The title of this blog comes from Proverbios y cantares XXIX by Antonio Machado: “Wanderer, there is no road, the way is made by walking.” The words come to mind as I spend part of each day in Victoria taking a walk.

governmenthouse 006blogOn Thursday it was the gardens of Government House. There were so many signs of the pilgrim’s journey there: the path (actually an old laneway from the early days of Victoria), a stone wall, steps and many gates.

I’ve been fortunate enough to run into a couple of poet friends during my walks but this time I contacted Arleen directly and she picked me up and drove us to Government House to have a stroll through the gardens. We took time to stop and smell the roses.

Just as a I wrote to a friend to feel close to someone that knows me well, I appreciated walking with Arleen and sharing memories of old aunts, poetry we’re wanting to send out into the world (with a shared theme), upcoming festivals she’ll be attending to give readings.

Back at Vancouver Island Lodge run by the Canadian Cancer Society, my family has become a group of cancer patients. Some of them I only knew for a week as they were at the end of treatments. One woman shared my room for only a night as she was having radiation for pain management. Another shared my room during the days of her treatments. She had cancer for the fifth time.

I think of a line from an essay of Patrick Lane’s: “We sing as hard as we can.” We had a sing-song one night at the lodge but I relate the line more to the good fronts people keep up each day. Men who have had their heads shaved, let them shine. Women who have lost their hair, wear their new wigs. (Patrick was writing about his time at an addictions treatment centre in Nanaimo in an essay for the Globe and Mail in December 2000. It’s included as an afterword in Addicted: Noted from the Belly of the Beast edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.)

At the lodge, we’re not cut off from our families completely (although we’re not at home with them). What we have in common is a “shared disease”. We talk briefly about our treatments, how long we’re staying, and not always what type of cancer we have. One woman said: “Let’s not go there” when she was asked by someone at the dinner table. I’m all for talking about what’s going on but then again, our listening skills right now are not that great.

We do know that a couple of people have throat cancer as they’re now drinking Boost shakes and not much of the solid food. We can see one woman’s red nose from her treatments. We don’t talk much about feelings as our meetings are over meals and things are kept pretty light. There is though “the fear that moves hidden among us” as Patrick referred to in his essay.

governmenthouse 017blogI’m confident that radiation and surgery will get rid of the sarcoma I have. I don’t know that others who didn’t make it to one-year-cancer-free status, have brain cancer or have had reoccurrences are as confident. Some of them sit still with their illness and are not walking as I do each day. Theirs is the interior journey although even that is often avoided with watching television. I could tell them that watching the news actually adds to their stress level which inhibits their immune function. But I don’t because I haven’t become a self-appointed wellness advocate. I do open the windows to fresh breezes though!

“My own life hovers, newly emergent, alert as to who I will become upon leaving this place,” Melissa Pritchard wrote in A Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, and Write (Bellevue Literary Press, 2015). She was writing about staying for a couple of months in London, England in someone else’s flat where she “filled a journal with private thoughts and future resolves.”

I can relate to the hovering and I know I will become someone new when I leave this place. I’m not so alert to what will take place in the future. Plans have been made for months down the road or rather, I should say, there is an intent for certain travels down the road.

There are certain things I know: there will be a radiation treatment each day for the next two weeks. I’ll travel to Victoria on a Monday and return home to Nanaimo on a Friday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served at the same time each day. On certain days of the week there will be buttermilk pancakes and on others French toast. I’ll opt for eggs a couple of times and oatmeal the others.

governmenthouse 007blogI intend to walk each day, visit with friends, read and write and basically focus on being well.

Here’s some more of the Machado poem:

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the way is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.