Robin Huebner reports: 'Trip of a lifetime'
FARGO - A morning radio show team here and their families will soon take a “trip of a lifetime” to visit the set of the ABC television talk show “The View” in New York City, and the timing couldn’t be better for one of the hosts.
Amanda Lea of “Jesse and Amanda with Pike in the Morning” on Big 98.7 FM is bringing her mother along on the whirlwind tour of the Big Apple.
Barb Wohlwend, affectionately known to all as “Big Momma,” has terminal ovarian cancer and recently decided to stop chemotherapy treatments to live her life.
Wohlwend, 52, of Ottertail, Minn., and her daughter had been considering a trip to New York City – where they’ve never been – since her cancer diagnosis nearly three years ago.
The two wanted to visit over the holiday season and began considering a trip in December to celebrate Lea’s 30th birthday.
But they didn’t want to plan too far ahead because they weren’t sure how long Wohlwend would continue feeling well enough to travel. They began thinking about a warm weather trip instead, in March.
Then, out of the blue last week came a flurry of social media exchanges and a phone call to the Big 98.7 morning show from Rosie O’Donnell, co-host of “The View.”
The comedian saw Lea’s post on Twitter, in which she wondered whether O’Donnell had purposely referred to “The View” by the wrong name the day before.
That led to phone chatter about a New York City trip, and an invitation from O’Donnell to the radio crew to come to her show.
“Definitely a Godly-moment, when all of a sudden New York is here, on a plate handed to you,” Lea said.
“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do – more importantly, with my mom,” she said.
The two will fly out Friday with the entourage to tour New York City, as well as sit in on a taping of ‘The View’ as O’Donnell’s special guests.
“It’s a trip of a lifetime,” Wohlwend said. “I just have to pinch myself, is this really for real?
Lea described her mom’s personality as “electrifying” and said many people are surprised to hear she is sick.
The moniker “Big Momma” comes from a movie where the matriarch keeps her family together in tough times with the meals she cooks. Lea said it fits her mother perfectly.
“She’s larger than life. It’s her personality and she rules the roost,” Lea said. “Whatever Big Momma says, goes.”
With her husband, Lance Wohlwend, Big Momma has a stepson Beau, who lives with his family in Sabin, Minn.
Lea, however, is Big Momma’s only biological child, and the two have always been close.
“She can almost finish my sentences,” said Big Momma.
Lea was born and raised in Denver and moved six years ago to Fargo, where her mom had relocated to be close to her family in Minnesota.
Both consider it divine intervention that they’re in the same place while Big Momma is going through such a trying time.
It’s only been in the past few years that Lea has fully realized the depth of their love for one another and fully appreciated having her mother at her side.
Because she has been so career-driven, Lea often ignored her mother’s phone calls or texts when she was busy.
“I’d think, ‘OK, it’s my mom again,’ ” she said.
But about a week after the cancer diagnosis, Lea came across a voice mail from Big Momma that stopped her in her tracks.
In it, Big Momma chirped a cheery message she often leaves for her daughter: “Good morning, beautiful – hope you have a peachy day!”
Now, Lea is careful to save and email those messages to herself because “if something should happen, every day I know that she’s there,” Lea said, her voice cracking.
‘I’m a survivor’
In March 2012, when Wohlwend received a Stage IV cancer diagnosis, doctors said she had about a year to live.
“We joke about it,” said Wohlwend. “I had one year, three years ago.”
She went through two rounds of chemotherapy, but had several complications. While the treatment shrunk the tumor, Wohlwend said, the cancer never went into remission.
When doctors tried round three of treatment and it again did not go well, they decided as a family that it was time to stop.
The decision led to some conversations Lea never thought she’d have at her age, and forced everyone to live in the moment, more than ever.
“Now we’re saying, ‘Hey, let’s just enjoy – and pray,’” Lea said. “I want to spend every chance I can with her.”
Wohlwend said though she often gets tired, she’s feeling good – and is able to continue selling jewelry at farm and craft shows around the region, as she’s done for the past 12 years.
“I’m definitely a survivor,” she said.
Seeing ‘The View’
The group’s stay in New York City is going to be a spontaneous one.
When they arrive on Friday, they’ll be checking in to a hotel in Times Square, and over the weekend will shop, dine, perhaps see a Broadway show and if Big Momma has her way – take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
Then on Feb. 9, they will attend a taping of “The View.”
Lea doesn’t know yet if the radio trio and Big Momma will participate in the show or simply be in the studio audience.
“It’s almost like a big mystery date,” she said.
The group first planned to return to Fargo right after the show, but decided to stay an extra day in case they get a chance to hobnob with O’Donnell and any of her co-hosts.
“What if we had a flight and then Whoopi (Goldberg) and them said, ‘Hey – you guys want to go out for lunch or something?’ ” Lea laughed.
She said her employer is covering the trip costs for the radio threesome, and their families are paying their own share. A few other perks could come their way once in New York City, though.
According to Lea, O’Donnell said, “We’ll take care of you when you get down here.”
Lea is amazed at how quickly everything came together, and plans to cherish every single memory of the four-day trip – as well as every day she has left with her dear mother.
Big Momma plans to do the same.
“I’m going to be here, live my life to the fullest, until God takes me home,” Wohlwend said.