The Compostela, the Pilgrims Passport to Santiago 800km
The Pilgrims Passort- Written in Latin and loosely translated it is a document that states that “the person named therein has come out of a pious (ie. Religious/spiritual) motivation to the Cathedral in Santiago to revere the remains of St. James”. To walk the Way of St James and receive the Compostela.
I had taken my millionth step with only ninety nine kilometers to go to Santiago, my Compostela was within my grasp. Did I deserve my Compostela? I would have certainly have walked the distance. Had my motivation for walking the Camino changed? No! I was still walking for mouth cancer, but it has become clear that this pilgrimage was as much for me as it was for the charity I was doing it for. Sarria is the last point you can join the Camino in order to receive your Compostela from the monks. You need to complete a minimum 100 km, and it will take 5 days to do it from Sarria. We left Sarria on the Monday morning thirty one days after I had left St Jean on my own, but now there were eight of us heading to Santiago together, and those that were not with us, were with us in our thoughts. We had dinner that evening with Lyn and Ian again.
This lovely couple were taking a rest day at last and would arrive in Santiago the day after us. Our sights were set on Friday 24th and spirits were high. My son Michael was flying out to meet me in Santiago. Our original plan had been that he would walk the first 100 km with me, but sad circumstances prevented this from happening.
Meeting me outside Santiago and joining us for the last part of this walk is my good friend and life coach Chris. We have come a long way since we started talking 4 years ago on those early Monday mornings on Brighton seafront. It seems fitting that both he and Mike are there with me at the end.
I have grown so much, learnt so much and learnt to let go of so much along the way of St James, but my biggest growth, and the toughest, has been about forgiveness. We all carry so much in our lives that it weighs us down. Asked if I had “found Jesus” and whether I am “about to start preaching to others” I answered that I have found inner peace for myself. Yes, the quiet of the church at Rabanal, before I walked in the rain up to the Iron Cross had an impact, as have the wonderful people I have met along the way- the words of Donna in my head “you are a strong women, you can do this“ I cannot explain. You would have to walk in my foot steps and those of the thousands of people who have walked before me to understand.
I learnt quite early on, through the emotions I was feeling and the tears I cried (lots of them to start with, they would not stop, often while I was walking on my own) that I needed to forgive myself. I did not know that before I came, but along the way I realised that in order to do that I had to forgive others. That does not mean I will ever forget, or understand why things happen. I said in my first piece of writing that people do this for many reasons, and the conversations I had with these people are deeper, open and more honest than I would have had with people I have just met. It is true that most are dealing with a tragedy or something traumatic in their lives. You cannot help but empathise and reflect on your own reasons and get a perspective on how you can move forward. Meeting Alex and Kathryn, these amazing young women, made me realise I had to stop looking back and had so much to look forward to, so many people to share it with and, most important, three fantastic children of my own – Lori, Mike and Ross. Sometimes things happen, life has an unexpected way of taking things from you or putting obstacles in your way, but you need to stay positive and move forward, one foot in front of the other, day after day. Kathryn , is having a tumour operated on when she returns home, on July 27th . Doctors believe it to be benign, and Alex, while studying Public Health at University was raped. Out of this whole experience these two friends have taught me the most, and I will never forget leaving Leon , walking with them both, just the three of us, listening to “I am light” by India Aria , a song played to Alex during her trauma yoga therapy. A song that united us there and then. She found the strength and the support to write her now published paper for her Degree of Masters of Science in Public Health “Knowledge and Perceptions of Sexual Assault and Rape Among Peer Health Educators on a University Campus” (REF1). Two very brave, positive and caring young women, a credit to their families and to anyone who has the honour of having them as friend. I am so excited they are travelling to Brighton to see me on July 14th before they return to California. My journey as it turns out is two fold in terms of the charity and my personal growth, although on reflection they go hand in hand as to who I am. I found out from Donna, the retired American litigation lawyer I met on day 10, walking with her daughter Grace to Belorado, that it was a Holy Year. I had spent the day walking and talking with her, it was a spectacular meeting, it does not look real-
2016 was declared a Holy Year of Mercy by Pope Francis, a very important year for pilgrims in both Rome and Santiago de Compostela. It also means that the Holy Door of the Cathedral Porta Santa is open for the Year of Mercy. My journey will take me through these doors when I complete the 800 km walk and Michael will be there to meet me. I carry the love and thoughts of the rest of my family and friends with me.
