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West Linn High School teacher Kathleen Terner shares battle with cancer, motorcycle trip in new book

COURTESY PHOTO: KAT TERNER - Kat Terner rode her motorcylce across the country over the summer, stopping to see amazing sights like Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. It's been quite a year for Kathleen Terner. While the same could be said for many people — dealing with a pandemic, unprecedented civil unrest due to racial injustice and a pivotal election season — those things aren't what made Terner's year so unique.

The West Linn High School math teacher, who turned 55 Wednesday, Nov. 18, kept teaching despite a battle with throat cancer, overcame a divorce and some of the darkest moments of her life, completed a solo cross-country motorcycle trip and wrote a book.

Terner was diagnosed with Stage 2 throat cancer last November. Five months later, she was in remission.

Throughout her cancer battle, Terner said she only missed four days of school.

Each day she left school 10 minutes before class got out, drove to Oregon Health & Science University for chemo and radiation treatments, then returned to school to grade and plan lessons.

The strength it took to keep teaching, even after she lost her voice, showed Terner she had what it took to bike across the country on her own — something she seriously doubted before.

Terner had completed long trips before, but on the back of her husband's motorcycle, not on her own for 15,000 miles. But the divorce, which came shortly after her diagnosis, wasn't going to stop her.

Terner's main motivation for the trip, though, was to see her son.

Having not seen him in six months and with COVID-19 limiting travel options to and from Washington, D.C., where he lived, Terner saw her motorcycle as the best option.

With two months of summer vacation ahead of her (she spent June tutoring to save up money) and a freshly tuned-up hog, Terner was set.

Despite the resolve to see her son and the newfound strength from her fight with cancer, Terner had doubts. She'd only begun riding two years before the trip. And for someone who failed her first motorcycle endorsement skills test, this trip was sure to be technically challenging.

The route she had planned included some of the most infamous roads among the motorcycle community, including what's known as "the tail of the dragon" in Tennessee: 11 miles of U.S. Highway 129 containing over 300 curves.

Terner also had reservations about being alone for two months.

Not only was she thinking about how loneliness might affect her, but she also wondered what would happen if she had mechanical issues or dropped the bike, trapping herself beneath it, with no one around.

Though both of these issues arose, Terner was able to see herself through without much trouble.

When she noticed her motorcycle was making a weird sound, she was able to get to a shop in time to learn that the rotation of the bike's clutch was off.

And when she dropped the motorcycle, Terner said, thankfully, she wasn't alone. She was at a gas station, where several people immediately helped lift the machine and get her up.

Terner also said that loneliness was never an issue either.

"What I found within the first couple weeks (of the trip) is that I was having so much fun that I didn't feel alone," she said.

During a time when people are more wary to approach strangers than ever, Terner said she met a lot of interesting people along the way. People all over seemed curious to learn whether she was riding on her own, where she was going and where she came from.

COURTESY PHOTO: KATHLEEN TERNER - Kathleen Terner, seen here standing next to her motorcycle on Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway recently completed a book about her cross-country trip and battle with throat cancer. Always mindful to maintain distance and wear her mask if her helmet wasn't on, Terner said she wasn't the one to approach strangers to start a conversation, but was happy to talk if they did.

"I probably had more human interaction traveling across the country than if I would have been staying at home," she said.

Many people she met along the way told her her story was inspiring, prompting her to think she should maybe share it with more people.

Besides the conversations with strangers, Terner said she stayed connected with others by documenting her experiences on a blog. She also checked in with her daughter and a friend each night, so they knew she was safe.

Terner's writing about her summer travels extended beyond her blog. She recently completed a book about her trip and everything she learned along the way.

She said the book serves as an inspiration to anyone who may be stuck in a dark place or doubting themself.

"This last year has been super hard for me going through cancer and then a divorce and the pandemic. And I have to say that I was probably at a low point in my life a year ago," she said.

"Having made it through that time, and coming out on the other side, feeling happier and more content than I remember feeling in such a long time, has really just made me want to encourage other people not to give up."

Terner said she's spoken with a publisher who seems interested in the book and hopes it will be available in the next few months. To learn more about Terner's travels and her book, visit her website at kathleenterner.com/.


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