I am on the morning train to Porto, a city in the North of Portugal. I do this so often – I have many business meetings there – that this train has become very familiar and I even enjoy the trip.
Sometimes I take the seven am train and in the winter it’s still dark when I get to the Oriente train station. This station is a beautiful sight – it was designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and in the distance it looks like lace, or rather like a white web. However, as it is open on each side, it is cold and windy, but I still prefer to take the train here – I just love to see its incredible silhouette as I arrive.
Today it’s eight am and the day is dawning. The sky is a pale blue and it’s unusually warm for this time of the year. I sit down and relax; in a moment I’ll read the newspaper and then open up my laptop and work, but for now I look outside and let my mind wander.
I think of all the challenges of the past months, the usual ones of a woman such as myself, who wants to conciliate it all: motherhood, a demanding career, love, friends, hobbies…and now, for the past year or so, writing my first novel and my blog. But I am blessed with good health and all these challenges in fact come hand by hand with a lot of positive energy and somehow I can manage to squeeze everything into the short twenty four hours of the day. No complaints.
Talking about challenges, all around me some of the people I love are facing their own and some of them have been daunting. A friend who is a colleague at work faced breast cancer early this year (you may read about it in my posts “The toughest moment” and “Medical malpractice?”) and was lucky to have had it discovered at a very early stage, for it was a very bad type of cancer; had it not been like that it would have spread and she would not have stood a chance. She had to undergo two operations, with complicated post operative situations during which she suffered excruciating pain. The second time she had to do a total mastectomy and after that she had to have almost forty radiotherapy sessions that burned her skin while the doctors warned her these treatments had a serious possibility of damaging the prosthesis on her breast. She only missed work when recovering from her operations and worked every single day through radiotherapy, leaving early in the afternoon for her sessions. She was always smiling and with incredible inner strength, an example to us all. Now, with this ordeal behind her, and with a very good prognosis, just the other day she happily told me she had been to the cardiologist and he had told her the treatments had not affected her heart – never did it cross my mind (ignorant as I am) that they might have, but for her it was very important as it was the last of a series of checkups she had to go through and all was well.
Another huge challenge has been faced by my friend Gaby, who after four and a half years of a healthy life with her transplanted kidney (see my post “A story of courage”) had a sudden downturn in her situation. During the summer the results of her regular reviews were not good and then things precipitated themselves: she had to spend some time in hospital as doctors were not sure what the problem was, if it was a rejection of the kidney (again in my ignorance I thought this could only happen in the beginning, right after the operation, but now I know it can happen at any time) or if it was a case of malfunctioning. It turned out to be the latter, and my poor friend had to face the fact that it will start all over again: haemodialysis, being on the list for a kidney transplant, the operation…again she had several problems to insert the catheter for the dialysis, again she despaired and was in very low spirits, but now she has come round, she is herself again – after all she is a fighter. She is now adapted to her new routine, spending four hours three times a week at the dialysis centre, as the option she had before (doing it at home during the night) is not suitable for her condition any more.
Yet another close friend suffered a very serious nervous breakdown. She had been the victim of harassment and psychological violence at her work for several years and at a certain point she couldn’t face it anymore. A brilliant professional, it was very hard for her and her life was turned upside down. She went through moments of despair, there were very dark days but she is also a strong woman, and she has emerged from this even stronger, more focused and determined to be the master of her own life. She has closed that chapter and is now facing a whole new challenge that, I’m certain, will bring her much more happiness and balance.
I admire my three friends for the courage they have showed while fighting for their lives, but there are others that, although – thank God – facing less dramatic situations still face every day with the determination to win and overcome all difficulties: one of them missing her daughter who, like many bright young Portuguese professionals has had to emigrate and is currently working in Brazil; another one who is the support of her elderly widowed father, and the force that strives to keep the family together, while also presently facing dramatic change at work; my dear wise friend and his wife who are raising their teenage granddaughters with all the challenges this entails, while waiting for the right moment for them to join their mother in England where she is currently working.
Outside the landscape is now green and I can see some hills in the distance. I smile to myself as I remember the song “Morning train” by Sheena Easton that inevitably comes to my mind: it was a very popular song, back in the eighties, about a silly girl who did nothing with her life but to sit at home waiting for her man, who took the morning train to work and came back to her in the evening “so they could play all night”. It was a silly song – but nice – about a life that could not be further from ours, mine and my friends’. We have full, crazy, hectic lives but we are active people, we do things. If only we are blessed with health – and our children and families, I think – we will be happy to face whatever challenges life may bring us. And overcome them. But then, it was just a fun, silly song of the eighties that we used to listen to and sing along and dance at the disco.
One last look outside – now I see trees and then ploughing fields, and here and there the golden colour of autumn leaves. The newspaper and my laptop are waiting for me, while the morning train speeds towards the North.