For many years Norma and Leo would listen to Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” at lunch time in their humble home in northern Michigan—now, she has crafted an ending for the rest of her story…
Norma’s husband of 67 years, Leo, was dying in a hospice center when another medical crisis suddenly arose.
Some blood was detected in Norma’s urine during a routine exam and she was sent for an ultrasound–then, another. She learned that she had a large, likely-cancerous mass on her uterus. Two days after Leo died she found herself sitting in a doctor’s office hearing about treatment options.
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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 and daughter-in-law for some clarification.
Having 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 that she had no interest in any treatment. Her kids “got it” and were in complete support of her decision.
Having recently read Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (put this on your reading list), the best option was to take her traveling. Norma was not in pain, her mind was sharp, and she loves adventure. She is also remarkably easy to be around.
They explained to the well-meaning doctor and his student that they live in a mobile RV home and would be taking her wherever she wants to go. He didn’t hesitate to say, “RIGHT ON!”
When asked if he considered this an irresponsible approach, his reply was telling: “As doctors,” he said, “we see what cancer treatment looks like everyday. ICU, nursing homes, awful side effects and 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!”
The medical student, who was working her first day and stood discreetly near the door taking it all in, had until that point spent every moment working with pregnant women— the waiting room was filled with them— all thinking about the beginning of life, rather than the end. The look on her face during our conversation indicated she had just received the education of a lifetime.
Norma has now been on the road for 6 months and is thriving! Signs of cancer have reduced and she is in no pain. She and her family have explored several National Parks, participated in a Native American ceremony, traveled to 12,000-ft above sea level in the Rocky Mountains and to below sea level in New Orleans. A recent highlight was a hot air balloon ride over central Florida (top photo).
On dealing with loss, Norma told Good News Network, “Keep praying every day and God will take care of you, even when it feels like you can’t care for yourself.”
After losing the love of her life, her advice is to talk about the good times: “Storytelling is really, really helpful.”
When asked about how to stay positive, Norma simply said “Just keep on going everyday, that’s about it.” And, have fun.
Norma has a hard time believing so many people are interested in “little ol’ me” after her Facebook page started blowing up from Good News Network readers. “I’m pleased to know that I can be an inspiration to so many.”
You can follow her adventurous antics and send her some love at the Driving Miss Norma on Facebook.
SHARE Her Inspiring Story Now, Before the End of Yours…