At On Eagles Wings in Bridgton, Ann Ruel offers massage, reflexology, art therapy and exercise to cancer patients—for free
When friends recommended that Mark Mudgett check out a wellness center in Bridgton that offers free massage, reflexology and other services to cancer patients, he figured it was worth checking out.
A snowstorm stopped his first attempt at visiting. And weirdly, that happened three more times.
“It took a while to get there, but I’m so glad I kept trying,” says Mudgett, a Casco resident who was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer in August 2016. Remarkably, he’s showing “phenomenal” improvement that he attributes to “deep faith and powerful medicines,” as well as regular trips to On Eagles Wings, the center on Portland Road.
“I love going there. The women there are of great faith, and they are such an immense blessing to me. It’s really hard to put into words what they have done for me,” Mudgett says, noting that reflexology treatments have done wonders for neuropathy that developed in his feet and fingertips.
On Eagles Wings founder Ann Ruel of Harrison suffered from the same condition during her own debilitating treatment for cancer—stage three breast cancer seven years ago—and found great relief with massage and reflexology during her very difficult stretch.
“There were times when I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t hold a pencil because of the damage, and could only get reflexology, and it just helped me so much in getting through my treatments,” says Ruel, who just turned 60 and has returned to good health.
She takes little credit for starting the center, saying she felt compelled to do it—repeatedly pushed by God to offer to others what had helped her. “It seemed insane at the time, but I knew that I had to do it. I’m just an instrument to provide love, joy and peace through this place.”
“I think you heal yourself by healing others. This is my healing place, and it’s that to other people, too.”
Ruel, a longtime Realtor, says she took the leap, got training to do reflexology, acquired a grant and opened On Eagles Wings in 2013. The center’s decorating was donated by My Sister’s Garage in Windham and crucial support was provided by her husband, Ron, a mechanical sales engineer who she met at a party while visiting her hometown of Peoria, Illinois, 35 years ago.
He saw her through “a lot of struggle, physically, emotionally and financially” to make the center a reality, she says.
Today, center costs are covered by grants and via healthy customers who pay for services. Ruel also donates 10 percent of her real estate proceeds to help with operating costs.
In addition to massage and reflexology—which relax and calm the nervous system as well as improving circulation—the center offers other services that make people feel better, including art classes, facials, exercise and yoga programs—again, free to cancer patients, with healthy customers paying reasonable fees.
“I think you heal yourself by healing others,” Ruel says. “This is my healing place, and it’s that to other people, too.”
She says she tries to bring the kind of things that comforted her into the business. And sometimes, those are just simple things that bring a little joy. For example, she hosts twice-a-year popular tea parties for patients, survivors and volunteers at Clipper Merchant Tea House. And she’s offering a line of sterling silver jewelry from Creaser Jewelers in South Paris that features angels—angels of joy, love, hope and prayer—as a comfort to patients and a small source of revenue for the center.
“I had a special bracelet with angels on it that I’d gotten years before my cancer in Bar Harbor, and I always wore it when I was going through treatments. It just really gave me comfort. I thought it would be nice to have something like that here, and people have loved it.”
Those people include Carole Hicks of Bridgton, who says she deeply appreciates Ann Ruel and On Eagles Wings.
“I have all the angels,” says Hicks, 80, who has cancer of the blood and bone marrow and takes advantage of the center’s free reflexology and massage sessions. “They’re special to me, because a nurse told me a couple of years ago that I must have had an angel watching over me when I had multiple blood clots and pulled through it. I just like collecting them.”
Hicks calls On Eagles Wings a tremendous, comforting resource.
“I think it’s been a wonderful thing,” she says, noting that she’s also taken yoga classes and is considering getting involved in art classes at the center. “And Ann has been very helpful to me. She’s very kind.”
Ruel is a nurturing person. When not working selling properties or at On Eagles Wings, she volunteers time by bringing her Tibetan terrier, a therapy dog, to the oncology department at Bridgton Hospital.
“It just brings joy to patients going through tough times—I know what they’re going through.”
Ruel, who has one almost-20-year-old daughter, Rachel, calls herself a blessed person who is grateful to be alive and happy to be providing a “little piece of heaven.”
“I love my life,” she says, “and I don’t let death scare me. You never know, and when God is ready to take me home, he’ll take me home, but it won’t be to cancer! My faith is definitely what has taken me through it all. I do none of this on my own. I just allow myself to be the instrument and follow this: ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.’”
Patricia McCarthy is a long-time writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).