How do you cope when life throws you curve balls? My guest this week on the Over 50 & Thriving series, is Donna McNicol an author who I met through the A to Z Challenge this year.
Donna has certainly had more than her fair share of curve balls in life but she has come through and her story has inspired me greatly. Just like the flower in the feature image, she has pushed through the tough times to blossom.
After all she has been through, she still has a gorgeous smile and positive attitude. Not to mention how impressed I am that she rides a motorbike! You can connect with Donna through her websites and social media links at the end of this post.
Thriving when life throws you curve balls
I was thrilled to be invited to write a guest post for the Sizzling Toward 60 and Beyond site. When I asked for particulars, Sue Loncaric told me to write what Over 50 & Thriving meant to me. I pondered on that a bit since fifty is more than twenty years ago and the times were quite different then. At age fifty, I was making a major change. My mother had recently passed and my husband and I discussed the fact that we’d done nothing towards our retirement dream of traveling the country in a motorhome.
A couple months later, shortly after my fiftieth birthday, a good friend and former co-worker called us and offered us an opportunity to make a massive change. We were living in the Atlanta area, we had our dream house, all the kids were grown and on their own, and we both had high pay but high stress jobs. We discussed the opportunity at length and decided to just go for it. We sold our “dream home”, left our jobs, bought a used motorhome and hit the road.
The change was massive for me, at least initially. I had spent twenty years working in IT, moving from a data entry operator up through the ranks to managerial positions and even one as VP of Client services. This new job meant being outdoors, working along mostly men, in a career that I had never been exposed to. I, well, we, were going to be fiber optic construction inspectors.
What did that mean?
I had to learn to create as-built drawings, sort of simplistic blueprints, of the construction and installation of the fiber optic backbone for a major communications company. That also meant working outdoors in winter weather in Massachusetts. I’ve never been known for being weather tolerant, now I had to be.
The job went well, so well that I eventually got moved inside and took over all the office work. My IT background came in handy when I created a tracking spreadsheet system for auditing the billing system. It also meant I had some slack times when it was quiet and I decided to do a little more writing. I had been writing web content on non-fiction topics for several years, and over the course of my career, wrote a lot of technical reports and documentation. It was time for something different.
I started dabbling with fiction but ended up writing a short column for seniors (over 55) in a local weekly freebie newspaper. I used my IT background to put things in simpler terms that were easily understood. I also wrote a short story and a few things for children, including what I thought could become a children’ bedtime rhyming book. These were submitted to various publications and although they were rejected, one editor took time to encourage me to keep writing.
But life had other plans.
My husband was diagnosed with head/neck cancer. This was in 2001 and there wasn’t a lot of information available out there. So while I researched, I took time to document the research on a website (now sold) to help others. His initial treatment was surgery to be followed up with radiation. His surgery was in July of 2001 and he came through it well.
But life had another curve ball for us.
I discovered a large mass on the right side of my neck. After a several tests/xrays and a fine needle biopsy, I was told they couldn’t determine if it was cancer until they removed it. The good news was the mass was slow growing and I could delay until my husband completed his treatment.
Of course, nothing comes in twos.
In August, my first granddaughter was born. At one day old, she was life-flighted from Tallahassee, FL where my daughter and son-in-law lived, to Shands Hospital in Gainesville. That meant a solo drive from Pennsylvania, where we were living, to Gainesville. I stayed until we knew she was out of danger and was going to be okay. Then drive home.
This was 2001. On September 11th, my son’s 35th birthday, my husband presented himself to the Cleveland Clinic for his first radiation visit while I stayed in our hotel room, writing web content articles. The TV was on a morning show and that was when our world in the U.S. was turned upside down.
But life goes on, as we all realized, and during his six weeks of radiation treatment, my husband convinced me I should learn to ride a motorcycle (at age 54?). We had bought him a Harley-Davidson touring bike after his initial diagnosis, determined to enjoy life. So in December, we traded in his bike for a smaller one for him and bought me my first motorcycle.
I was terrified, exhilarated, thrilled and refused to even attempt to ride it until I had completed a Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding course. That didn’t happen until the following May, but at age 55, I was now a motorcyclist with the big M on my driver license.
Fast forward to 2004, the cancer has returned with a vengeance. No longer a candidate for surgery, extreme radition and chemo have taken their toll. My husband passed on November 30th, less than two months after we moved from FL to TN. He wanted to see me settled in an area where I would be comfortable and we both had known, that wasn’t Florida.
I spent the winter grieving and planning, and in the spring of 2005, I set out on the first of several long motorcycle trips. My goal was to ride through all 48 states. By October, I had managed 42 states and ridden over 27,000 miles solo. It was my time for me. But knowing that, I also spent three weeks volunteering on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana. Wonderful experience, done through the Global Volunteers organization.
Upon my return, I started to look for a job. Something to carry me through to age 60 when as a widow, I could collect social security. Guess what? In small towns, there aren’t many positions available for over-qualified 58 year old women. My options were dwindling and I knew I needed to change something.
After spending a couple of years as a full-time RVer in the past, I did a lot of research and decided to sell house and everything in it and become an RVer once again. It took me two years, two house sales (the first one fell through after being asked to move the closing date up by two weeks, prompting me to sell everything I could in the house) before I left my driveway on October 30, 2007. Considered “homeless”, I was excited by my prospects.
I had purchased a used but in excellent condition 29’ Class C motorhome and a small lightweight trailer where I stored my current motorcycle and riding gear. I headed off to Indiana for a rally followed by some repair and upgrades before heading south to Texas for the winter. Spring saw more travels and in late June, I was in Gillette, WY for an RV rally.
Fate stepped in and I met my current husband. We were both widowed, both full-timers and both Harley-Davidson riders. We’ve been together ever since, marrying in April of 2009 after a whirlwind trip around the country to meet family and close friends.
Since then, we continued our full-time lifestyle for ten years with the exception of two years we spent living in Cuenca, Ecuador (our grand adventure). I have published several novels (most “whodunit’ mysteries), two children’s books, a host of short stories and been included in several compilations/anthologies.
So, what does Over 50 & Thriving mean to me? Living life to the fullest, no matter the obstacles placed in your way. Stop waiting for your perfect tomorrow and start savoring your imperfect today.
Donna B. McNicol is a retired IT professional who started writing fiction after retirement. Her preferred genre is small town mysteries with a dash of romance but she has also tackled children’s stories, fantasy and small town romance. In addition, her short stories have been included in several anthologies.
In the words of the author:
I think I was destined to be a writer – in the 4th grade I took my toy typewriter and painstakingly typed out the neighborhood news, one copy at a time, and sold it to the neighbors for ten cents each. But as often happens, life intervenes and writing took a back seat to spending 30+ years in the IT industry.
A late in life lover of adventure, I learned to ride a motorcycle at age 55, traveled the US solo on my Harley-Davidson at age 58 (42 states and 27k miles), sold my home and everything I owned to become a full-time RVer. I eventually met my current husband, also widowed, a full-time RVer and Harley rider. Fate!
If you are Over 50 and would like to contribute to the Over 50 & Thriving Series, I would love to hear from you. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can provide more details. Click here to catch up on my previous guests in Over 50 & Thriving Series Or you can subscribe here so you never miss a post and receive a FREE Copy of my latest e-book ’10 ways to start Thriving today’! Don’t forget to post your Instagram photos using the hashtag #over50andthriving.