I’m back in my special place: a converted stone mill next to a bubbling stream in Northern Portugal.
I was last here one year ago, fresh from surgery. Physically I was like a bird with a broken wing after my mastectomy; mentally I was blasted by my recent cancer diagnosis and afraid of the long road of treatment ahead. This is where I rested, recovered and prepared for what lay ahead. I would stand on the old stone in the middle of the stream at the end of the day and do my exercises over and over, determined to stretch my sliced muscles so that I could lift my arm above shoulder height again. I would feel the warm stone firm beneath my bare feet, look at the serious stillness of the woods and cornfields at sunset, bask in the last gentle heat of the sun on my face and feel a healing power flow into me.
I went back to this place in my head many times in the long nights of chemotherapy that came later, when I often thought , I can’t do this. Just imagining myself back in the sunshine with the warm stone under the soles of my feet would fill me with a sense of that healing power of nature and give me the strength I needed to get me through to morning.
One year later, I am back and my world is a different place. I’ve completed chemo and radiotherapy. My hair has fallen out and regrown thick, dark and curly. I started a new exercise regime and am now fit enough to climb in the woods behind the mill without losing my breath. I feel strong.
Today I stood barefoot on the stone again and let the sun warm my face. The woods and cornfields look as beautiful as ever. This time I can lift my left arm and point straight up to the blue sky above. I confess, I cried. But happy tears this time.
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