Kaity Kasper

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Camino de Santiago

There are thirty-three days left until my last dose of chemo.

Thats actually a fact.  I learned from a dear one this week that the drug I will get during the "maintenance chemo" year isn't actually a chemotherapy drug at all.  Which is why all the chemotherapy side effects don't carry into that year.  I like that.  I like being able to say that my actual last dose is on August 2 - not my last dose of just this particular cocktail.

Until round four came to an end, I had been picturing a lot of celebrating and hoopla surrounding this last dose.  I mean - its a BIG DEAL.  I remember like it was yesterday an afternoon in March when I was sobbing to a friend over the phone about what the next several months held.  I couldn't imagine getting to July.  It was too many days.  And now, July is a mere hours away.

So, yes, its a big deal.

But as round four has ended and I tick down the days to round five, I feel less and less like celebrating.  Its not that I'm not excited, don't get me wrong.  Its more that I just don't know how to do what comes next.  I've figured this piece out.  For better or worse, I've learned how this little bubble of mine works, learned how to live in three week increments, learned what they really mean when they say "one day at a time."

So now what?

*   *   *

Three times in the last few months the Camino de Santiago has been brought to my attention.  I had never heard of the Camino before the first time it came up, but after it fell in my lap for the third time yesterday afternoon, I did a little Googling to find out more about it.

In short, its a route through Spain that Christians have followed for years as a sort of spiritual pilgrimage (people hike the route for lots of other reasons too, but that's the way it began).  There are a number of different routes that can be followed, but the consensus seems to be that its about 900 miles, beginning where Spain borders France and ending at Spain's eastern shore.

(I haven't gone back and fact checked any of this since this isn't a formal paper on the Camino, but you get the gist.  Its a really long walk through Spain that ends at the grave of a saint.)

If you know me even moderately well, it will come as no shock that after the Camino was brought to my attention for the third time, I texted the bestie to let him know that we would be taking it on in the [somewhat] near future.

But that's not why the Camino matters today.

*   *   *

Just before I was diagnosed, I had a feng shui analysis done on my home. I was curious what might be causing some of the repeated issues that had been presenting themselves over the last five years.  She gave me a lot of work to do - including swapping some rooms around and painting the entire house.  Perhaps most importantly, she found some areas that could be negatively impacting my health, which is why this project continued even after cancer came into the picture.  Given my nature, I was sure I could take care of all her suggestions in the first few weeks after my surgery.  In reality, when you can only work on a project for 20-30 minutes at a time before you need a nap, what once would have taken a week stretches out over months.

Other than a few odds and ends in the rest of the house, I'm down to my bedroom and my office.  My hope is to finish both by the time I return to work on a full-timeish basis, hopefully allowing me to sleep in my bed again and write in a space not surrounded by memories. 

A fresh start for the other side of this journey.

Yesterday (before getting the call that my blood work needed rechecking ASAP - which ultimately turned out okay but threw a real wrench in my day) I was plodding along painting the trim in my office and listening my stockpile of episodes of the Robcast.  An interview with Alexander Shaia was in the mix.

Alexander was talking about his time on the Camino, and my ears perked up as this trail was being presented to me yet again.  But I had to sit down and really listen when he started talking about life AFTER the Camino.

And how no one talks about it.  There are no guidebooks for it.  Everyone focuses on preparing for the trek and their time on the Camino.  But when it comes to life after?  Nothing.

As Alexander explained it, there is a special challenge presented to reentering life after traversing the Camino.  Those in your life who haven't had the experience can't really understand what you have just endured, how you might have changed, who you are now.  The reality of the mundane aspects of life - work, housekeeping, bill paying - strike a stark contrast to the spiritual immersion that encompassed the weeks that just ended.  Try as you might to explain, its simply not possible to make those who haven't been there understand.

Its difficult to relate to the rest of the world on the other side of the transformation.

*   *   *

I stayed on the floor for a good little while after the interview ended.  This was my problem.  Everyone tells you how to prepare for surgery or chemo.  What there experience was like during recovery and chemo itself.  You can read all you want about how those phases work, what to expect, how to get through. 

But no one tells you how to rejoin the world after.

Last week I went to dinner with a group of friends and as we sat there, I felt the separation.  I knew what this would have looked like a year ago, two years ago, five.  But as they bantered and laughed and hugged I was counting the minutes until I could run back to my puppy and my quilt and my yard and not have to try to relate to people again for a really long time.  They couldn't understand.  And I had no reason to expect them to.  But the result was a chasm between us that didn't exist before.  One that I'm not sure will ever be bridged. 

In thirty-three days I'll be expected to rejoin the world. 

And I'm not sure how to do that.