Michael Xuereb, left, and his father George are photographed before tackling the Camino de Santiago de Compstela to raise funds to fight prostate cancer.

A spiritual pilgrimage to help fight cancer

By 
  • August 18, 2011

TORONTO - It’s 805 kilometres from St. Jean Pied du Port in the French Pyrenees to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and 72-year-old George Xuereb believes he can walk it without getting blisters.

He has reason to be hopeful. He’s already beaten prostate cancer, so anything is possible.

Xuereb will walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela — the Way of St. James — with his son Michael, who harbours doubts on the blister count. Michael Xuereb walked the Camino last year and lost track of the number of blisters that emerged on his feet. He remembers precisely the number of toenails he lost — six.

“I figure if I lose five toenails or less I’m moving in the right direction,” said Michael.

The father and son walking companions hope to raise $5,000 for cancer research in the course of their 45-day walk. They’ve partnered with Prostate Cancer Canada and launched a blog where they will document their journey at www.endprostatecancer.ca. The blog includes a secure online donation button.

George Xuereb has dreamed of walking the Camino for 40 years, ever since he learned of it in the 1970s. He’s read dozens of books on the subject, but the veteran accountant who continues to navigate clients through Canadian and American tax codes never quite found the time.

In July 2005 he found himself faced with the immediate prospect of death. He had tested positive for prostate cancer and treatment options were limited. The hard part was telling his family.

Michael, pictured, and his father George who recently survived a battle began their pilgrimage Aug. 18 and hope to finish Sept. 29.By December George was cleared for an experimental procedure at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital called brachytherapy, a form of radiation therapy. The treatment was successful and George has been in remission the past two years.

When Michael, religion department head at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School, tackled the Camino with a friend last year, his father revealed to him his own ambition to make the pilgrimage. During his 2010 journey, Michael met a number of pilgrims in their 70s. He concluded his father — a life-long athlete who has been involved in Maltese soccer teams since he immigrated to Canada in 1958 — was a good candidate.

George and Michael began their walk Aug. 18, but not so much as athletes or fundraisers. Both men see their six-week journey as a spiritual pilgrimage.

“It’s a spiritual journey,” said George. “And in spirituality you hope that you get closer to God at the end of the journey.”

“I think you will find that you get closer to God throughout the whole journey,” said Michael.

For over 50 years the Xuereb family has been involved in the Maltese Catholic community at St. Paul the Apostle parish. Along the way, George will carry his wife Hilda’s miniature prayer book, given to her when she was a girl in the 1940s.

It’s not the first time George has been involved in medical charity. Ten years ago he gave up one of his kidneys to save his sister Helen. No one should doubt George’s determination or courage when faced with a challenge, said Michael.

“Dad is someone who in the midst of a struggle is going to fight,” he said.

George doesn’t think arriving in Santiago Sept. 29 is going to be any sort of final, crowning achievement.

“I’m not at the end of my goals yet,” he said. “You never know what challenges will come.”

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