Last 100 KM
“The Camino Provides”. One of the amazing things about this walk is the “pop ups “ – the donations , relying on your sense of goodwill, that you suddenly come across just when you need fresh water, a coffee or someone to chat with. Round the corner, in the middle of a wood , on top of a hill and often in the middle of nowhere.
It is walking to Portmarin that you pass the marker for the last 100 km. The first part of the day has a steep climb with lovely woodland paths passing through beautiful small hamlets adding to the ambience of the day. At the highest point is Pena dos Corvos with panoramic views over the reservoir that was the original site of Portomarin. 60 years ago the important memorials and buildings were taken apart stone by stone and reassembled when the town was relocated high on the hill, and the valley was flooded to create this reservoir. From Pen dos Corvos there is a steep descent, you cross the reservoir and then climb the steps through the gates on the other side. That night we all had dinner together watching the sunset over the reservoir
The last few days leading to Santiago are filled with the smell of Eucalyptus and laughter. The trees lined the way and provided much needed shade from the heat of the midday sun. We were all praying for a stream to cool our feet and The Camino provided again! We were in high spirits, it was so hot, and we heard the running water before we saw it. There was no hesitation, we jumped in fully clothed. The clothes on our backs dried within minutes, so we walked on to Auzra.
We arrived in Arzua on day 34, mid afternoon, and since the cooling off in the stream, we all decided that an early lunch, a few drinks, and a bit of a party was called for. The rest of our group were staying a kilometre ahead of me, and I decided to head off before them in the morning and meet up with them along the way. They did not get my WhatsApp message and had been trying to get hold of me, but good detective work on their part let them know I was ahead of them. My empty jar of peanut butter was noticed in the bin! We met up later in the day. I had spent the morning walking, reflecting and thinking about my journey, the people I had met, and what it had all meant to me, so that when I arrive in Santiago and get my Compostela I will know the answer to the question I will be asked. It was hard to believe that we would be arriving in Santiago, exciting but sad that it has to end. It was an early morning start on Friday 24th June, thirty six days since I had left St Jean, thirty six days of walking for this end. These guys had become my family on this journey, and I was sad it was coming to an end. The walk for mouth cancer awareness and HPV vaccines for all men would end there this year. I met up with Chris at the top of Mount Gozo, it’s then that I heard the result of the EU referendum , overlooking Santiago. It had been the topic of conversation at many points along the way. For James, Pauline, Columbo and Catherine from Dublin it will be a very disappointing outcome, worried about the reintroduction of border controls and the effect it would have. It is with Chris when we are walking that I remember the pledge I made in honour of my mum Cara in 2012.
I have said previously that my Mum had her leg amputated at the age of 54. What I have not said is that she broke it when she was 49, and spent from the age of 49 – 54 in a metal cage or a plaster cast while they tried to save it. After she died in 2010, while trying to come to terms with her death, I made a commitment to make those same five years in my life count, to walk when she couldn’t walk, and have a purpose. Walking for Mouth Cancer is something I am very passionate about. My mum was very proud of the business I had set up and fought for and would be very proud of me now. So when I was forty nine I pitched the idea for 500miles4smiles to walk five hundred miles from Scotland to Brighton in my fiftieth year. It was during that walk that I found out about the Camino de Santiago, which I had not planned on doing until 2017, when I will celebrate my fifty fourth birthday. As I said walking is something I never take for granted but to be able to walk 500 miles AND 500 more is an achievement in itself. You never know what’s around the corner and sometimes you just cannot wait “you just have to do it” so it was Camino de Santiago 2016-“ Buen Camino!”
