I have just come back from the “Camino de Santiago”. The idea is that you walk to the cathedral where the remains of the apostle James are buried. No car, no motorbike, no taxi…just walk – like the medieval pilgrims used to do. The normal way from France to Santiago de Compostela is about 800 kilometers or 500 miles long. What is so special about the city and those old bones? Why don’t people go to Paris or New York? Why would anyone walk at all in modern times? I can answer these questions now.
Twenty years ago I did the “Camino” with a friend of mine and I really enjoyed it, so I wanted to repeat the last part of the path with my family this year. My husband and the children had never been to Northern Spain before, a part of the country which is completely different from Andalusia, where we live now.
In the weeks before the start of our journey I had been rather weak and tired. I had suffered from severe iron-deficiency anemia and the kind of cancer fatigue that comes with permanent infections. Finally, the iron supplements started to get into my system and I slowly regained energy. I felt prepared for the “Camino”, the way of Saint James that ends in Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle is buried.
To be honest, I did not think about my chronic disease that much during our pilgrimage. My husband did, as he admitted. One of my sons (who would rather have preferred to walk to Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium for watching a match) prayed for my getting better when he finally embraced the golden statue of Saint James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as all the pilgrims do.
Everybody seems to pray to the apostle and ask for something; so I did as well. Unprepared and perfectly happy as I was, I asked Saint James for being able to do the “Camino” again soon …and other adventurous trips. I also prayed for guidance for my children, like any mother would. On my way I was not thinking about reaching Santiago; I was simply enjoying the “Camino”. A pilgrimage is a highly spiritual experience, no matter if you are religious or not, if you are on your bike, riding horseback or even jogging. Most pilgrims agree that undergoing such a special journey transforms you. However, the path seems to be more significant than the final destination.
Although our pilgrimage had nothing to do with my health problems, I would like to use it as a symbol for my way of dealing with cancer. I am at peace with my diagnosis. It does not affect my everyday life any more than it should. I live my life the way I want to, inevitably compromising as I am married, a mother, a professional and a patient. I try to enjoy what I have now knowing that my future – for many reasons – might not be as carefree. When I come to the end of my life’s journey, I hope to be satisfied with the decisions I have made; with the detours as well as the short cuts I have taken along the way.
Having lived my life consciously, death as every human being’s final destination will be nothing more than that – the end. And a place where I can rest after a long and tiring journey. Please take the time and read one of my favorite poems, the famous “Ithaka” by Constantine Petrou Cavafy (or Konstantinos Kafavis). Ithaka equals Santiago and any other final destination.