There’s a fair bit of unfinished business for me on this Camino. Almost exactly 4 years ago, in September 2019, Jen and I had to abandon our Camino in Pamplona (on roughly day #3) and return home. Muriel’s routine breast cancer scan had produced the dreaded ‘please come in and see us’ response from the radiographers. So, Pamplona to Madrid on the bus, then home as soon as we could.
It’s been a long story.
It’s now 2023; Muriel is 4 years into an 18-months-to-live prognosis and is most definitely still here. Hospital trips and chemotherapy are now part of our daily lives, and have become almost mundane. Chemo day: up early, drive to Edinburgh via Starbucks in Stirling for a porridge and a flat white. M goes and sits in a comfy chair and is attached to the drips and pumps that deliver the magic blue liquid that makes her life possible. I sit in the car, with a panoramic view over Edinburgh, a laptop, and a rather good 5g internet connection, and go to work. Normal.
When M had the 18-month prognosis chat we decided to start doing the things that we’d meant to do, but the real world intervened and tamed our notions. M had secondary cancer in her spine, so we thought “let’s buy the car with the best passenger seat and drive from the north of Norway to Greece”. We had some good fun testing out Mercedes and BMWs in Perth. But this was Jan/Feb 2020 and we all know what happened next. Covid put the dampers on this and all our other plans. We retreated to our house to wait it out.
Let’s get morbid. If a cancer diagnosis does one thing, it confronts you with your mortality. Yes, we all know that we can’t avoid death (or taxes), but it doesn’t really feel like that. We’re all immortal until we’re not.
Reactions amongst our friends and family to this life-changing situation were mixed. We are part of a large extended family, on both mine and Muriel’s sides, many of whom are heavily involved in religious work, either professionally or voluntarily. Ideas on the efficacy of religion when faced with a terminal illness are many and varied and I’m not going to talk much about that here – there are already too many words spoken on what is a very complicated philosophical position. I take great issue with the ‘pray for healing’ types and I take great issue with the ‘well, that proves there is no God’ types1. Both are horribly simplistic. One of the hopes of this Camino for me will be time to think on these things and to try and articulate a coherent response. On the other hand, maybe it just is what it is – so shut up and get on with it.
Readers of this blog will be aware that I am most definitely a ‘theist’ and am culturally and pragmatically a Christian (with the complication of a science PhD). Counterintuitively the events of the last 4 years have increased that theistic tendency, albeit that I now hold some beliefs that might disturb a vicar. But I’m OK with that. If your faith/agnosticism/whatever-it-is-for-you doesn’t respond to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, then of what use is it?
I’m tagging this post in the ‘waffle’ category, in case you want to avoid future philosophising. Hmmmm.
- M, for whom I would not dare to speak, has her own views. It’s one thing to be an onlooker to the horror of cancer. It’s quite something else to be the sufferer. ↩︎