BAR HARBOR — Getting out on her Harley Davidson is a way Donna Wiegle of Swans Island feels alive in the midst of her battle with cancer. There is one accessory that goes with her on every trip.
That accessory is a necklace inscribed with the message, “F*#k Cancer, I’m Awesome.” The necklace connects Wiegle with the late Steve DeMuro of Bar Harbor, dozens of others living with cancer, and with the Beth C. Wright Cancer Resource Center in Ellsworth. It was made by artist Lizz Godfroy, a former Mount Desert Island resident who now lives in Cincinnati.
When DeMuro was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, Godfroy asked how she could help. As a fellow artist, DeMuro asked Godfroy to make whatever she was feeling at the time and send it.
Godfroy took an antique spoon, flattened it, and stamped the message.
“From my perspective, the words on the necklace are exactly how I felt and how I still feel about cancer,” said Wiegle, who received a necklace from a friend while undergoing treatments.
“I thought the necklace was really something. It just really gave me a boost,” Wiegle said. “To this day I don’t ride my motorcycle without the necklace.”
For DeMuro, who died in February after fighting for two years longer than doctors originally predicted, the necklace was a symbol of strength and support.
“I could grab that necklace any time I felt alone,” he wrote. “Any time I felt weakness or fear I could grab ahold of that necklace and be connected to someone who didn’t want me to be alone. Man, that’s powerful.”
As DeMuro got stronger, he wanted others to see that it was possible to face such a big monster with a secret weapon.
“It became his symbol of fighting,” said Marion Higgins, who worked with DeMuro at R.L. White and Sons in Hulls Cove when he was diagnosed. “I don’t think his intention at the start was to give [the necklace] to other people.”
In 2008 Higgins was diagnosed with breast cancer and living in Texas. Seven years later, she, now living in Maine, and DeMuro were co-workers and friends. Higgins was with DeMuro when he got the news that he may only have two more months to live.
DeMuro fought that prognosis and pushed for two years, bringing the necklace to others as a symbol of strength. Now, Higgins is continuing that trek.
“I’m not letting his dream go,” she said. “It’s not about me. It’s about this man who didn’t get enough time to just go out and love everybody like he wanted to.”
Godfroy feels the same about what she felt was a small gesture at the time she made it for DeMuro.
“It’s kind of insane that something that seems so small can be so powerful,” she said. “I felt helpless because I was so far away. I definitely made it with all of that energy.”
Godfroy came to Bar Harbor in the 90s as a student of College of the Atlantic. She opened an art gallery called Leapin’ Lizard and along the way connected with DeMuro.
“His energy was super positive and fun,” said Godfroy. “It was contagious. He was real. He was himself. He knew who he was.”
There are many stories of how the necklace has taken on a life of its own.
Wiegle and DeMuro met at the 12th Annual Downeast Living With Cancer Conference in November of 2016. They were both speakers at the conference.
DeMuro spoke first and told the audience about the necklace.
“This is how I can give back,” DeMuro had said in his speech. “I’ll give you my spirit and love any time you ask for it. The bigger thing I want to offer you is the necklace. I want everyone feeling the darkness of cancer to feel the warmth and possibility of what this medallion represents.”
Wiegle followed him and began her speech by reaching inside her sweater and pulling out her own necklace.
Some time later, DeMuro learned that Wiegle had given away her necklace to another friend, so he gave her another one.
Godfroy has continued to make and sell the necklaces. She donates a portion of the proceeds to the Wright Center and tells Steve’s story to every customer.
The Wright center manages a fund in DeMuro’s honor to help cancer patients pay for comforts like cable television. Like many people living with cancer, he said the financial challenges that came with the diagnosis were a shock.
“I wanted to start a fund for people who are newly diagnosed with cancer.” DeMuro wrote. “Through my own experience, I learned that there’s a way to get your medical bills paid for … assistance to help pay for your medications. But there isn’t a defense against losing all your money.”
In May, DeMuro’s sister Debbie Dubois, who owns the Upper Deck restaurant in Southwest Harbor, hosted a memorial event that raised $3,500 for the fund.
“It’s something that could make somebody’s life better while they are going through cancer,” said Michael Reisman, executive director of the Wright center. Cancer patients can apply for grants up to $250 from the fund.
Higgins manages a Facebook site called OANUp to Cancer—short for “One Awesome Necklace.” Since his death, she has also set up booths at public events to honor her friend and spread the word.
“Cancer shouldn’t take away the fun things in life,” said Higgins about the purpose of raising money for the fund. “You shouldn’t have to think so freakin’ hard about where you’re going to spend every penny … That’s what he envisioned with this necklace.”
The necklaces are available on Godfroy’s Etsy shop. Search “OAN up Steve DeMuro cancer fund necklace” on etsy.com.
Donations to the fund may also be made directly to the Wright Center. Visit bethwrightcancercenter.org.