First, a woman from Gilford beat cancer; now, she’s beating the pavement

Donna Kuethe is raising money to fight cancer.

Donna Kuethe is raising money to fight cancer. Courtesy David A. White

Donna Kuethe is raising money to fight cancer, funneling the proceeds to Concord Hospital’s Payson Cancer Center, which she says was there for her every step of the way when she beat long odds and breast cancer at the same time. Kuethe hoped to raise $5,000, but the money flowed and the goal moved up. She’s passed $10,000 and inching close to $20,000.

Donna Kuethe is raising money to fight cancer, funneling the proceeds to Concord Hospital’s Payson Cancer Center, which she says was there for her every step of the way when she beat long odds and breast cancer at the same time. Kuethe hoped to raise $5,000, but the money flowed and the goal moved up. She’s passed $10,000 and inching close to $20,000. David A White—COURTESY

Donna Kuethe is raising money to fight cancer, funneling the proceeds to Concord Hospital’€™s Payson Cancer Center, which she says was there for her every step of the way.

Donna Kuethe is raising money to fight cancer, funneling the proceeds to Concord Hospital’€™s Payson Cancer Center, which she says was there for her every step of the way. David A White

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 03-31-2024 1:11 PM

Modified: 04-01-2024 12:36 PM


Now and then, Donna Kuethe, 71, feels like the second-oldest person among 24 others, each riding a bicycle across the country in an organized group to raise money for a cause of their choice.

The youngest riders are 50.

“Riding would have been different 20 years ago, but there’s an age factor now,” Kuethe said late last week from New Mexico, during a break in her eight-week journey. “I can pretend I am 35 all I want, but I’m not. I knew I had to do it, and I’m doing the best that I can with it. Each day is different in terms of miles.”

The 3,100-mile ride – from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., – began on March 15, when Kuethe and her fellow riders dipped their back wheels into the Pacific Ocean and went on their way.

And while the hills and heat have taken their toll, they’ve been no match for the motivating force behind Kuethe’s drive to ride across the country. It’s been a bucket-list item for decades, and, in doing it, Kuethe is also raising money to fight cancer, funneling the proceeds to Concord Hospital’s Payson Cancer Center, which she says was there for her every step of the way when she beat long odds and breast cancer at the same time.

Kuethe hoped to raise $5,000, but the money flowed and the goal moved up. She’s passed $10,000 and is inching close to $20,000.

She’s careful to utter “quote, unquote” before saying “cancer-free.”

“I don’t love that term,” Kuethe said. “You never know. But I’ve had no recurrences since then.”

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She’s been active most of her life, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, swimming, traveling and biking with her college roommate to places such as eastern Canada and Maine.

Before retiring as the director of the Gilford Parks and Recreation Department in 2021 after 41 years, Kuethe once rode her bicycle alone to attend a national conference in Baltimore.

She described herself as a stop-and-smell-the-roses sort of rider, not a competitive one, and she’s never taken much time off, except when breast cancer nearly took her life 14 years ago.

Doctors found three cancerous tumors in one of her breasts in 2010. Kuethe canceled a canoe trip and bike trip to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York in favor of chemotherapy treatment.

“Very aggressive cancer,” Kuethe said. “I could not feel the lumps, and a few days later I could feel them. They moved very quickly.”

And then, in a shocking and frightening bit of news, Kuethe learned that chemotherapy was doing nothing to help her.

”The tumors did not respond at all,” Kuethe said. “They grew during the chemo.

“The doctor said he’d never seen it before. That was pretty discouraging, I won’t lie. We had to move (the appointment for) my mastectomy.”

Doctors told her they’d gotten all the cancer, but nothing could have prepared her for the news that awaited on the horizon.

First, the cancer returned to her chest area. Asked if that meant faded hopes, Kuethe said, “Nope. That’s what you have to do, it’s what you have to do. There were no emotional ties.”

Radiation worked, before Kuethe joined a clinical trial seeking advances in cures. Then the cancer came back again, eliminating Kuethe from the trial.

“There was not much explanation,” Kuethe said. “They could do CAT scans and take it out, and we just needed to keep moving forward.”

The cancer is gone again, this time through medication. It’s been about 13 years. Following her retirement, her beloved adopted Greyhound, Cody, died a year later, giving Kuethe the time and freedom to ride 3,100 miles while giving back to the program that she says essentially saved her life.

She left from San Diego on March 7. She’s pedaled through towns in California called Alpine, Jacumba Hot Springs and El Centro. She’s been to Mesa, Ariz., and Lordsburg, N.M.

The women stay in hotels each night. Kuethe said the trip is costing her about $13,000 for food and lodging. She said it’s been worth every penny.

She’s affiliated with the AntiCancer Lifestyle Program, promoting wellness to fight the disease, and co-facilitates a support group called Living with Cancer and Beyond.

Meanwhile, her former pain and current appreciation for her health – she’s skiing and snowshoeing and traveling again, and she’s been tracking wolves in Ontario – will fuel her for another six weeks. Then she’ll dip her front tire into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida.

“I’m grateful and happy,” Kuethe said.

“I always know that someone who has never had (cancer) can get it, and I had it and it can come back. Be vigilant and live your life.”