Writer and Editor
NED since 2018

As I stepped out from a narrow path lined with cedar trees, the view of the mist surrounding the mountains took my breath away. It was typhoon season in Japan, and through shifting fog I could see spots of the long, curving line of the Kumano Kodo trail I had walked for the last five days.
In a way, I had been here before. But this time, I felt different. This time, I walked not only to find myself, but to regain strength in solidarity with millions of others. This time, I walked with the grit of a cancer survivor.

I started the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage on the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. At 34, I was just married and had a new home in Tokyo. Though we spoke no Japanese, we were committed to embracing uncertainty and a home here. Nothing could have prepared me for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a rocky, slippery path of treatments, burdened by the weight of side effects.

There’s a Zen Buddhist saying that goes “No Mud, No Lotus.” If you know how to make good use of the mud, you can grow something beautiful. This wisdom helped me trust the process, even in the darkest hours of my cancer battle and on the toughest of trails.

Rain began to fall. I pulled a poncho over my heavy backpack and carefully navigated the moss-covered rocks. I looked down at my tired feet and saw my boots were caked in mud. I had only a few more kilometers to go before reaching the sacred hot springs. As I put one foot in front of the other, I realized the silent bond I shared with other cancer survivors. The uncertainty of cancer, though involuntary and painful, helps us handle future uncertainties along our life and career paths. Even when everything’s shit, we keep going. Grit will be one of many beautiful gifts we bring home.