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Rocco Rossi: How spirits and the spiritual mix on my prostate-cancer journey

After many weeks of walking, and with less than a day left to his goal, Guillermo Watt, 69, died of a heart attack while going up a hill in 1993. His shoes were bronzed and a memorial set up at the spot.

Prostate Cancer Canada

With 25 kilometres left to go to Santiago, our walking meditation was broken by the amplified voice of Bob Marley singing, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right…"

In the middle of all of the churches and historical monuments, here was the Casa Verde bar where a group of 15 Australian, American, French, German, Hungarian and Danish pilgrims were dancing and drinking. Less than a day's walk from Santiago, after several days of constant rain and, for several of the pilgrims weeks (if not months), of walking, a bar presented itself in the sunshine and seemed like a great place to start the celebration.

There were others who walked by who looked askance at the revelry and, no doubt, from their point of view, the non-spiritual (or, perhaps, overly-spirit-ual) behaviour which represented a desecration of a serious undertaking. There is frequently a debate along the Camino of who is a "real" pilgrim and who is just a "tourist" or "touregrino." There are those in day packs who send their full packs ahead in taxis; there are those who walk just the minimum requirement; there are those who stay in luxurious hotels instead of the crowded pilgrim hostels. But none of that is truly relevant. As a wise Belgian once told me, none of the outside behaviour determines the true pilgrim. The tourist merely visits the Camino, but the pilgrim is visited by it, and all that is only truly known inside the heart of the individual.

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As for those serious people who looked askance at the dancing pilgrims? Just‎ a few metres past all the dancing, music and cervezas, there is a memorial to a man called Guillermo Watt. He was 69 years young back in 1993 and walking to Santiago during a Holy Year where St. James' Day (July 25) falls on a Sunday – a particularly auspicious time to undertake the pilgrimage. After many weeks of walking, and with less than a day left to his goal, Guillermo Watt died of a heart attack while walking up a hill. His shoes were bronzed and a memorial set up at the spot.

Only a stone's throw away, the young pilgrims were dancing and singing, but here all was quiet, and mortality was contemplated. The contrast is overwhelming and, yet, somehow appropriate. We are walking to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer, a disease which strikes 1 in 7 men in his lifetime. Last year, in Canada, more than 4,000 fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, friends, neighbours died of this disease. We at Prostate Cancer Canada want to eliminate the disease and, in the meantime, help those affected to live the fullest lives possible.

I am not a big fan of the typical cancer-sector usage of the term "survivor." Survival is important – it is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient. It is not enough just to survive, just as it is not enough simply to walk the Camino. You have to dance and celebrate along the way, just like the pilgrims at La Casa Verde and just as we, at Prostate Cancer Canada, want to help all men and their families affected by this disease – with your help!

Rocco Rossi is the CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada. He will be blogging as the Pilgrimage for Progress on Prostate Cancer proceeds and you can follow that blog at

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