A daunting diagnosis: Can I walk the Camino?

“Well, the first thing you’ll want to do is thank you parents for passing this on to you,” my doctor smiled ironically. “Osteoarthritis is usually inherited.”

“I’ll be sure to show them some gratitude,” I grinned back.

“Now, I don’t mean to sound negative,” she continued. “I know you like hiking, but I think you’re going to need to find a new hobby. Your knee just can’t take it.”

*   *   *

A few months ago, I lay in the reverberating MRI chamber wondering what the heck was wrong with my knee. A squishy feeling persisted any time I walked or hiked. Sometimes it ached a bit, so I finally got it checked out. The results came today: arthritis. At forty-two.

This wouldn’t normally be a big deal for this world-class couch potato. I could merely have used the diagnosis as an excuse to take my laziness to the next level.

But, given my recent announcement, these times are anything but “normal.” I’m planning to walk the Camino de Santiago again in nine months! That fact alone would be concerning, but the truth is hiking has become a lot more to me than what my doc called a hobby. Being out in nature is what got my life back on track after falling apart post-Camino. Hiking is what saved me from the most paralyzing depression of my life. Later, when I was whole again, it’s what saved my relationship with Mary. Simply put, hiking is what I do to encounter the Divine and restore my soul.

For this reason and many others, I can’t stop walking. I simply won’t.

“As you know, I walked across Spain two years ago,” I reminded my doc. “I’m planning to go back again next spring and do at least part of it again.”

“Well…” she started slowly, a cautious look crossing her face. “In that case, we need to focus on strengthening the weaker muscles in your quads and loosening your hamstrings. I also have some supplements I want you to start on that can help reduce swelling and support the cartilage.”

Her thought is if these interventions don’t help with my pain and swelling by December, we’ll explore a more aggressive strategy to help the knees become healthier so I can still walk in spring.

I never imagined this — of all things. To be told that I’m physically incapable of walking — or that doing so would be unwise. The craziest part about today’s revelation is that, up until now, I’ve been feeling scared, resistant, and mildly apathetic about the call to walk the Camino again. I haven’t exactly been jumping for joy about going. But now there’s this hurdle. There’s someone looking over my lab reports evaluating whether I should go. I want to spit nails. Find another hobby, my ass!

This new information is changing my formerly-reluctant assent into a defiant just-try-and-stop-me! Something deep within is rising to the challenge.

*   *   *

My mindset is pumped, but the reality of what I’ll have to do to prepare is daunting. I’m one of those excitable types who starts out all gung-ho about a project and then rapidly loses steam — twenty-four hours is a generous window. I have to do exercises every day: Wii balance board games, leg extensions, rolling on a foam thing to stretch my hamstrings (painful!), and a little move I call the stork leg. Daily. Twice daily for extra credit. How on earth will I find the resolve to do this for nine months?

Taking the supplements diligently will be easy enough with breakfast, but it’s the final challenge that fills me with undeniable dread: I have to lose weight. If I’m honest, I need to lose at least forty pounds (and keep it off) to take the strain off my knee. Losing weight takes diligence I do not inherently possess. Oh, that my arms and legs and torso were like Legos, and I could just pull off the bits I don’t need, piece by piece.

Oh, that I didn’t medicate every shift in my mood with sugar, fats, and carbs. Losing weight might be easy if it were just about my meals, but what keeps me overweight is what I eat in secret, in between meals, when no one is watching. Me and food are thick as thieves.

The arthritis was coming, one way or the other. What I didn’t know was saying yes to this Camino meant facing the inherited, intertwined issues of food and feelings. I can curse my fate or deny it, but there that wound is still there, waiting for me to heal it. Further proof, as if I needed any, that the Camino gives you what you need.

So, dear reader, here I am. As you know, I’m embarking on a physical journey in Spain nine months from now. To prepare for that walk, I begin another journey now toward healing and getting healthy in unexpected, potentially-transformational ways. I am equal parts daunted and eager, but one thing is for certain: I’m keeping my hobby.

Want to know why I’m doing the Camino in reverse — and how you can help? Read on!

6 thoughts on “A daunting diagnosis: Can I walk the Camino?

  1. Arthritis?!!!! No. That’s the last thing I would have thought of. I hear the strength in your resolve. And I even see the benefits in the outcome you’re going to get. But here’s the thing. You’ve already done soooo much hard work. This feels like piling it on. I do know this: you WILL do it! All Blessings, always.

    Sent from my iPhone — please forgive weird spelling mistakes


  2. I admire the strong-willed person you are.
    But don’t forget to put a little bit of yin in your yang. In other words, some self kindness and acceptance can be good too.

  3. You are one amazing powerful honest and committed woman. You will do this!

    Made it to Bayonne today!!! It took a miracle or two and a couple of angels for me to make my last flight but all was provided once I settled down and decided to trust God. Big learning.

  4. Oh I know this is going to be a challenge, but I love this! I love how the Camino (read Life) keeps giving – everything you (I, everyone) need to give it all up. You could never escape this because you are on “the path” and at some point or another, whether consciously or not, you asked for it. You said “whatever it takes” to get clear, to empty out, to know the Truth with a capital T, didn’t you?! I know it because I did too and no matter what there’s no escaping. Once you’re on the rollercoaster it’s really not possible to get off. Carry on dear friend. Carry on. Tears instead of sugar. Pounding pillows instead of fries. Screaming instead of chocolate. Whatever it takes you will come out the other side with a lightness you wouldn’t have thought possible. I’m so excited for you. Pfft! Arthritis! The Universe has a sense of humour doesn’t it. I too have arthritis, recently diagnosed and am doing my daily exercises, but then I’m 65, not 48. Even so, I’m not giving up my hobby either! I got me some hiking poles! They take about 30% of pressure off the joints.
    with love

  5. My story is similar; my doctor said (after discouraging the idea of walking) – any way you can swim the Camino? Well, of course, no. But it did make me laugh! Then he said – can you bike the Camino? And I said – wow, yes, I suppose so — but with a lot of disapproving stares! Like you, my doctor is trying to work with my two severely arthritic knees that only became symptomatic 5 months ago — long after I made the decision to walk the Camino. While I hope to bike the first 400 miles (in training now to see if I can get that strong) — and walk the last 100 km from Sarria; I should then have at least part of the real Camino experience. Good luck to you! Gracey

    1. Hi Gracey! What a blessing to have a doc with a sense of humor! Perhaps swimming from England and walking three days to Santiago could be an alternate plan? 😉

      I’m happy to report that I finished the Camino this July without a single problem. I took it slow, took turmeric and glucosamine daily, avoided wheat (to reduce inflammation), and lost about 20lbs before leaving. My doc shed a tear, she was so proud.

      As a precaution, she gave me a steroid shot two weeks before I left (a doping pilgrim–can you believe it?!). Not sure if that helped or not, but I walked about 400 miles and didn’t have the slightest twinge. Another Camino miracle. I share all this not to give medical advice (not qualified!), but to extend hope and encouragement with you. May your pilgrimage be blessed, no matter how you get to Santiago. Buen camino! ❤

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