Last year, I celebrated a (ahem…) milestone birthday. About a year before that big day, 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, snacks and water on their backs.
When you’re walking 15-18 miles a 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 parts of the route.) What if it rains? (Almost guaranteed in the end stretch, through the wettest province in Spain.) What will I need if I can’t find my next meal? Of if I get lost?
What if, what if, what if.
Preparing for all the “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 received was 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 difficulty and uncertainty. The solution? 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 survivor community, asking “How would your life be different if you didn’t have to worry about cancer recurrence?” The response was incredible: the highest response rate for any survey I’ve ever conducted. The comments about what they were afraid of touched me to the core.
What I found out was:
- there are an awful lot of you feeling fearful of cancer recurrence (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 that 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 acknowledged (“You got through treatment – there’s nothing to be afraid of!”) or effectively addressed (“That’s just the way it is”). It’s time that changed.
It’s understandable that you’d feel fearful after the trauma of cancer diagnosis and treatment. You don’t want to go through that again if you don’t have to, or even face things that remind you of it, like upcoming scan appointments.
But valid as it is, fear can get awfully weighty if you’re carrying it in your “pack” much of the time. You’ll walk much more lightly if you know how to keep fear from moving in whenever it wants.
My favorite way to help survivors manage fear is with a two-part approach. First, I put a “first aid” tool in your pocket so you know how to defuse fear within moments when it occurs. Then we look at what’s really causing the fear, and resolve the root causes. When the root causes are healed, fear is less likely to be triggered in the first place. You’re able to walk through life with greater confidence and peace of mind.
What’s most important is to know is that fear, while common, isn’t all-powerful. You can choose whether to carry it with you, or to leave it behind.
What would your life be like if you let go of the weight of fear?