singers while on the cruise. Margaret was demonstrating Asahi in the mornings as well. We continued doing Asahi at the next FinnFest in Minneapolis. I was hooked on Asahi by the time 2021 came around, and Margaret and I were both staying in Marquette, MI for several months. We did it every morning by beautiful Lake Superior with a growing group of people. I certified in the C level training early in the fall of 2021. Margaret returned the following year and I certified in the B level in 2022. This year I will be working to certify in A-1 level.

(Deb, 2nd right, performing on the FinnFest 2016 cruise)

I have experienced 8 cancer events in the last 53 years of my life. I did have a 32 year reprieve from age 16 to age 48, but the residual effects have stayed for all 53 years. Cancer not only weakens your body by ways of chemotherapy, radiation and other medications but as well can strip you of functional muscles and balance through surgery.

(Deb in 2021, the summer of her C-level certification)

Although I have had many different types of cancer, some have been more life altering than others. No matter what the type, there has always been a residual effect on my body and mind. Choices have had to be made daily of leading a productive life or letting pain and fear stop me in my tracks. I want to show you how Asahi, and simply making and watching myself on video, was a breakthrough event for me personally, and how I can use it to help others through Asahi and the triumph movement in a body that has encountered the traumatic effects of cancer.

(Deb congratulating her first C-level student, Dr. Boris Zuchner, Aug. 2023)

I want to list the types of cancer I experienced so you can better understand what I encountered.

In 1970-1971 I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in my spine. It was a lymphoma that was treated by cobalt treatments. Chemotherapy was still experimental at this time. After having intense pain at age 15 and seeing 13 doctors, an orthopedic surgeon in Duluth Minnesota decided to do surgery on my back, thinking it was a pinched nerve in my spine that was causing the intense pain. Nothing showed on x-rays and MRIs andCT scans weren’t available yet. The tumor that the team of doctors found in surgery went through the bone and nerve of my lower lumbar vertebrae. A neurologist was called into surgery and actually thought he had paralyzed me from the waist down. The orthopedic doctor cut the tumor out of the bone, and they both told me later they felt as long as they had saved my life, the physical defects caused by surgery and the cancer were secondary. I was not paralyzed and my lower back gave me minimal problems through the years. As I have aged I do have lower back pain and arthritis in my back.

Cancer #2 in 1971-72 was another lymphoma in my right lung. It was a quick growing aggressive cancer, so I was sent to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Again, cobalt was used as the treatment, with no surgery.

In 2003, I was thinking I had a pulled muscle in my right leg from shoveling snow off of the roof of our house. I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my right hip and upper thigh. I had aggressive chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumor before surgery. The plan was to possibly remove my leg and the tumor to save my life. The chemo was very strong, making me extremely ill every three weeks when I received it. I felt the effects were accumulative, so by the third month there weren’t any good days in between treatments. After the second round, I ended up in the hospital for a week which was the picture of the entire chemo trip. My oncologist at Mayo told me that if I could make it through the chemo, the surgery would be a “piece of cake”. In surgery, two muscle groupings were removed with the necrotic tumor, leaving me with a severe limp, but I still had my leg and my life.

2005 brought on a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. The doctors of the Mayo Clinic removed my thyroid and five lymph nodes on the right side surgically. This was followed by radioactive iodine I had to drink 6 weeks later brought to me by a nurse in a hazmat suit with thick gloves. No problem.

In 2010, I got the diagnosis of breast cancer. A double mastectomy was performed followed by preparation for implants. My skin failed during this surgery, due to the radiation I had had on my lung in 1971. I had to go back into surgery 10 days after the mastectomy and have my left side redone to remove the dead skin and redo the surgery. Three more surgeries were required.

(On the FinnFest St. Lawrence Seaway Cruise in 2016- a walk for cancer. Deb holding the banner)

In 2017, the diagnosis of lung carcinoma came. I had one third of my right lung removed.

2020 produced a cancerous tumor in my thyroid bed near my vocal chords. I had an alcohol ablation that was done half way when it thwarted my ability to speak. My vocal chords were frozen for under an hour, but the treatment was stopped. Being a music teacher and vocalist, this might have been the most traumatic part so far.

In 2022 another tumor appeared in my thyroid bed, this time closer to my vocal cords. I had surgery to remove it, and was told by the doctor that 100%, he felt I would have no voice afterwards. I can talk and sing, but the doctor never found the tumor.

(Deb, front row, 4th from the left singing at FinnFest 23)

I continue to go to the Mayo Clinic for check ups every six to twelve months. As a multiple cancer survivor, life is a fragile thing, always having to teeter between wholeness and health and another episode of cancer, hospitals and treatment. It doesn’t rule me by fear in my day to day life, but it is always there in the back of my mind. The disability that the Sarcoma produced by causing me to have a limp has never been forefront in my life, or something that I gave importance to. My husband of 45 years has been a paraplegic in a wheelchair for 43 years of our marriage. My limp did not seem worthy of attention. After all, I still have my leg, and can still walk on my own legs.

(Deb's husband, Glen, daughter Meghan and Deb)

As I had to prepare to send the videos to Finland to finish my work for the Level A1 certification, I finally, after 20 years of dealing with a balance deficiency, and an unsightly limp, had to watch myself move and attempt to be graceful as I went through the three series of Asahi.

I had a major emotional melt down as I was doing Series 3. I know I could have adapted the exercises, but I wanted you to see how, even stripped down, I can still do what I can do. I had to face my inability in my ability, and my weakness in my strength. Through many tears and feeling like a failure, reality hit that in my weakness I was still proving my ability to share Asahi with others. I can share with some who may never understand my weaknesses, yet others who will totally get it. Asahi can be the “tool” to reach other cancer survivors, showing them that movement and exercise can be a part of their lives again, producing the feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction of doing something in their weakness.

(Deb instructing at FinnFest 2023)

With my experience of cancer and my experience of Asahi, I believe I can reach a population of people that need exercise and some tender, loving care. I plan on reaching out to the local hospital to see if we can put together a workshop of Asahi and sharing experiences of cancer or other debilitating diseases. I believe this could also happen within the community to get people moving and breaking the stigma of cancer and finding freedom in movement through Asahi.

(At an Asahi session by Lake Superior)

(Editor’s note: Debra is awaiting another procedure on her parathyroid to be done at Mayo Clinic. This will be even closer to the vocal cords...)

Find out more about the Asahi Nordic Health Practice from Finland and possibilities to train online:

Categories: : Asahi and Cancer, Asahi and Finnish Sisu