I have been very blessed and lucky in the first 40 years of my life to elude major illnesses or injuries. But as you get older you start to think & notice things, like Heart Disease, Strokes, & of course the most evil of them all: Cancer. Perhaps this is because I entered an era of my life where others my age started having to deal with those issues while those older than me, like my parents, seem to be facing those challenges a bit more regularly.
Now from 20-35 years old , in typical macho, ego-centric, male fashion, I develop thoughts of a fighter. You know, the “That won’t ever happen to me and if it did, I would kick [Insert Disease Here]’s ass!” type of thinking. But as I get older humility is sneaking into me, and I start to wonder. What would I do if my doctor told me I had something like Cancer? Would I fight? Would I accept pain and misery, to sign up for “potentially life saving” Chemo? Knowing me, the answer is a most confident: PROBABLY! But is there another option? Well for for 90-year old northern Michigan resident, Miss Norma, there definitely was another option: “the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”!
DRIVING MISS NORMA (as shared to Eric by Driving Miss Norma)
Some time in 2015, as Norma’s husband of 67 years, Leo, was dying in a hospice center, another medical crisis suddenly arose. After having some blood detected in her urine during a routine exam she was sent for an ultrasound, and then another. The day after Leo was admitted to Hospice we learned that she had a large, likely cancerous mass on her uterus.
Two days after Leo died, Norma found herself sitting in an OB/GYN office talking about treatment options.The Story of Miss Norma is truly inspiring! #MissNorma #bucketlist Click To Tweet
You know the drill: surgery, then radiation and chemo in some order. When the doctor was finished he asked her how she would like to proceed.
A tiny woman at 101 pounds and under five-feet tall, an exhausted Norma looked the young doctor dead in the eye and with the strongest voice she could muster, said, “I’m 90-years-old, I’m hitting the road.” The gynecologist, and the confused first-day medical student who was observing, looked to her son Tim and daughter-in-law Ramie for some clarification.
They had had time to talk to Norma beforehand about the likelihood that there would be some bad news coming from the doctor. She made it VERY clear to us that she had no interest in any treatment. Her family “got it” and were in complete support of her decision.
But what next? They couldn’t imagine leaving her in a nursing home, especially after she’d just walked down the long halls of the local Tender Care Hospice to visit Leo in the last room on the right, reserved for the dying. No way. There was also no way she could live at home alone without Leo—they were a well-oiled interdependent team for more than six decades.
So Tim and Raimee explained to the well-meaning doctor and his student that they live in an RV and that would be taking her wherever she wanted to go. The doctor didn’t hesitate to say, “RIGHT ON!” They asked if he thought us irresponsible for this approach. His reply was telling:
“As doctors,” he said, “we see what cancer treatment looks like every day: ICU, nursing homes, awful side effects. Honestly, there is no guarantee she will survive the initial surgery to remove the mass. You are doing exactly what I would want to do in this situation. Have a fantastic trip!”
So Norma packed her bags, grabbed her dog Ringo, and started touring the country in an Airstream RV with her son, Tim, and his wife, Ramie. Six months into the journey, her cancer symptoms have lessened, and she’s in no pain. Her travels have taken her to New Mexico, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Florida. Her adventures include participating in a Native American ceremony, visiting Disney World, and riding in a hot air balloon. “We love traveling with her,” Ramie says. “We’ve been to a lot of these places, but we’re seeing them through fresh new eyes and it’s fun to see her reactions and meet people on the road.
She was recently interviewed and these are my favorite highlights:
- When asked how she’s kept her positive attitude, “Just keep on going every day, that’s about it.”
- After losing the love of her life, her advice is to talk about the good times: “Storytelling is really, really helpful.”
- “People shouldn’t be afraid to travel,” she said. “No matter your age.”
- “I’m having the time of my life!” Norma told The Huffington Post
I have been following Miss Norma’s Adventures for the past several months and was honored when her team granted me permission to share her story on The Bucket List Project.
To keep up with their adventures, visit Miss Norma’s Facebook page, Driving Miss Norma.