I confess: I’ve been keeping a secret from you.
Something big’s been building in my life over the past year, and it’s about to become real.
This June, I’ll be celebrating a (ahem…) milestone birthday. About a year ago, I began to dream about how I’d love to celebrate.
How I made that decision is a story in itself. But one day I just knew.
I would welcome my new decade by walking the Camino de Santiago.
If you haven’t heard of it, the Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route. It stretches 490 miles, from southwest France to the northwestern tip of Spain, which was once thought to be the end of the world. People have been walking this route for at least 1,200 years, seeking to understand the mysteries at “the end of the world”…and within themselves.
The day after I made the decision, I began to walk…and walk and walk. In addition to the physical training, I read everything I could find on how to pack. Pilgrims on the Camino typically sleep in pilgrim hostels, but carry their clothing, personal effects, water and a meal’s worth of food on their backs.
When you’re walking 15-18 miles/day for 5 weeks in a row, the weight of your pack can make the difference between comfort and misery. But there are so many packing questions to consider. What if it’s cold? (Could well be, in the mountainous portions of the route.) What if it rains? (Almost guaranteed in the end stretch, through the wettest province in Spain.) What if I can’t find dinner? What if I get lost?
What if, what if, what if.
The weight of preparing for “what ifs” would put anyone’s pack over the recommended carrying weight. But how do you decide what’s worth taking?
The best advice I’ve received is this: Be sure not to pack your fears.
When you’re exposed to the elements for over a month, there’s no way to anticipate every possible challenge and uncertainty. Get clear on what’s most important. Trust yourself to handle the rest, should you need to.
Here’s where you come in. What are you carrying around that’s weighing you down?
If you’re a cancer survivor, it’s likely that one of your answers is “fear.”
Last winter I surveyed my community, asking “How would your life be different if you didn’t have to worry about cancer recurrence?” Your response was incredible: the highest response rate for any survey I’ve ever conducted. And your comments about what you were afraid of touched me to the core.
What I found out was:
• there are an awful lot of you worried about cancer coming back or getting worse (no, you’re not alone)
• you’re really concerned about the impact fear is having on your health, relationships and your ability to enjoy life (“Sometimes I can’t sleep at night.” “I keep thinking this holiday may be my last.”)
• you haven’t yet found a sustainable way to keep your fear at bay (“It’s like a cloud over me all the time.”)
I hear you.
Fear after cancer is a real issue, but it’s rarely talked about. It’s time that changed.
In my upcoming posts, we’re going to take a closer look at fear: why it’s so pervasive among survivors, the different forms it takes, and most importantly, what you can do about it.
But now it’s your turn. Leave a comment below and tell me: what would your life look like if you didn’t have to worry about cancer?
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Pat Winter says
My “what if” involves getting off the post-chemo meds that cause many side effects. I’d love to be off of them for good. I need to make a decision by mid-May. No answers are coming to me yet. I don’t feel all that differently being off the drugs. (Maybe I’m just old – yikes!)
If I didn’t have to worry about cancer the answer would be easy. No more drugs!
Yup, those side effects can be a bear, Pat. I can understand why you’re considering discontinuing the medication. The conventional care system is likely encouraging you to continue on your current med or an alternative one based on the statistical survival advantage (which typically is just a few percentage points, by the way. Have they given you this information?) To support you in not making this decision from fear, here’s a question for you: is there anything else you’re doing – or could be doing – that’s likely to give you the same (or even greater) survival advantage?
Wendy Thompson says
I had AML leukemia followed by a bonemarrow transplant in 2012. Recovery was a long journey , tweaking problems that arose from heavy chemo and Meds. I’m better but I’ve got anxiety that something is wrong although I’m fine! I don’t worry about the cancer coming back , I always felt I’d be ok. I can’t stand to have doctors touching or talking to me. I have to get extensive dental work done in August and it’s not fear iof dentist but the actually interaction , it’s hard to explain, I just want to be left alone. Does anybody else have this problem?
Thanks for sharing your perspective here, Wendy. Celebrating how far you’ve come!
I’ll be interested to hear if others have experienced what you’ve described. In the meantime, a question for you to think about: what if the situation you describe wasn’t a problem? What if it was exactly as it was supposed to be?
My life is totally consumed by blood tests, injections, and infusions—I work full time, and by the weekend all I do is sleep. Then it’s Monday, and I’m upset because I didn’t do anything fun over the weekend because I’m chronically tired! I can understand now why people want to stop treatment!!!
Being in treatment is very consuming, isn’t it Lesli? I’m amazed that you’re able to continue to work full time. You must be a very strong and determined woman.
Given the demands on you, you’re wise to sleep as much as you need to. What I hear is that you’re missing being able to do certain things that gave you joy. So I’m wondering: what could you bring into your life that would give you joy now, even under these circumstances?
Sending you a big healing hug!
What immediately came to mind (after I plan to do the Camino too!) was that I would not have this perspective of both living and dying at the same time if I had not had cancer. I am finally after 1 1/2 years less obsessed with mets and dying. I am still a stress mess at times especially at times of test results, but my higher consciousness can feel the fluidity of life and the sheer luck involved in having “a good day.” Sending healing love to you all:)
I’m fascinated by your comment about living and dying at the same time, Jules. Are you willing to say more about that? How wonderful that you’re living with an awake higher consciousness that so appreciates the “good days”…and in some way, aren’t they all good?
Cheryl Ricci says
I am consumed with fear daily that cancer will come back. I was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer back in Sept.. with chemo & radiation treatments.. I’ve beat it! But was told the chances of this type of cancer coming back is @ 75%… I’m doing all I can… eating healthy, drinking lots of water, robotics, you name it.. but still fear this will take over my life.. the worry & fear.. plus the fatigue im still experiencing is awful, and I’m going back to work next week. Any suggestions???
Cheryl, I’m celebrating your attention to your lifestyle, as that has everything to do with your quality of life and supporting your cells to stay as healthy as they can. But the fear is a bear, isn’t it? I’ll be offering a webinar on this next week. See if you can join me, as there will be lots of information about how to take the reins back from fear. Sending you a big virtual hug!