This blog isn’t just about cancer. It’s about life: living your best life.
Tomorrow I’ll arrive in Santiago de Compostela after walking 780km from St Jean Pied de Port in France, all the way across northern Spain.
It’s so relaxing, having nothing to do but walk. Yes, 20-30km a day is a long old way but there are no other demands on me. I go at my own pace. It’s meditative; a girl can get some serious thinking done.
It’s hard not to sound whimsical as I share my experience. Nature has a way of reminding us how beautiful life is. Every so often I walk through a kaleidoscope of butterflies and just for a moment I feel like I’m in a Disney animation. White, orange and a neon beauty that looks a little like it’s stepped out of a 90’s rave.
The terrain has been varied. Vineyards, roads, wheat fields and mountains. Sometimes I can hear the birds, sometimes cowbells. My favourite sound is the coo of the wood pigeon, it transports me back to childhood holidays at our caravan in Essex, a comforting sound.
One day out walking, I saw some graffiti that said, “nature is god’s glitter”. I enjoy the sentiment of this statement. Even if glitter is bad for the environment.
The churches are spectacular. I like to sit down in the peace. Not to pray but to soak up the atmosphere in a place where people have expressed their dreams and desires over the centuries, where communities have joined in grief and celebration, feeling connected in some way to another moment in time, sharing an experience with someone who died long ago, whom I’ll never meet.
In the Cathedrals, this sense of history drips from walls of gold and stands tall in the beautiful ancient architecture. The smaller village churches have a more understated, quaintness that transports me into an instant state of peaceful presence.
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person. Naturally, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a lot of unanswered questions about spirituality. Now I believe that there’s a life force energy that connects everyone and everything. Being surrounded by nature has only instilled this belief.
Music seems to just appear here. As I type a fellow Pilgrim plays his guitar in the hostel. We were eating dinner in a tiny little town called Castrojeriz a couple of weeks ago and a full brass band started marching down the street. So wonderfully random.
In Carrion a church choir bought me to tears. Good tears, grateful tears. I’ve also been making up songs as I walk. It’s nice to have the head space to be creative.
There’s such a refreshing mix of people on the trail: Spanish, French, German, American, South African, Canadian, Irish, Dutch, Taiwanese, young and old, creatives and academics. I see the same familiar faces from town to town, each person with their own unique reasons for coming.
It’s easy to tell someone you’re walking the Camino trail. Doing it is a different thing entirely. On the first day I walked over the French Pyrenees and whilst the views were outstanding, it was a mammoth climb.
Sometimes my legs say yes but my lungs say no. Concerned looks cross the faces of passing pilgrims as I make involuntary donkey noises on my way up the hill. Despite its physical ailments though, my body has held up well. I’m getting stronger every day. I haven’t felt this good in my skin since before chemo in 2019.
It often crosses my mind, the comparison between undertaking a pilgrimage and my own cancer journey. I’m not a fan of the trite “journey” metaphor attached to cancer but at this exact point in my life it’s fitting. Since starting both these journeys I’ve found that my body and my will are much stronger than I ever knew.
Once you begin a journey of such epic proportions it seems there’s no choice but to keep going and if you spend too much time fixating on pain or disease then you forget to enjoy the people, the scenery and the sunshine around you. Be it a blistered toe, strained knees, tumour pain or treatment. If I let these things consume me then they become the experience. Not life itself.
I’m feeling reflective as I approach my final destination. I’ve learnt so much about myself. Personal and private insights – which I won’t share here. Most of all though I have a restored faith in my body. Cancer can make you feel like you’re too sick, too tired and too weak but I’ve overcome that narrative now. I’m proud of my body, I’m proud of myself!