Belfast Telegraph

Omagh man who lost wife to cancer pens second book after Camino trek

By Claire McNeilly

A devastated father-of-two who lost his beloved wife to ovarian cancer has undertaken a gruelling 1,000km walk along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain - and written a book about it.

Widower Dermot Breen set off on the "tough and challenging" journey in May 2016 as he continued to cope with the death of Jacqui in January 2015, just 10 months after a shock cancer diagnosis.

'The Man with the Camino Tattoo', the Omagh native's second book, chronicles his physical and emotional ups and downs on the journey and its title comes from his encounter with a French pilgrim along the way.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the 57-year-old retired senior manager revealed that he has already raised over £30,000 for research into the cruel, merciless disease that claimed his wife of 28 years.

"The Camino was fantastic; it was a wonderful experience, if tough at times. But there's one word that sums it all up - camaraderie," he said.

"There are at least 12 different routes. I opted for the Camino del Norte, which is the most beautiful but also more challenging."

Dermot recalled how he walked alongside French couple Nelly and Nicolas, a tattoo artist, for "a good bit", during which time he told them about his late wife.

Jacqui, a former teacher who worked at Greenisland Primary School for 25 years, spent the last three days of her life in hospital.

She died just days after her 54th birthday.

The Belfast retiree said he was astounded when Nicolas designed a unique tattoo in Jacqui's honour, which he is now sporting on his right shoulder. Referring to his first piece of body art, Dermot joked: "Getting it certainly didn't last as long as the walk."

He's going to meet his travelling companions again this August in Dublin when he intends to give them a signed copy of his latest book.

Dermot also told how his son Matthew (27) and daughter Hannah (24) joined him on the Camino and walked with him for a few days in mid-June.

And he revealed that "there's no doubt" walking and writing has helped him ward of the ravages of depression.

"You get over the rawness of the grief," he said.

"It takes a couple of years. But you're left with an emptiness and sadness that you carry around with you all the time.

"You learn to cope with it. In the book I say that time is not a great healer. It's just a great leveller. You just come to accept it more. It doesn't make it any easier."

'The Man with the Camino Tattoo' will be formally launched at the Crescent Arts Centre on Thursday, with all the money from sales donated to charity.

His first book, 'The Edge: Walking the Ulster Way with my Angels and Demons', recounted the story of his first long distance walk in memory of his wife in 2015.

Dermot's Ulster Way trek took in a clockwise tour of Northern Ireland and much of our coastline, and raised more than £10,000 for Cancer Research UK along the way.

After a career in occupational health and safety spanning over 30 years, Dermot took early retirement in 2016 following Jacqui's death.

'The Man with the Camino Tattoo' costs £12 and is available from Shanway Press or via Amazon. All revenue from the sales will be donated to Cancer Research UK.

Belfast Telegraph

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