One year after

As she sits across the table and smiles at me she tells me “I have much to be thankful for”.

I know she has. Barely a year ago she was diagnosed a very bad form of breast cancer, fortunately in its very early stages (read the story in my posts “The toughest moment” and “Medical malpractice?”). She underwent two complicated operations and painful radiotherapy. From the first moment she faced her ordeal with incredible fortitude, determined to win the fight – and she did. During her radiotherapy treatments she insisted on coming to work in the mornings and leaving early in the afternoon to go to the hospital. The following day she came back to work tired, in pain – the treatments seriously burned her skin – but always with a smile on her face. She told me she needed to have some normality in her life, and coming to work provided that. It gave her a hint of when everything would fall back in its place and she would return to her daily routine.

Everything went well and after a few months she was well. Of course she has to go to the hospital for routine check ups but her doctors say she is healthy. You can see it in her – she is radiant, booming, full of life, happy…but then, even when she had the disease inside her, you’d never tell, because if there is a radiant person she is that. Always smiling at life, with a positive outlook, always trying to make others happy…

She tells me she is really happy. Now more than ever she has learned how precious life is, but then life has already taught her some hard lessons on how one should make the most of good moments and find all the strength to overcame tough obstacles. The second of four children – and the eldest girl -very soon she had to play mother to her siblings because their mother was a very sick woman – coincidentally with cancer –  who spent most of her time in bed or in hospital. At eleven she lost her mother, and her mesmerised father, who was constantly travelling for his work, had to send his children to boarding school. Still, he loved them very much and they would all be reunited on holidays and on festive occasions. She does not recall a happy or carefree childhood, but even so she and her brothers and sister knew their father loved them very much. And then, again, tragedy struck; soon after she had left boarding school and they were all together as a family again her father fell ill – yes, it was the same disease – and died after a terrible year, when the children had to take turns to take care of him. Again she learned about pain and hardship, again she fought and overcame it.

At seventeen, when her father was still alive, she met the man she would marry, and who has been her lifetime companion, the father of her two children. If there is an example of a happy, truly fulfilling marriage this is the one. You can see it in her eyes – I have known her for more than ten years and it has always been there, that light when she talks about him – and often she tells me he’s the best company she may have. Now that both their children have left home they have rediscovered the pleasure of travelling by themselves, of going out more in the evening, of having new experiences …always shared. As we were talking I told her that no one can have everything in life, and, if she has had a difficult childhood and teens, certainly she has been most fortunate in her love, as she has truly found a lifelong companion, with whom she has found true, solid, palpable happiness.

She agrees. And she adds she is very grateful to life. Even considering all the challenges she has had to face, such as last year’s. Because, she says, I have learned to value life even more. And to develop new projects, as she has an entrepreneur spirit and is now beginning another activity that may transform itself into an alternative for her professional life. Without stress, but slowly building an interesting, creative option for her future. And she says “Isn’t that what we all look for, at this stage of life?”. I smile and I agree, of course. It’s never too late to dream and dreams do come true. If only we believe in them, with all our heart.

Before coming to the restaurant we had been to St. Anthony’s church to give thanks for her recovery. We had promised to do this together when she was very ill, facing her ordeal. Inside the beautiful church there was a feeling of peace. After our prayers she reached for my hand and we smiled at each other. We had made it to this much longed for day. And then we had our lunch and shared our stories. As we came out we promised to do this again soon. After all, every moment is a perfect one to give thanks for our lives, to feel the serene atmosphere of the church and feel the protection of Saint Anthony. And then, of course, to make the most of it and have a nice lunch at a small simple restaurant in that most typical Lisbon Castle quarter. And then come back to ordinary life and keep those special moments lived together as a cherished memory. So happy, and grateful, that we are having them one year after.