The Way Forward
When Fred Dillman was knocked off course by a dire cancer diagnosis, his response was to make peace with his past, refocus on his family, and chart a new course for himself …. walking his way to wellness. Literally. Throughout multiple treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and five surgeries, Fred walked three different routes of the Santiago de Santiago, a renowned spiritual pilgrimage ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Each journey took about a month and amounted to tens of thousands of daily footsteps. As he walked, Fred says he found peace.
“My oncologist told me that walking is a great healer; that it releases endorphins that are beneficial to your health, so I said to myself, this is something I can do,” said Fred. “It started out not really as a religious journey, though I am Catholic, but I was in it for the idea of the healing endorphins.” But as time went on Fred said he did some research about the pilgrimage and though he uncovered a fair bit of folklore attached to the story, he also learned that there is some truth and history there. “Now it’s become a real fascination for me and I’ve had some really powerful moments along the way.”
Fred was 58 and a project manager for an oil company when a serious rupture led to an air medevac ambulance trip to the hospital where he was pronounced ‘full of cancer and terminal’.
“I went to the Cross in Edmonton for 30 radiation treatments and then they sent me home to prepare for my life to end,” said Fred. Two month later when Fred was not only still alive, but thriving, his puzzled medical team ordered more treatment. “It was in my colon, lungs, thyroid and kidney. Over a span of about six years I had colon surgery and a resection and three lung surgeries and now I’m feeling pretty good!”
Good enough, says Fred, now 66, to book another trip to Spain. “The last time I went I was unable to finish it, I had to come home for a scan, but I’m going back this spring to complete that the last leg of the Via Di La Plata route.” He also hopes to walk across Italy from the Adriatic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
Fred’s wife Lydia, a retired nurse and EMT, has not accompanied her husband on previous treks, but she has always offered her steadfast support. This year she plans to accompany him to Europe to walk the remainder of Camino and experience what Fred finds so fascinating about it.
The Nanton couple has enjoyed 43 years of marriage, dozens of grand adventures, and now they appreciate time with their two adult sons and three precious grandchildren. The Dillmans had three sons but a tragic accident claimed the life of one of them at age 28. Said Fred, “I thought my heart was going to be ripped right out of my body. Grief controlled my life – I thought it might kill me.” But instead, he explains how his cancer experience has paved the way for renewed faith, absolution, and new-found peace and acceptance.
“Cancer has made me very aware of what I have, what really matters in life, what’s important, and what you have to let go of. It gave me the opportunity to say I’m sorry, ask for forgiveness, and provide answers to important questions my kids have. I feel lucky I’ve had a chance to fix some of my mistakes and find peace.”
Update: Good News!
A month after this interview, Fred learned that his cancer is in remission. He said the doctors cannot fully explain this miracle, but he is deeply grateful.
Here is what Fred believes are factors contributing to his wellness:
- A strong support group (my wife, family and friends and of course Wellspring) – Just knowing someone cares changes one’s attitude.
- Walking – helps me to relax and unclutter my mind and helps me to maintain an appetite for good food.
- Prayer and meditation are very important to keep me grounded in the present and assured that whatever lies ahead, I can accept it with grace and understanding.
“We learned about Wellspring from the High River Cancer Centre. We asked for support and we are so glad we did. We’ve only been at two programs so far, Tuesdays with Cindy, and the nutrition program at High River, but they were both very helpful and we plan to take more.
Driving in from Nanton to Randy O’Dell House will be a much shorter commute – it will be like a drive in the country. We are eagerly looking forward to the new location opening this summer.” – Fred Dillman