Pilgrimage: A Doctor’s Healing Journey
Donna Chacko, MD
Luminare Press (2021)
Reviewed by Chelsy Scherba for Reader Views (12/21)
“Pilgrimage: A Doctor’s Healing Journey” is Dr. Donna Chacko’s account of her difficult marriage and the loss of her first husband. Seemingly successful in her career as a radiation oncologist, wife, and mother to a family of beautiful, high-achieving daughters, no one would have guessed the turmoil going on inside Donna’s home. Subjected to isolation and a controlling husband, Donna spent years after his untimely death trying to make sense of the suffering she experienced and find God’s purpose in allowing her to go through such trials. She shares her life with raw honesty and provides readers with some of the tools she developed to overcome these issues.
This is a book that will take you on the journey of one woman’s tumultuous life. From her childhood relationship with her emotionally unavailable mother, to the first encounter with the man she would later marry, this story unfolds with open honesty as to what she experienced in both the happiest and darkest times of her life. If you think this memoir is simply about bashing her deceased husband, you would be wrong. Donna takes much of the blame and holds herself just as accountable as she does him. While her feelings towards him are no doubt still complex and difficult for her to fully come to terms with, this book does provide ways in which to find your center after going through some major storms.
I enjoyed being there through all of Donna’s discoveries as she detailed the challenges, decisions, and guidance she received from God as to how best to proceed with her marriage. On the brink of divorce, her husband was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal cancer that put things more into perspective. The chapters detailing his illness and the fight to survive were very impactful, since they also contained the stories of others who were in the same cancer ward. I found these chapters terribly relatable and emotional and it was interesting to see how her perspective on cancer radically changed once the diagnosis affected her family and she was no longer simply a radiologist treating patients. I also thought her criticism of the pharmaceutical industry was very insightful, since it’s so difficult to ever find a doctor or healthcare provider who feels comfortable enough to share these sentiments.
Donna’s connection to God was the guiding force that eventually led her to the happiness, hope, and healing she experienced after the darkness. People who are always “busy” will relate to Donna’s lack of slowing down, even changing her career to Primary Care medicine in her mid-fifties so she could provide aid for the homeless. A massive part of Donna’s self-care was to examine what she was truly afraid to face and why she needed to always be productive. Eventually, she created a program to help others find their way towards mind, body, and spiritual healing, a connection that so few in western medicine care to acknowledge exists.
This is a great book for anyone going through a challenging marriage or the terminal illness of a loved one. Not every life that looks grand is actually so perfect on the inside, and Dr. Chacko reveals that fully in her moving memoir. Still, there is peace, healing, and hope to be found for those who seek it. Her focus on the root cause of medical issues rather than simply overprescribing medicines and treatments will certainly appeal to those who prefer a healthy lifestyle with as few interventions as possible. I recommend this book to people who love memoirs, health, and discovering spiritual healing.