Guts, grace, dignity, and humor—that’s how we all want to be remembered for after this life.
Here’s the story of one lady who faced her diagnosis of cancer on her terms and became an epic traveler.
“Driving Miss Norma” is the public Facebook page of Norma Bauerschmidt, a woman who at 90 years old was diagnosed with uterine cancer—two days after her husband’s death.
Her doctor outlined her treatment options, all within the conventional approach: hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She looked at him and replied, “Nope. I’m not doing any of that.”
Norma The Cancer Traveler
Norma discussed the situation with her son Tim and daughter-in-law Ramie and made it clear she didn’t want medical intervention in the last days of her life. Her children knew she couldn’t live alone and gave her the options they could offer: a nursing home or to live with them—in their RV. “I think I’d like to come along,” she said. “I’m 90-years-old. I’m hitting the road. Let’s go have some fun. I don’t want to spend another minute in the doctor’s office.” (1)
The family discussed Norma’s wishes with her doctor. Tim and Ramie told him they would take care of her and drive her wherever she wanted to go.
His response was remarkably supportive: “Right on! As doctors, we see what cancer treatment looks like every day. 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!” (2)
And so began Norma’s epic journey, chronicled on Facebook with photographs of her adventures (3). They started in Michigan: Norma, Tim, Ramie, and their dog Ringo. Their first stop was Mount Rushmore.
“They’ve given me a new lease on life, I should say.”
After she married in 1948 and settled in Michigan, Norma assumed the role of quintessential housewife and mother and didn’t travel.
At ninety years old, Norma became an inspirational superstar, gaining media coverage in the United States and abroad of her travels. The foursome visited national parks and said “yes!” to new experiences, taking Norma’s lead.
They took a ride in a hot air balloon, went ziplining, attended an NBA basketball game as VIPs, sat in on a ukulele jam session, and ate lobster and key lime pie for the first time. Tim says Norma ate lots of cake and drank beer.
This was the most time Tim had spent with his mother since he left home as a young man, as they didn’t enjoy a close relationship prior to her illness. Tim’s father was the undisputed head of the family and mother and son had little opportunity to really get to know one another. Now Tim says, “I had no idea of what a special person she was.”
The Facebook page was Ramie’s idea. The site has gained over half a million Page Likes and includes many photos and videos of the family’s adventures. It has given them a medium to document their travels and to share Norma’s optimistic perspective on life. In return, many have expressed being inspired by Norma’s strength and courage.
The Trip Of A Lifetime
Norma’s road trip with Tim and Ramie racked up thirteen thousand miles in thirty-two states, visiting national parks and monuments and taking the time to do whatever Norma wanted to try. She rode a horse and got her first pedicure.
“I used to say ‘no’ to a lot of things. My knee jerk reaction to most things was ‘no, no’ but now I hold my tongue and I consider it, and I’m saying ‘yes’ to uncomfortable situations.” (4)
Norma died on September 30, 2016, in her own bed in the RV that had made her final adventures possible. They had stopped in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington where a month before, Norma had seen orcas for the first time.
Instead of succumbing to intrusive intervention that most likely would have killed her faster and more painfully than cancer, Norma the traveler chose to live her final days of life. Over a year after her road trip began, she left this realm with happy memories, surrounded by family and friends, and with very few regrets.