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This section is deliberately named after the title of the book written together by Fabrizio Pepini and Massimiliano Cremona, and for me it represents the core of this blog. “Walking heals” tells Fabrizio’s story, whose life changes in a May morning five years ago, when doctors diagnosed him a very serious illness. “You have a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a mantle cell lymphoma, to be precise, Mr. Pepini. We will immediately start the necessary treatment, but I can’t hide that it’s a delicate prognosis. We’re talking about an average survival of 3-5 years with subsequent recurrences. We’ll do everything we can to make sure everything goes well. We are together in this fight!”. This, essentially, was the tragic core of the speech that a Belgian doctor, so human and calm, made to Fabrizio that day.

There was no time to lose. The treatment started immediately and it was clear what was the best thing to do with a patient like him: a bone marrow transplant. Shortly after, Fabrizio finds himself “closed” in a sterile isolation room, waiting for his blood cells to reproduce and allow him to come back soon in the world. It took a month. Try to imagine how much difficult was for a person like him, always active and busy, with the freedom to do anything, go anywhere, live, to find himself closed for 4 weeks in a small hospital room with no possibilities to go outside. Every day the same four walls, the usual drips, the routine checks, the silent of the nights. Luckily, Fabrizio’s loved ones could enter. Luckily there were the smiles and the kind gestures from the nurses. Luckily, even in there, you can’t stop dreaming.

I’ve known Fabrizio for 20 years, and knowing how much the prospect of isolation and the subsequent loneliness was hard to him, I took a flight from Brussels so that I could be there too. I didn’t care about the glass which separate us. The smiles, the looks, the words were able to reach the room, which protected him only from bad and lethal things. It was in those days that we find ourselves dreaming about walking to Santiago de Compostela! Fabrizio was extremely weak; a bacterium would have been enough to seriously compromise his chances of survival. Weak, run-down, he did not lose his smile and the desire to dream how to restart his life once he got out from there.

That talking about walking seemed to end in that hospital, but a few months later we both find ourselves walking towards Santiago. I was going from Seville up the Via de la Plata. He was about to begin in excitement his first French walking! When Fabrizio told me that he has just left, I speeded up the pace, and after a couple of weeks I reached him in Burgos, so that we could walk together a dozen days. It was a huge emotion. Walking together is a metaphor often used to describe human relationships, and in that particular moment of his life, being able to spend a part of the journey with him was the best way to represent our friendship. Starting the journey, for him, was an enormous act of bravery. He had the courage to challenge his illness, not to submit himself to fears. His mightiest gesture was made when he first arrived on the path. There, he understood that he had to live that experience in its fullness, and he realized that he had to leave behind, before starting to walk, his condition as an ill. He took off the cover, and said to himself “I’m not sick”, and he started living his walk.

After a month, Fabrizio arrived happy to Santiago! Since then, he has not stopped! He has traveled thousand and thousand kilometers, walking in Spain, Italy, Greece, and every time he came back, he had the same belief: walking is incredibly good for me! In the book he tells everything about his story and all the thing he understood in his slow step after step. As the book’s editor wrote, “Fabrizio’s story is a story of man who is able to overturn closure into openness, to see light where almost everybody sees dark, and to turn dejection into hope”.

The book then tells about other stories of friends met by Fabrizio during the journey, with a common denominator: walking heals! Women and men who had, one day, the courage to leave their world, to escape from the suffering which seemed to be everything they had, who took their backpacks with a few things inside and left towards the unknown, walking for days. They all came back different! This section of the blog wants to keep telling stories like these, because this hope deserves to be amplified.

Walking heals! Now I know too!