The toughest moment

We have worked together for 10 years now. She started as my assistant, but she has become so much more than that, so much more than a colleague: someone who is always there to help you, to support you, to listen to you when you need a friendly shoulder, to make life easy for you, to keep your secrets, to be by your side for better and for worse, someone who has never failed you…even if I know – I’ve learned it the hard way – that there are no friends at work, she is the exception to this rule – she is my friend.

Over the years we have confided in each other, shared worries at and out of work; we have joked with each other, laughed and cried sometimes and shared stories and worries about our children, but also celebrated their achievements and victories. She has shared with me her happiness in her marriage (an incredible loving marriage of almost 30 years) and I have told her about my life as a divorcee and independent woman. Not that she is not independent – she is, very much so. But she has also found the love of her life many years ago, and with him she has built a beautiful life. She has a close knit family, children, brother and sister, in laws…she is happy in her skin, she dances in her free time and she smiles, smiles, smiles…

And now, three days ago, she has discovered she has breast cancer.

Some two months ago she had a scare with her 22 year-old daughter, who had found a lump in her breast. She took her to the best doctor and fortunately – we prayed together – it was nothing, her girl didn’t even have to have an operation. She was ecstatic when she had the good news and we celebrated together. Only one mother can understand the anguish of another in circumstances like those, but all was well in the end.

By pure chance – or a twist of fate, who knows – she decided to schedule a breast ultrasound and mammography for January, because she only did them every two years and it was not the time yet. But as she was there with her daughter– she scheduled the exams.

She went to the doctor on the appointed day very calm and serene, totally at ease – after all they were routine exams. But the following day when she arrived she was not her usual self, and when I asked her if everything was all right she told me her doctor had seen something she hadn’t liked, so she would have to do a biopsy.

Even then we thought it was nothing much. After all I had done a biopsy myself two years before because of a cyst that had suddenly grown and I had a happy release as it emptied when the biopsy needle pricked it – so we remembered the episode that I, naturally, had shared with her.

Again she came the next day looking worried. I told her we’d go and thank our very dear Saint Anthony as soon as she had the news that it was nothing much, that she was well to go on with her life. I said we’d go to Saint Anthony’s church, on the castle hill in Lisbon, and then have lunch and come back to work late – it would be a celebration, after all!

Last Monday as I was preparing to leave for Madrid on a business trip she told me “They have called me and told me to go to the doctor this evening, so that I may learn the result of the biopsy” – and I hugged her as I left and wished her luck. From the bottom of my heart. At the door I asked her: “Please don’t forget to give me some news!”

In Madrid I was busy and as I arrived at the hotel, after dinner, I suddenly realized she hadn’t texted me! I had a strange premonition that all was not well, as she would certainly have said something had she had good news – she always did that, she had done it with the news of her daughter…and then from a mere premonition I felt anguished and I was certain that something was very wrong with my friend.

The next morning I was thinking so much about her that I had to send her a message. She replied immediately saying “Unfortunately the news is not good”. I understood. I had feared it but still I was in shock. Between meetings I called her and she told me she has cancer, a bad one but fortunately one that is contained and in its first, very early stages…she will have to undergo an operation but most probably she will not require chemotherapy – and this is the good news. She seemed calm and strong, and said she was ready to fight.

I could not help but keep thinking of her during the whole day. I was with a colleague whom I trust very much but the news was not mine to share, so I didn’t tell him. She would decide when and what to tell. As we flew back my thoughts were always with her, and yesterday, as I saw her arrive, I merely signalled for her to come into my office and we just hugged each other in silence.

Then we talked and she told me more details and I told her that she is strong, she will win this battle, as she has won so many other battles in her life. Because, however happy, with a wonderful marriage and children she may be now, she went through very difficult moments when she was very young, as she nursed both her parents until they died – yes, both of cancer, that dreadful, silent, horrendous disease that is creeping all around us.

Fortunately, her cancer is at a very early stage – and breast cancer in phase 1 is 100% curable (we have recently seen it in a cancer insurance presentation) and she will have the best hospital and the best doctors, the best possible assistance in all this process. She will have to undergo some radiotherapy but not chemo, and hopefully she will soon be able to resume her life and put this all behind her. I strongly believe this and she will, too, because when you believe, things do happen. A positive attitude is half way for cure, and we know it!

Yesterday she did an MRI (magnetic resonance) and she hated it, the noise, the uncomfortable position, everything. She knows it’s not an easy time she has ahead of her. What a tough moment – maybe the toughest – she will have to go through. But she is an indomitable woman! I know her and I know that after the initial shock she, like any warrior, is preparing for battle. And she will have as weapons her inner strength, the love of her husband and family, the friendship of us all and her unwavering faith. She will hold on to it and we will too. We will pray for her, support her, make her laugh even when she won’t feel like it, and let her know how much we love and value her and how we long for her to come back and scold us, and give us that “bossy” look that makes us feel we are doing something wrong…and when time has elapsed, and all these – the toughest moments – are left behind, then she and I will go to Saint Anthony’s church, we will kneel side by side and thank him for her cure and for all the years she will have ahead of her, for the ageing years with her lifelong love and for the grandchildren she will have; for all the projects she has for her life and that she has shared with me. For all the stories she will have to tell – one of them this one, which will be nothing more than that, just a story – when she finally becomes very old and gray (if she eventually decides not to dye her hair anymore, of course!).

And I say it today, and I strongly believe that it will happen – my friend, my dear friend, will recover her health, her life, and she will be well.

Yes, she will go through her toughest moment, and she will vanquish it. And then, she will be happy again.