Donna Wiegle got on her Harley Davidson six weeks ago and has been riding it anywhere she likes.
So far in her 6,000-mile journey the Swan’s Island resident has seen the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. She’s been to Graceland, Gettysburg and Dodge City, and the brick house where she grew up in her tiny hometown of Skippack, Pennsylvania. She’s battled hard winds in Kansas, hail in Oregon and one case of dehydration brought on by 21 days of 90-degree weather that turned the 59-year-old’s pale visage into something more ruddy and weathered.
Wiegle has Stage IV ovarian cancer and has been told that she has about two years to live. By touring 19 states on what she’s calling her Teal on Wheels Ovarian Cancer Awareness Tour, she’s knocking a giant item off her bucket list.
She began her cross-country odyssey from Coos Bay, Oregon, on her teal-and-white-colored Harley on Aug. 28 because September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and she wants to let people know about the often fatal form of cancer. (Teal is the “official color” for ovarian cancer.)
“I have been living with this cancer for 3 ½ years. I am somebody who wants to live life as fully as possible while I can,” Wiegle said during a telephone interview from White River Junction, Vermont, on Wednesday.
Wiegle’s husband, construction contractor Charlie Wiegle, said he has found her ruggedness and determination inspiring.
“She’s got that giving way of taking a negative in her life and trying to turn it into a positive,” Mr. Wiegle said. “What’s challenging for her is maintaining her health during the whole process. This could have ended up with her in the hospital at any point in the trip.”
Wiegle has written a journal of her trip on her Facebook page. She was a healthy 56-year-old, the director of Mill Pond Health Center in Swan’s Island with a degree in medical technology, when she found herself living the bewildering nightmare of ovarian cancer.
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Plaguing on average one out of every 79 women, with no effective pre-screening test, the cancer’s early symptoms — bloating, extreme fatigue, back and abdominal pain — were repeatedly misdiagnosed over 2 ½ years before surgery for an intestinal obstruction revealed two small cancerous nodules, she said.
Like at least 70 percent of the women who end up with it, Wiegle was Stage III when the cancer was discovered in April 2016. She became Stage IV due to the spread of a new tumor to her chest and outside of her pelvic area, and told she would probably have five years to live in June 2016, Wiegle said.
“It was just a set of symptoms that could have been so many things,” Wiegle said. “I also think [the misdiagnosis] occurred because when doctors go to medical school they get maybe one paragraph on ovarian cancer.”
Since her diagnosis, Wiegle has been horrified to discover how many women believe, mistakenly, that they are effectively safeguarding themselves against an ovarian cancer diagnosis with pap smear tests and regular gynecological exams.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the actual signs of the disease include abdominal bloating or swelling and pelvic discomfort, weight loss, constipation and frequent urination, as well as a genetic predisposition. Anyone with more than two weeks of those symptoms should seek a pelvic and rectal exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, and a CA-125 blood test.
As part of her journey, Wiegle has issued 530 cards detailing ovarian cancer symptoms and raised about $46,210 out of her goal of $50,000 for ovarian cancer research. The Beth C. Wright Cancer Resource Center of Ellsworth is among her sponsors and is helping collect donations, said Michael Reisman, the center’s executive director.
“She is a model for how to deal with a cancer diagnosis, and she is living her life the way she wants to live,” Reisman said.
“My goal is that someone I have given a card to ends up with these vague symptoms and says, ‘I should go to my doctor,’” Wiegle said.
Wiegle said she has been moved by people’s generosity. Strangers have picked up her dinner tab, or contributed $100 bills to her effort, at least a dozen times. Acquaintances have given her backyard cookouts.
The public is invited to see Wiegle end her trip at Lygonia Masonic Lodge No. 40 on Carriage Way in Ellsworth at noon Saturday. She hopes to leave Vermont by Thursday afternoon and venture into New Hampshire to enjoy the fall foliage on Friday. Wiegle said she hopes to never forget the hundreds of people she has met.
“I had a young lobsterwoman once who said, ‘You will talk to anybody.’ That really is the bottom line for me,” Wiegle said. “I want to believe that everybody is a good person. If they aren’t a good person now, they were once. Whether they were poor, homeless or wealthy, or whatever their story was, I always believed that they were going to be a nice person to engage with, no matter what. That’s really what’s happened here.”
“I think I have completed something that was bigger than me,” she said.