SWAN’S ISLAND—Donna Wiegle, director of the Mill Pond Health Center on Swan’s Island, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer five years ago.
That was more than two years after she became sick, which isn’t unusual because ovarian cancer is often very difficult to diagnose.
In 2019, she took a cross-country motorcycle trip to raise awareness of the disease.
Now she has written a book titled “Finding Courage: Navigating Cancer on My Harley.”
“It is the story of my trip and why I did it, but also about my own journey with cancer,” Wiegle said. “I didn’t know if I would be able to complete the trip, but what I did know was that I had to start it.”
Teal is the color of ovarian cancer awareness. So, for the trip, Wiegle bought a teal and white Harley-Davidson motorcycle and called her journey Teal on Wheels. She shipped her bike to Coos Bay, Ore., and then flew out to start what would be a 6,198-mile trip back home through 19 states. She was on the road for 40 days including the entire month of September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
“I had ridden in strong winds, oppressive heat, cold temperatures, torrential rain, lightning and even hail,” Wiegle writes.
“When I ride, I often find myself in pain. So, ibuprofen, Aleve, Extra Strength Tylenol and roll-on lidocaine cream all travel with me. It’s the only way I can continue doing what I love. As a cancer patient, I have stronger drugs for pain but never use them when I’m riding.”
As she rode across the country, she told her story to anyone who would listen, and she handed out 770 cards listing the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
“My mission was to hand out as many cards as possible,” she said, “and I never missed an opportunity.”
She said she hopes at least one woman she met who might someday develop symptoms of the disease will know what to do.
“I hope that even if she doesn’t remember the specific symptoms, she will remember meeting me because of the unique way I traveled,” she writes in “Finding Courage.”
“I hope she will remember my story about ovarian cancer and that she will look up the symptoms. My goal is to empower women to become better advocates for their own health needs.”
In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Blanche DuBois famously declares, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Well, Donna Wiegle didn’t depend on it, but she experienced it in abundance on her cross-country journey. On her first day out, she met two couples in a parking lot at Redwoods National and State Parks in California and told them about her Teal on Wheels trip. One of the men handed her a $100 bill. His buddy gave her two $100 bills.
At a Mexican restaurant in Clarksville, Ark., Wiegle chatted with the cashier and gave her an ovarian cancer symptoms card.
“In the end, she charged me for my two beers and gave me my meal for free,” she writes. “This happened quite frequently as I traveled across the country. I would say about a dozen times throughout my trip people I met at restaurants paid for my meal.
“I met many wonderful people and saw many wonderful sights.”
Among her favorite stops were the Salmon River town of Stanley, Idaho, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and Nashville, Tenn., where she visited Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate and the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
The chapters in “Finding Courage” alternate between stories from Wiegle’s trip and accounts of her experiences as a cancer patient, including some of the unpleasant side effects of treatment.
In one chapter, titled “Being Bald,” she writes, “It’s funny how a man can shave his head, and women think, wow, there’s a sexy man. But if you see a bald woman you think, she must have cancer, poor thing.”
“Teal on Wheels was my idea,” she writes, “but it would not have been possible without an army of people supporting me. I would never have completed my journey, or even started it, without the help of so many.”
She raised about $55,000 for her trip, much of it before she left home. When she returned, she gave most of the money to ovarian cancer organizations and the Beth C. Wright Cancer Resource Center in Ellsworth.
Wiegle said that if someone who is suffering from cancer or some other chronic illness reads her book, “I hope they will be left with the impression that even though we have so many challenges in our lives, you can rise above them and find a pathway that makes your life feel purposeful and rewarding and that there are periods of joy, no matter how hard things are that you encounter.”
Wiegle’s book, “Finding Courage,” can be purchased online at tealonwheels.square.site.