SWAN’S ISLAND — Donna Wiegle has always wanted to travel the country. She credits her ovarian cancer for finally giving her the push to do so.
Throughout the month of September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Wiegle will ride her teal and white Harley Davidson from Oregon to Maine on a Teal on Wheels tour, spreading the word about one of the top five cancers to kill women in the country.
Many people are familiar with pink as the color for breast cancer awareness. Teal is the color for ovarian cancer.
“It’s a very high-fatality cancer,” said Wiegle, who was diagnosed in 2016. “There’s no screening test for ovarian cancer. There’s no big ‘aha’ symptoms for it either.”
Many times the symptoms that include stomach bloating, back pain, frequent urination, fatigue and changes to bowel habits can be dismissed as normal changes to the body from aging.
It took doctors three years to diagnose Wiegle, and by then she had stage IIIB ovarian cancer and was given a five-year prognosis. An initial incident in 2013 landed Wiegle in the hospital with intense stomach pain and vomiting.
“I had to leave my Zumba class early,” she said. “That is just not something I would do.”
There were several more bouts of the pain and vomiting but each time they seemingly went away and Wiegle would feel better. Eventually, she was dealing with a bowel obstruction that required surgery. During that procedure two nodules were removed and sent for testing. They came back positive for cancer.
“We couldn’t connect the dots until I had the surgery,” she said. “In hindsight, I had all the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer … My quality of life has certainly been compromised in many ways.”
In an effort to prevent other women from having to go through that experience, Wiegle is riding on a solo motorcycle mission with 1,000 business cards in her luggage. On the cards is a list of symptoms to increase awareness and she intends to hand them out wherever she meets people along the way such as gas stations, restaurants, churches, parks and health centers. Some interactions will be scheduled, but most will be spontaneous and unplanned.
“I’m a talker. I can meet people easily. I’m not shy at all,” she said. “My goal is when I get back to Maine I won’t have one damn card left.”
On May 8, World Ovarian Cancer Day, Wiegle launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for her cross-country crusade. A goal of $50,000 is listed and currently Wiegle is just over half-way to that amount.
“I am so blown away with how much support I’ve gotten from so many people,” she said, “so many complete strangers … In this challenging time right now in the United States, it’s restored my faith in humanity.”
Donations range from $5 to $2,000 on the page and have come from organizations, businesses, artists, other ovarian cancer survivors and fans of Wiegle.
Money raised beyond what is used for the Teal on Wheels tour is slated to be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, Turning the Tide Ovarian Cancer Retreat at Camp Kieve and the Beth C. Wright Cancer Resource Center in Ellsworth
After her diagnosis, Wiegle found a lot of comfort and camaraderie at Camp Kieve and has returned each year. Of the 25 women who attended the first year she went, only eight are still alive.
“I have been to so many funerals and memorial services for women my age,” said Wiegle, who is 59. “I was on a five-year plan to the graveyard and I’ve taken a detour.”
That detour will begin in Coos Bay, Ore. where Wiegle will pick her motorcycle up from the western-most Harley Davidson dealership. From there she is planning to visit the Redwood parks in California, go back through Oregon to Idaho, then on to Salt Lake City, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, through the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pennsylvania, the Adirondacks and Vermont before arriving in Maine.
There are a few treats planned along the way including a Beef and Beer fundraiser with friends and family in Pennsylvania on Sept. 29 and greeting from members of Masonic lodges at the Maine state line upon her return.
“My comfort zone is not in the group riding aspect,” said Wiegle. “I’m a solo rider.”
Before now the longest she has ridden on a motorcycle in one day is 400 miles. With the schedule Wiegle has planned, her Harley will need to take her at least 200 miles each day. But, Wiegle has decided she will take it one day at a time and blog about her adventures along the way.
“I’m really excited about the trip,” she said. “It’s both exciting and, I have to say, scary.”
Because the form of ovarian cancer Wiegle is fighting against is resistant to chemotherapy, she has been on a medication for the last 35 months. She is undergoing surgery for another tumor in her body when she finishes her ride and looks forward to an updated diagnosis of “no evidence of disease.”
Unfortunately, Wiegle knows that diagnosis won’t mean she can live a carefree life from then on.
“Ovarian cancer doesn’t go away,” she said. “It will start growing again in two or three years.”