Diagnosed with uterine cancer at the ripe old age of 90, Norma Bauerschmidt chose her own unique treatment: following her dreams. Having gone through more than her fair share of tragedy in her life, she felt that she hadn’t had the chance to explore her country enough. So she decided that now was her time: and, along the way, she became an inspiration to millions.
Bauerschmidt’s story starts in Toledo, Ohio, where she was born and raised. She first developed a taste for travel after working as a nurse for the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Service) during the Second World War.
Afterwards, upon completing her service, she got to know Leo – the best friend of her brother – who had just finished a stint in the Army Air Corps. Then, the couple fell in love and tied the knot in 1948. Their beginnings were humble.
Settling in Michigan and living in a tiny trailer, times were tough. And while Leo scraped together an income working as a load dispatcher, Norma stayed at home to raise their son, Tim, and daughter, Stacy.
Stricken by poverty, at one point the family couldn’t even raise a nickel for bread. So they got in touch with their congressman, who delivered their overdue benefit check in person. That man was Gerald R. Ford, who later became the 38th President of the United States.
Thankfully, family life suited Bauerschmidt and she was proud of her children. And in a twist of fate, her daughter Stacy became a Secret Service official who went on to serve the Ford family.
Life continued as usual until Stacy sadly passed away from cancer in 2008. Then, just seven years later, in July 2015, Leo – her husband of 67 years – also died. And, tragically, just two days later, Bauerschmidt herself was diagnosed with stage-four uterine cancer.
Still in mourning, Bauerschmidt was told by her doctor that to treat the cancer she would have to endure surgery followed by both chemotherapy and radiation. She was shocked, naturally, but her response to the news was perhaps even more shocking.
Not wanting to endure such traumatic therapy at such a late stage in her life, Bauerschmidt decided on her very own form of treatment. So, sternly addressing her doctor, she told him, “I’m 90 years old. I’m hitting the road.” Whatever remaining time she had on this planet, she was determined to make the most of it, it seemed.
So, with her remaining family – namely her son Tim and his wife, Ramie – Bauerschmidt set out to make her last wishes come true. And not wanting her to end her days in a nursing home, the family had moved into a 36-foot motor home along with another companion, Ringo the poodle.
Then, in the late summer of 2015, the gang set off, visiting the country’s most famous sites – the places Bauerschmidt had dreamed of seeing. Taking in the Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, they also visited the likes of Yosemite and other iconic landmarks.
The unlikely nomads also enjoyed cajun food in New Orleans, went collecting sea sponges in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and even took part in a Native American ceremony. Furthermore, Bauerschmidt took to the skies, enjoying a hot-air balloon ride in Florida.
Luckily, Bauerschmidt, affectionately known as “Miss Norma,” experienced no pain from her tumor for the majority of her whirlwind trip and remained symptom-free. Furthermore, everywhere the family went, Miss Norma spread love and happiness with her zest for life and enthusiastic smile.
Yet while Miss Norma’s influence was great, it didn’t just stop with people she met directly on her trip; it spread around the world. Indeed, she soon became a global phenomenon thanks to her son setting up a Facebook page, entitled Driving Miss Norma, to share the family’s courage and adventures with the world.
Consequently, Bauerschmidt became an internet sensation. Indeed, almost half a million people have liked the page so far, no doubt inspired and uplifted by her passion for life and adventure. But then, marking the one-year anniversary of the trip, her son shared a post on the page in late August 2016.
He wrote, “We’ve driven the RV nearly 13,000 miles and slept in over 75 different locations in 32 states. Miss Norma has experienced more ‘firsts’ than we can count. Big things, like riding in a hot-air balloon or on a horse, to little things like getting a pedicure or having her first taste of key lime pie, oyster, and fried green tomatoes.”
He went on, “She had her hair done by ten different stylists and crossed the time zones nine times (I think.) Over these past 12 months, all of us learned so much about living, caring, loving and embracing the present moment. No matter where we are, when asked where her favorite spot has been on this trip, Norma now says, ‘Right here!’”
However, while it celebrated their time on the road, this announcement also seemed to hint that the family’s great adventure may be reaching its end. Indeed, Bauerschmidt’s health was failing fast: her final stop was San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington, where she spotted killer whales for the first time.
Sadly, Bauerschmidt passed on aged 91 on September 30, 2016. Happily, though, it was in the way she wanted: in her bed in the motor home that had been her home for the previous 12 months. Her son posted the news on their Facebook page with a quote from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, which read, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” Then, he added, “Today we are letting go.”
Finally, as per her final wishes, Bauerschmidt will be cremated and then interred next to her husband back in Michigan. And while she captured the hearts of people around the world, her legacy also lives on in her own words, “Living life to the fullest is important. Do what you want because the doctors aren’t always right.”