Opening a basket of aid at the Dosquet community center, 50 kilometers southwest of Quebec City, Maureen Vachon broke down as she read messages of support from the volunteers who welcomed her at one of her last stops as part of her walk at the end of his life through the province. .
“My God, this is so nice,” Vachon said, wiping away a tear. “I have never experienced such sympathy and empathy as I do now.”
Vachon is wearing his fourth pair of running shoes and has walked more than 2,000 kilometers.
Completely alone, equipped only with a backpack, walking poles, and her phone, she has been on the road since April 24, live-streaming her trip to hundreds of friends (and strangers) across the province who have become involved in her story. .
In 2019, Vachon was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her bones and lymph nodes. Earlier this year, he made the call to leave the hospital and go on one last journey.
“After 52 rounds of treatments, I was really tired,” Vachon said. “I felt like I had become some kind of statistic and I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I didn’t feel like Maureen.”
His sister mentioned the Chemin du Québec, a walking route that connects Montreal to the Gaspé Peninsula. It is an American version of the Camino de Santiago: a long route destined to be a spiritual pilgrimage.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this kind of trail exists, I could travel to Cap-Gaspé on foot.’ I fell in love with the idea. I decided, ‘Okay, this is what I’ll do to have a beautiful ending to my life.'”
Chemin du Québec confirmed to CBC that Vachon is the first person to complete the entire course, all the way to Cap-Gaspé and back. As of now, with Vachon being held in Princeville, Que. — They say that he has already traveled more kilometers than anyone else.
“I’m the first,” Vachon says, adding that from the beginning she had prepared for a physically taxing journey.
“The backpack was half full and I said to myself: ‘Okay, you have to be able to travel at least 25 kilometers with it.'”
Raising money for hospice care
Walking more than 15 kilometers a day, rain or shine, Vachon has raised more than $12,000 for Maison Saint-Raphaël, a hospice residence in Montreal where he hopes to spend his final days.
“We are very happy that he did that,” said Olivia Lévêque, executive director of the facility.
“Not just for the fundraising part, of course we really need [that]but it’s also the message she’s giving.”
Lévêque says that some people have started their own walk or initiative after being inspired by Vachon’s journey.
“She always says ‘I’m living now’. So that’s the message we tell every person who comes here: it’s very important to live. You’re not a disease,” Lévêque said.
‘We are trying to cheer her up even though we don’t know her’
Along the way, Vachon is joined by her followers on her Facebook page, some of whom have opened their homes and shared meals with the 53-year-old as she passes through town.
“I saw it on Facebook by chance,” said Josée Turcotte, a resident of Saint-Agapit, Que.
“I told myself that I would follow her so I could experience a little bit of what it would be like to walk this path. It also made me want to help because cancer affects everyone. My mom and other members of my family died of cancer.”
Every morning over breakfast, Turcotte checks on Vachon’s progress.
“Maureen tells us where she’s going,” Turcotte said. “So I’m thinking of her… We’re trying to cheer her up even though we don’t know her.”
On Sunday, Turcotte joined Vachon in walking 20 kilometers to his home in Saint-Agapit.
“It was like we were good friends. We talked about everything under the sun,” Turcotte said.
“I was on Cloud 9 because my goal was to ride part of this trail and then share it with her.”
Turcotte says it was an honor for her to experience just a part of what Vachon has been through in recent months.
“Towards the end I shared his pain, because after 15 kilometers you start to feel a little bit of pain in the whole body,” Turcotte said.
“[But] You are walking with a woman who has cancer all over her. And then my legs start to hurt … But tomorrow she will leave with these aches and pains.
‘I wanted to end my days as they began’
Vachon says the support of strangers-turned-friends like Turcotte has overwhelmed her, and in her final months she hopes she can return to parts of the region she’s been exploring.
“I gave myself the biggest gift,” Vachon said.
“I couldn’t see myself, I couldn’t see myself, dying in a hospital or in a CHSLD. I wanted to end my days as they began, with dignity… Because the first steps are as important as the last ones.”