Radical surgery saves life of Cannon Falls woman, but at a steep price

A Cannon Falls woman, facing an extremely rare cancer diagnosis, is alive today because of a gut-wrenching decision.

Tess Pfohl just celebrated her 26th birthday on Monday, a milestone doctors doubted she'd see. Now cancer-free, Pfohl has sacrificed a lot to rid herself of the disease.

Last summer doctors told Pfhol she needed to make a life-altering decision after they discovered a rare tumor crushing the nerves around her spine. The choice she was given was to either remove part of the tumor, with fears it could return, or take it all out, which would most likely leave her paralyzed.

She opted to take it all out.

With her lower body confined to a wheelchair, Pfhol puts her upper half to work as often as possible.

"I'll cut the apples, darnit," Pfohl says while in the kitchen with her sister. "I try and help my sister as much as I can."

Prior to her surgery Pfhol never thought she'd find a task as simple as cutting fruit so rewarding.

"As long as I have my arms, I can still love my family love my friends," she says.

After a surgery performed at Mayo and months of rehabilitation and chemo therapy, Pfhol was relieved when the doctors finally pronounced her cancer-free.

"If we're lucky she gets to live the longer life she made this sacrifice for," says her sister, Lynnea, with whom Pfhol now lives along with other family members in a Winona house being equipped with handicapped accessibility.

"Everything is small potatoes compared to what's she's going through," Lynnea says.

As for the future, Pfohl will not be returning to her job as a social worker, and doctors say she needs to be cancer-free for at least five years to be considered cured. But this is a start -- a start Pfohl never thought she'd have.

"There's still a lot of life left to live, even though I can't walk," she says.