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Shani Fox, a Multnomah doctor who coaches cancer survivors, plans to celebrate her 60th birthday by hiking the 490-mile Camino de Santiago



CONNECTION PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - To celebrate her 60th birthday, Shani Fox plans to walk the 490-mile Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage through France and northern SpainDon’t pack your fears.

As Shani Fox has prepared to make a 490-mile pilgrimage through France and northern Spain this spring, she says that piece of advice has stuck with her.

“That’s part of the lesson of the ‘Camino,’” she says. “I’m trusting that the bed will show up where I need to stay, the food will show up when I need to eat and the people will show up when I need assistance.”

"Camino de Santiago” literally means “the Way of St. James.” It’s a spiritual journey that dates back more than 1,000 years, a path that pilgrims of all faiths have walked to visit the tomb of St. James.

When Fox sets out May 19 on the ancient Camino trail, she will carry a roughly 15-pound backpack with only a few necessary items. Between her starting point in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, and the finish in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, she plans to walk 15-18 miles a day and stay at hostels each night, meditating and reflecting along the way.

And when it’s over, she says, she’ll celebrate her 60th birthday in Madrid on June 29.

For Fox, a Multnomah Village naturopathic doctor who provides life coaching for cancer survivors, the Camino is a mile marker — and a journey that she hopes will direct the next season of her life.

“Sixty feels significant; it feels like a turning point,” she says. And while she’s never battled cancer personally, this turning point allows her, like her survivor patients, the chance to look forward to whatever the next chapter might hold.

“This is an opportunity to reflect and dream,” she says. “Life can be better now than it ever was before.”

CONNECTION PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - Shani Fox wears her pack on walks through her neighborhood to prepare for the Camino de Santiago.‘Their Camino’

Fox made a career as an accountant before enrolling in Portland’s National College of Natural Medicine in 2004.

When she started seeing patients as an holistic physician in 2008, she noticed a pattern among the cancer survivors who came to her for help.

“I realized I could get people’s bodies back to where they were healthy, but they were still walking around like they were ill,” she says. “What they’re feeling, the fear that they have, is a sense of the loss of their personal power, of their sense of control of their life.”

Fox founded Hope and Healing for Cancer Survivors in 2012 and has worked with roughly 200 people since. She says that many cancer survivors fear that the disease could return and that they could once again lose control of their life. Some are afraid to take a new job or start a new relationship. One patient saw her life becoming “smaller and smaller” as she isolated herself inside her house.

Fox says the challenge, for her patients, is to get back in touch with “the strongest part of themselves.”

When patients feel paralyzed by fear, she instead encourages them to consider their dreams for what their life could be, and to take small steps toward those goals.

“The truth is that there’s a part of them that’s stronger than cancer,” she says. “Now it’s their journey, their Camino, to put those pieces back together and create a whole that’s probably better and more beautiful than it was before.”

Spreading dreams

Fox began training for her trek about a year ago, after the idea came to her on a morning hike in Gaston.

She’d heard about the Camino years ago in high school Spanish class. And since her mother’s family is from Spain, she looks forward to the opportunity to walk on “ancestral ground.”

“It pulls together a lot of little threads from my life,” she says.

While Fox is packing light, preparing for the Camino has been no easy feat. To train, she has been walking several times a week, including a 15-mile route each weekend.

She could experience heavy rain, snow and 90-degree weather along the way, and she has to be ready at all times to treat the main injury that takes hikers off the trail: blisters.

Fox says she’ll set out on the trail alone, but she expects that along the way she’ll meet others who are making the pilgrimage.

“It’ll be exactly the right people at the right time,” she says.

And when she’s not with other people, she plans to spend time in reflection — about her own life and about a group of children she hopes to help through her trip. Fox has set up a GoFundMe site to collect funds for the New York City Ballet’s dance workshops for children with disabilities.

She was recently struck by a video about how the Ballet was helping the children move and experience dance; after seeing the video, she felt even more grateful for her ability to train for and walk the Camino, she says.

Fox has encouraged people to support her trek by donating to the program. On her way to Europe, she plans to stop in New York to donate the funds in person.

“It’s like I can take them along with me,” she says of the children. “Why not spread the dreams? Why not have more dreams come true?”

Her crowdfunding site can be found at gofundme.com/specialkidsdreams. For more information about Fox, visit drshanifox.com.

Contact Kelsey O’Halloran at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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