“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
~Christopher Columbus

As I talk with my friends about this journey I’m about to take, so many of them say, “You’re so brave!” And every time I hear that, I pause and shake my head and think to myself, “Gosh … not really. I don’t think of myself as brave.” So I had to look up the word and some of the synonyms fit… “Adventurous”? Yes. “Resolute”? Yup. “Spirited”? Check. But words like “Heroic” and “Fearless”… not so much. Since I’m a writer, words mean a lot to me. And this word “Brave” just isn’t sticking.

Perhaps this word is just too strong for me. I feel like my penchant for “living small” (an age-old habit of being “the good girl” who doesn’t ruffle any feathers … a habit I’m trying to relinquish) rears its head when it hears this word “Brave.” But then as I sit here typing away, thinking about my life, I start to embrace it. Because really, it’s true. And I became this way because of my mother. She is, in large part, the one who inspired me to take this journey. I just wish she knew it…

Kathryn ad momI never thought of my mother as particularly brave as I was growing up. She was just another stay-at-home mom in our comfy suburban neighborhood who made me peanut butter & (homemade) jam sandwiches, helped out at my summer swim meets and tried to talk me out of rushing sororities at UC Santa Barbara (advice which I WISH I had listened to).

It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that I started to recognize her fortitude. She battled this horrible disease with a vigor I’d never seen. Before they rolled her into the operating room for what would be a 10+ hour surgery (that we weren’t sure she would survive), she wrote the words “peace” and “trust” on her hand – smiling at dad’s camera as he commemorated the moment. Throughout her illness, she rarely complained and didn’t let us know how much pain she was in. For the last seven months of her life, I lived with her and cared for her – and she never once complained. Not about all the drugs or the endless trips to the cancer center or the fact that she could no longer eat her beloved vegetables. This was bravery.

walking a tigerAfter she passed I learned even more about how brave she was. My dad told me stories (that I’d never heard before) about how when they traveled, mom was always the first one to raise her hand when their group was asked to do something adventurous. Lie on the ground and let an elephant place his foot on your stomach? Yes! Walk the tiger in Thailand? Why not!? Ride the wild horse in Hungary? Sure thing. I had NO IDEA my mother was so audacious.

So as I think of my own life – my own battle with cancer, my swims in the San Francisco Bay, the trip I took to Zimbabwe in 2006 to work with lions – perhaps I should allow myself to accept the title of “Brave.” Honestly, it still feels not-quite-right. But I believe it’s time to embrace it. To accept my friends’ accolades. To live a little larger.

I will need a lot of fortitude during my seven-month journey. There will be trials and challenges and unexpected problems. There will be times when I feel alone. There will be times when I won’t have the answer. It is my hope that, at these times, I will think of my mother. I will think of her embracing the words “peace” and “trust.” And I will adopt them as my mantra.

Follow Kathryn’s journey at

About Kathryn Gilmore

Kathryn is an animal lover, world traveler, cancer survivor, food enthusiast and story teller. Her first trip to Africa in 2005 to volunteer with lions opened her eyes to the healing that international travel and working with animals affords. Since this inaugural trip, life has been more focused close to home ... becoming her mother's caretaker during her last days as she battled pancreatic cancer, taking on her own fight with breast cancer, moving back near her beloved home town in California, starting a food business and continuing to write and care for animals. In September 2015, Kathryn embarked on a six-month journey to Africa and Asia to volunteer at several animal sanctuaries. Her stories from afar were featured in her blog and focused on majestic wildlife, mouthwatering food, meeting people from all walks of life and personal growth. She is currently working on a book about her life and her travels – and hopes to develop a children’s book focused on elephants. Her blog, Onward Voyage, may be found at:

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