LOVES PARK, Ill. — Just 600 steps.

For those of you with activity-tracking smartphones and watches, you’ve probably found you take at least that many steps just from the time you get up to the time you leave the house to go to work.

But for Bill Brantley, 56, of Rockton, 600 steps represented a milestone, one in which he easily surpassed Sept. 18 and even danced in celebration after accomplishing the feat.

After all, it was in August of 2015 when Brantley was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. A tumor near his spine had been shrunk, but he had suffered the loss of mobility and damage to his thoracic spine and the use of his legs. Doctors told him he would never walk again.

Sept. 18, he proved the doctors wrong.

In front of about 200 cheering family members and friends, the full evolution of Brantley’s ongoing recovery was on display in the parking lot of Loves Park Scuba and Snorkel. Aided briefly by a wheelchair, then a walker, two canes, and then one cane, Brantley fist-bumped and hugged individuals in the crowed before doing away with the lone cane and walking unassisted back and forth across the parking lot while the crowd counted his steps. The festive event, MC’d by former Rockford radio DJ Sky Drysdale, had been in the works for weeks.

“I’m not going to let an illness define me,” he said after the walk and dancing in place for several minutes to some Beach Boys tunes.

The celebration was the easy part of Brantley’s journey. The real work took place after the diagnosis and three subsequent surgeries by Mayo Clinic physicians.

Brantley, a master scuba diver with more than 1,200 dives, partnered with Loves Park Scuba instructor/owner Dan Johnson and began an exercise regimen at Loves Park Scuba where Brantley learned to dive in 1981. Three to five times a week, Brantley meditates and exercise in the pool using nitrox, a special mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, to stimulate blood flow, nerves and muscles in his legs.

He compared his regiment to oxygen therapy provided by a hyperbaric chamber.

“We can get almost to the same atmospheric pressure in a pool,” he said. “They know that (oxygen therapy) will heal people who have burns, it heals diabetic people with injuries. So I told Dan, if that’s happening, why can’t it do something for me? Nerve regeneration is what we are after here?

“I started July 11. Three days later, I was out of the wheelchair. By July 23, my wheelchair was put away. And by the middle of August, I was down to just canes.”

Brantley said Johnson convinced him to go public with his progress.

“He said this can help a lot of people. So I’ve been keeping a diary, and at some point I might publish this online. So far, so good.”

Source: Rockford Register Star,

Information from: Rockford Register Star,

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the Rockford Register Star.