You never know. A seemingly innocent remark wounds a friend. Callous words from bystanders injure fragile survivors. A stranger is believed over a friend. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words DO hurt, especially when uttered by a friend.
Why does it matter? Why are words so hurtful even when intended as constructive criticism? Why do words injure that call personal judgment into question injure so much? Why aren’t those schoolyard songs meant to build confidence remembered? Question why it matters.
Perhaps hidden personal turmoil is the root. Perhaps too much of an investment is in a project. Perhaps a knee jerk reaction leads to yet another knee jerk reaction. Perhaps a wound festers under a bandage, only getting worse when the bandage is ripped away. Perhaps mindsets have changed. Perhaps pride gets in the way. Perhaps there are multiple areas of attack. You never know. Learn why it matters.
Recently, I’ve been a hot mess of reactions on various levels. I usually have a long fuse that requires flooding with gasoline to light. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve had time to take a deep breath and ponder the reasons for my reactions.
The worst of these reactions dealt with FaceBook ‘friends’ posting articles critical of Angelina Jolie’s choice to prophylactically remove her breasts and possibly ovaries due to a faulty BRCA1 genes. Usually, movie star antics have no effect on me. However, I share not only a faulty BRCA1 gene with Angelina, but also share part her prophylactic surgery choice and beyond. Comments calling her prophylactic measures crazy, unnecessary, immoral, and worse created havoc on me. At the same time, other situations existed that also stressed my already weakened psyche.
Those that know me, know that my journey has been anything but easy. Much thought, research, prayer, and consultation went into every phase of my journey. Four years after my diagnosis, I have lost both breasts, my original implants for reconstruction, my ovaries, my uterus, sensation in several areas of my body, sometimes the use of one arm, my left first rib, and even my job. Some argue that my situation differed from Angelina’s because I was actually diagnosed with cancer prior to taking prophylactic measures. However, our decisions were based on the same facts, careful consideration, and reflection. Therefore, words against her decision are words against mine.
Normally, I’d get fired up by such comments and fire back with well-documented verbose rebuttals. This time, instead, I cried for two days. On the third day, I did further research. By the fourth day, I was finally able to ponder my reaction. Pride was a factor, yet not the most important. Solidarity with another cancer victim was also a factor, but again, not the most important. Righteous indignation plays a role as well, but not the lead. Finally, I identified the cause of my pain: re-opening of freshly healed wounds and dismissing of my suffering and loss.
As I said before, my journey has been fraught with difficulties. I struggled immensely with my decisions. Intense prayer, reflection, counseling, and though prefaced each action I took against my cancer. Yet, even knowing I made the best decision possible caused turmoil in my mind. To this day, almost 4 years after my diagnosis, I suffer with body image. As I step out of the shower I see only the scars. Some survivors call them “tiger stripes” or “battle scars” that show how hard we fought. At times, I do as well. However, at other times, all I can see is what I lost. See why it matters to me.
It is then that God begs me to look at what I saved: my life, my daughter’s life, and my family unit. Then and only then can I find peace in my decisions. Then and only then can I summon up the strength to joke about my “tummy tuck and a boob job” reconstruction. Only then can I smile when I admit that I lost my fertility to reduce my risk of cancer. Money often gets tight since I no longer bring home the bacon, but I can acknowledge the benefit of staying home to homeschool my children. My termination was based on lies, exaggerations, and belittling of my suffering and competence, but I know losing my job was my gain. When I think about all the struggles as God’s plan, I can actually smile and say so. God shows me why it matters.
Some say I’m strong and forget that I’m not the one that’s strong – God is; and He’s holding me up. That is often when silent tears course down my face in the dark of very early morning. Even in my weakness, I know God is holding me to His heart, but when friend’s words are like Judas’s kiss, my agony knows no bounds. Yet, worse than the wounds their words cause me is the admission of such to them or anyone. You see, although I realize God knows my inmost thoughts and comforts me, but even with His guidance, I cannot find the words to express my feelings. Often, I don’t even admit my feelings to myself until they’re out of control.
So while it’s your right to use the First Amendment to express your views, be courteous of other people’s journeys — especially if you claim to support them and be their friend. Another school-yard theme, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” comes to mind in these types of situations. Regardless of appearances, everyone suffers from something, and issues of controversy or extreme psychological distress are unpleasantly common. We all progress down different trails at different times. You never know why it matters.
For more information involving morality, medicine, and more:
National Catholic Bioethics Center on BRCA1/2 morality
A Benedictine Priest/MD on tubal ligation and it’s difference from risk-reducing oophorectomy/hysterectomy
CCC reference about moral conditions for surgical sterility or so-called ‘therapeutic mutilation’
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Erika V. is a thirty-something mother of two (with four saints in heaven). With a degree in molecular biology, she works for her state’s police crime lab; although her dream is to stay home with her children and homeschool them. Her newly converted husband is a sometime auto mechanic and primarily a stay-at-home dad. Passionate about pro-life issues and science, she is a survivor of breast cancer while pregnant. At 20 weeks pregnant with her daughter (pregnancy number six), she was diagnosed with BRCA1 stage II breast cancer. When local doctors we stumped with the diagnosis, she traveled to MDAnderson where chemotherapy on pregnant women has been done for over twenty years. After delivering her baby girl and undergoing more chemotherapy, Erika has had a whirlwind of surgeries to combat the cancer as well as the complications of cancer treatments. Three years and eight surgeries later, she continues to be passionate about pro-life endeavors, even winning the local Right to Life group’s Life Award and serving on their working board of directors. She authors two blogs, one a mommy blog Biology Brain-Simon Says and one a breast cancer while pregnant blog Erika’s Miracle Journey. Blog posts are often filled with pro-life references, including medical journal articles supporting the pro-life position. While there isn’t often time, she also enjoys horses, reading, gardening, and KY bourbon.