As a doctor, Justin Grunewald knew exactly how dire the situation was. His wife, Gabe Grunewald — a well-known runner wrestling with cancer for the fourth time — had been hustled to the intensive-care unit at a Minneapolis hospital last weekend, with the grim numbers of her lab results showing “values incompatible with life.”
Nothing in his medical training, though, could explain what happened next. “I made the hardest decision of my life with her family and brother to move her to comfort care,” Justin wrote in an Instagram post Monday. “I actually got the opportunity to say goodbye to her alone and inform her she was dying. Shortly after I told her … she took a deep breath and yelled, ‘NOT TODAY.’
“After stopping cares, most of her labs had normalized on her own, and she is now eating a @shakeshack burger out of the ICU. Talking to all my doctor colleagues, they have never seen another patient survive similar circumstances. It can only be explained as divine intervention or miracle.”
Justin Grunewald said Wednesday night that Gabe is “not out of the woods yet” and back in intensive care. But her fierce pushback against death felt like an answered prayer to her friends, family and a nationwide community of people inspired by the former Gopher’s 10-year showdown against multiple cancers.
Gabe Grunewald, 32, was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009 while running for the Gophers’ track and cross-country teams. Following surgery and radiation therapy, the Perham, Minn., native went on to finish second in the 1,500 meters at the 2010 NCAA championships, then ran professionally through 2017 despite more surgeries and treatments for cancer in her thyroid and liver. Grunewald just missed the 2012 Olympic team, finishing fourth in the 1,500 at the trials, and was the 2014 U.S. indoor champion in the 3,000.
Her perseverance and willingness to share her story have made her an inspirational figure among runners and non-runners alike. Justin Grunewald’s Instagram post had drawn 796 comments and nearly 7,000 likes as of Thursday.
Justin, a doctor of internal medicine and former Gophers runner, said in the post that Gabe was taken to the ICU after a set of alarming lab results. He “immediately ran out of the hospital crying” when he saw them, and her condition deteriorated further.
“She was relatively unaware and at peace,” he wrote, when the decision was made to move her to comfort care. Though Gabe “did not seem to be comprehending much” when Justin told her she was dying, she understood him clearly, then announced it would not be happening that day.
Throughout the night, Justin felt for Gabe’s pulse as they slept in her hospital bed. “At around 8 a.m. when the critical care doctor came in the room,” Justin wrote, “Gabe woke me up because she wanted to order breakfast.”
When he shared the saga on Instagram, Justin cautioned his followers to read the entire post. He knew they would be distraught by his opening words: “Yesterday was the worst day of my life.”
He wanted to signal them to follow Gabe’s example, to push aside the worry and fear. Those who did found the hopeful note they were looking for.
“Today,” Justin wrote, “was the best day of my life.”