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Why It Matters

My son as a newborn with meYou 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.

A hug from my miracle baby

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’

A look through my eyes on Erika’s Miracle Journey & in brief here on Catholic Sistas

A co-survivor (and also my mother) about the BRCA1/2 journey and her feelings about critics

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About Erika

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.

  • Lisa C - Lovely, insightful article. For various reasons I understand and share your pain. You expressed yourself so well without a hint of resentment. I have to constantly remind myself those of us with diseases have a perspective healthy folks cannot understand and we are loved by God in a special way.

    Thank you for this post…..May 30, 2013 – 12:06 amReplyCancel

  • Erin Pascal - Thank you so much for sharing this very good read! I am moved by your story. Even with all the challenges that you’ve encountered, you still remain strong in faith. I am inspired by your story and your words. I know that God will shower you with more of His blessings. Stay strong Erika!May 30, 2013 – 5:36 amReplyCancel

  • Erika - Thanks for your kind words! This was a cathartic post for me. I’m glad it didn’t seem resentful. Thanks again!May 30, 2013 – 11:29 pmReplyCancel

  • Sportscasters Under Fire for Opposing Homosexuality - BIG PULPIT - […] Gisondi, Catholic Stand Tyranny Of The Mean – William M. Briggs, Statistician to the Stars! Why It Matters – Erika, Catholic Sistas Sportscasters Under Fire for Opposing Homosexuality – S. Weatherbe, DR […]May 31, 2013 – 11:49 amReplyCancel

  • Misty - I think what may have been so hard, Erika, is realizing that THIS is what people really think about you. I think there are moments when we open our mouth, insert foot, and don’t consider that the judgment we’re spewing probably is going to hit the mark with someone around us, who has a struggle/sin/history that we’ve forgotten about momentarily. I’ve done that myself and been terribly ashamed of myself later, when I realized how my callous, know-nothing/know-it-all statement wounded someone.

    We went through something similar when we had to find a new home for the 5 yo boy we adopted from Guatemala. Most people close to us supported us, but I had online friends who were absolutely vile in their comments…some nights, I just sat and sobbed, I felt so much like a piece of garbage after they piled on the guilt and judgment. Others would make a remark that was just as wounding, without even realizing it. One woman said, “Oh, I didn’t know you could send them back if you didn’t want them.” As if we were returning a vacuum cleaner or mail order item. This woman was ordinarily a wonderful person and later when she discovered she’d wounded me, she apologized profusely. How much less pain would the world experience if we all just kept our mouths shut!

    I’ve never thought you were anything but brave, Erika. I’m 40, have 5 kids, a Master’s degree…lots of accolades, but I’ve never faced down the kind of monster from within that you have. That people would criticize you for making such an intimate and painful sacrifice is hard for me to understand. After our adoption failed and we lost our son with the severe attachment disorder, and waded through everyone’s criticism, I learned to just say: “Everything’s possible to the person who doesn’t have to do it.” Great, great article!!June 1, 2013 – 12:16 amReplyCancel

  • Erika - Thank you, Misty! You’re right. It was incredibly wounding to finally hear what some of my “friends” thought of my decisions. Another aspect of it, that is also uniquely mine, was the compounding of this judgement against my competence following the ultimate judgement of my competence at work — my dismissal. Every time I think I’ve handled all the vitriol I need to, someone else ends up spewing more at me. Even if they don’t mean it, it still hurts. Even if its “constructive criticism” it is still a judgement.

    Thank you again for your support. I has meant more to me than I can ever express!!! You know who you are! 😉June 1, 2013 – 4:43 pmReplyCancel

  • Birgit J - I think that Misty is spot on. It’s so difficult to think that family/friends are behind you, only to find out that it just isn’t so. The important part to remember is that you have discerned your options with ethics, family, and faith in mind. Realizing that you have done the right thing is what you need to concentrate on. Those who truly love you (and matter) will be glad you did!June 1, 2013 – 6:08 pmReplyCancel

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