We all walked in to Santiago together, me, Jim, Ed, Alex, Kathryn, Tanith, Melissa, Dianne and Chris, with thoughts of Donna, Grace, Maurice, Kathryn, Lyn, Ian, Philip, Jane, Gordy, Margaret, James, Pauline, Columbo, Catherine, Tim, Elsa and Parnile. I had taken 1.215.305 , steps for Mouth Cancer and walked the 800kms of the Camino de Santiago.( in fact I walked over 1,000kms but who is counting!) I do still have to complete the commitment I made so there has to be one last walk next year. Serendipity might play a part here, because the South Downs Way starts in Winchester, and the cathedral at Winchester is the start of the Pilgrims’ Way in England The cathedral itself is the largest gothic style cathedral in Europe, based on the style of Burgos. Hopefully some of my Camino family will join me in helping to raise awareness for Mouth Cancer and the HPV element of it, pushing for vaccinations for all. Interestingly Alex’s degree is in Public Health and she teaches sex education to adolescents. They all knew very little about mouth cancer prior to this walk. The day I walked to Rabanal, I walked the afternoon with Patricia from Australia. She had had dinner with us the night of the day that Jim, Ed and I met Alex and Kat. She had thought about why I was walking and asked that afternoon about her friend in Australia. He is 72 and going through radiotherapy and chemo for throat cancer. He had never smoked. She said she would read up on this with interest. Remember HPV is responsible for 5 % of all cancers worldwide. It’s the easiest sexually transmitted virus, and research suggests it might even be transferred through French kissing. 80% of the population will have it. For most, our immune system will deal with it, but for some it will cause cancer.. In fact HPV is overtaking smoking and drinking as a risk factor for mouth cancer and it is no longer an older persons’ disease . Mouth cancer kills more people than testicular and cervical cancer combined, due to late detection. HPV mouth cancers do not usually present until the fourth decade, although the first seed will lie deep within the tonsillar tissue. You cannot screen for HPV in the mouth like you can in the cervix, because the tonsillar tissue is 2 ft by 2 ft of folded tissue. So if we are to catch mouth cancer early, and prevent people from losing their lives (or if not their lives, it can take their face, tongue, taste, speech and function). We all have to have more knowledge, be more aware and get the health of our mouth checked out every year, whether we smoke or not.
Awareness cost money, charities need it – The Oral Health Foundation is an independent charity (not for profit) dedicated to improving oral health and wellbeing around the world. For more than 40 years they have continued to provide expert, independent and impartial advice on all aspects of oral health directly to those who need it most. The team there are long-standing campaigners for mouth cancer action. All donations and money raised go the Mouth Cancer Awareness section of the charity.
From my own perspective, my son Michael was referred last year for a lump in his throat. He was seen, had a scan, and recalled to check for two additional lumps. I went with him. He received a full mouth and throat cancer screen, with HPV in mind.. At no point was anything explained to him. They were thorough, they looked down the back on his throat and tongue, felt around his jaw, the back of his ears, down his throat, but no communication as to why. No mention whatsoever of HPV. The Maxillo Facial Unit shares the same waiting room as the as the Brighton and Hove Sexual Health and Contraception Service but there was no literature anywhere about mouth cancer and HPV. This has to change.
If I have touched, or reached out to any of you, please show your support by making a donation here,
Please also download the template letter here and send it to your MP to show your support for the campaign to get all boys vaccinated against HPV – girls are already…
Thank you for sharing your experience with me- James Pauline, Columba, Catherine, Maurice , Kathryn , Tim, Elsa, Pernille, Donna Grace, Lyn, Ian , Philip, Jane, Jim, Ed, Alex , Kathryn, Geordie, Melissa, Tanith, Diane, Phylis, Margaret, Patricia, Roisin and Henry