Ian’s walk across Canada for palliative care

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Inspired by the “utmost compassion and dignity” with which his father, Ted Bos, was treated in his final stages of cancer by Aberdeen Palliative Care Society in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Ian has decided to undertake this epic trek to raise funds for and awareness of hospice and palliative care.

Taking his first steps out of New Glasgow on 21 May this year, Ian hopes to reach Victoria, British Colombia, by this autumn. He estimates that it will take him between four and five months to complete the journey.

A highlight of Ian’s trip has been the stops he has made at local hospices along the way. In many places, particularly the maritime provinces, a single hospice serves a very large population. In these areas, people from the community are focussed on raising funds to start a hospice service.

A walk of this proportion through a country such as Canada necessarily entails lots of spare time. With the noises of nature as his soundtrack – and a couple of old school rock n roll (think Tom Petty’s ‘Free Falling’) thrown in for good measure – Ian’s thoughts are occupied with planning the next stop, including how best to raise awareness of hospice palliative care in the next town.

Also, he says, it’s very introspective. “I’m alone with my thoughts, and there are a lot of fresh ideas that come up while I’m walking. I think this is very healthy and good for the mind, especially on the more challenging days.”

Ian’s walk has inspired other people who have lost loved ones or experienced hospice or palliative care to write to him, sharing their own stories. These people are in Ian’s mind as he walks.

“Dealing with grief is not easy,” he says, “but everyone has a good story about palliative care and it really is inspiring. This keeps me going for sure.”

Several of these groups have walked along with Ian for a stretch, linking their need for a local hospice to Ian’s country-wide awareness campaign.

Ian said: “They are all such humble people, and so passionate about what they are doing… It’s easy to get behind people like that.”

I asked Ian whether he was especially worried about anything in his road ahead. “I’m coming up to a big stretch now,” he replied, “from Ottawa to North Bay, across Ontario. It’s pretty remote territory, there are some communities up there, but very small, so I have to be prepared.”

It will take Ian two months to cross Ontario. He has consulted with friends of his who have experience in the military to plan his rations, and he carries 5 litres of water with him, as he may not know when his next water stop will be.

Although challenging, Ian does not see this remote stretch as a problem. In fact, he is looking forward to it. He says: “Every day out here, you find your boundaries and you have to push through them. So it’s also been an amazing personal experience. To see where your own boundaries are and to push through them, it’s very uplifting.”

“Our family didn’t even think about palliative care until we needed it,” says Ian. “I’m hoping that through this walk I can make people think. They say that nothing is certain but death and taxes. We are forced to face taxes once a year, so I’m trying to get people to focus on the important things. It is difficult to talk about death but it is a conversation we must all have.”

As the walk is dedicated to Ian’s father. I ask Ian what Ted would think if he could see Ian now.

“My father was a very humble man,” says Ian, “so he would probably cringe to see his photo all over the media.” He chuckles at this image, and continues on a more serious note: “When my dad first got sick, I was living away from home, on the other side of the country, so each day I would visit a different park and send him a picture.”

When his father’s illness progressed and Ian moved back to New Glasgow to be with him, they talked about the walk, so Ian reckons that perhaps he would approve.

“My father felt like a man when we dealt with hospice and palliative care,” says Ian. Asked to elaborate, he explains: “We had been getting a lot of run around, and no straight answers. When Dr Farrell came from the local palliative care unit, he didn’t sugar coat anything, he told us like it was, but with respect. He treated Dad like a person, not like a patient.”

Ian tells me that the nurse who cared for the family during his father’s illness still called his mother three months after his father’s death to check in on her. It is this demonstration of caring that exemplifies hospice and palliative care for Ian.

“It takes a special type of person to do this job,” says Ian. “When you personally lose somebody, you deal with your own grief, but these people they deal with this every day. And to be able to separate that from your personal life but still offer that same compassion everyday, it’s mindboggling.”

Ian reminds me that only one in three Canadians has access to hospice and palliative care, a figure reflected by the rest of the world. Ian says: “I believe it is the right of every person to have access to world class palliative care. It’s my wish that everyone can have the same care that my father received.”

Ian is walking across Canada to raise funds and awareness for hospice and palliative care. You can help by donating online.

Find out more about Ian’s walk online, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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