Reverend Mel Macarthur celebrates life on the road to Santiago

Cancer survivor Reverend Mel Macarthur of Wentworth Falls won't let a life threatening illness slow him down. He leaves to walk the 900 kilometres Camino de Santiago next month with his wife Anne Lawrence, his second pilgrimage to Spain in as many years. "No one wants to have cancer, but there are experiences I value since being a cancer patient."

Cancer survivor Reverend Mel Macarthur of Wentworth Falls won't let a life threatening illness slow him down. He leaves to walk the 900 kilometres Camino de Santiago next month with his wife Anne Lawrence, his second pilgrimage to Spain in as many years. "No one wants to have cancer, but there are experiences I value since being a cancer patient."

He has an inspiring story, and he's about to add a few more page-turning chapters to it.

Reverend Mel Macarthur of Wentworth Falls, 68, has endured six cycles of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant since being diagnosed with lymphoma a decade ago, but that will not deter him from walking the El Camino de Santiago for the second time in as many years, next month.

Popularised in the movie, The Way, the former Central Blue Mountains Uniting Church minister will be one of more than 100,000 pilgrims from over 100 countries to make the trek to Spain this year, making the Camino the most famous pilgrimage in the world.

Rev Macarthur finds the Christian pilgrimage to the 9th century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain, where the apostle Saint James is said to be buried, so enjoyable, he is doing a doctorate on pilgrimages and hopes one day to take groups of other cancer survivors, or troubled adolescents (he has a background in youth work) on the same journey.

"I appreciate my pilgrimages and remote area hikes much more as a cancer patient than I did in my pre-cancer days.

"For me the Camino is the opportunity to have five or six weeks to reflect on life. The international nature appeals to me very much. The people I meet along the way are the highlight."

It's not his first pilgrimage. He rode from Dublin to Jerusalem via Rome in 1998. And two years later he did a bike trip from Sydney to Alice Springs. He's completed many more since then in Australia and overseas.

"My pilgrimages have all brought about changes in me in one way or another. Periods of deep reflection and deep connection with other people sharing the long journey tend to both influence and inform me. Sometimes it can be transformative".

Crediting his good health to the Nepean Hospital Cancer Care Centre, he sees the walk as "honouring them". One centre staff member - "the person who put the first canula in my arm 10 years ago" - had even accompanied him on his many pilgrimages to Tasmania, he said.

"The staff at the Nepean Hospital Cancer Care Centre have put time, effort and expertise into my treatment and to use my potentials to their fullest is to honour their efforts in extending my life. It is a priceless gift they have given me. All of my fitness and discipline could never have brought it about without their care, skill and knowledge."

He says the spiritual "life affirming" journeys "keep him off the streets" and he's looking forward to his wife Anne Lawrence and friend, Ian Curtois of Hazelbrook, joining him on this trip.

Rev Macarthur said that "commonality of purpose and camaraderie along the Way do make the ending rather special" and while his body will take him he'll give thanks "for that body and the discipline that will take me to Santiago".

"My non Hodgkins lymphoma is in remission currently. I feel confident enough about my health to have undertaken another doctorate at the beginning of this year.

"However, my lymphoma has relapsed once before, five years after my six cycles of chemotherapy and antibody therapy. So, who knows what the future holds?

"What I can say is I plan to pursue my physical, intellectual and spiritual activities unrelentingly. If that worked out to be for not very much longer, that would be OK; it would be preposterous of me to complain of such an eventuality when it has been 10 years since my diagnosis, 10 years crammed with great, life shaping experiences."

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