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Ink Slingers

God’s Fabulously Fashioned Feminine Form

 

photo credit: hernanpba

It was a clear, sunny afternoon. Immersed in some mundane daily chore, my routine was abruptly interrupted by the ring of my cell phone. It was my doctor. After the usual greetings, she seemed to pause before continuing. “Lynette, I want to commend you for following up on this.” Darn. Any doctor starting a conversation that way couldn’t possibly have good news. “You’ve caught this early and the good news is, it’s not cancer.” Ok…. “but the biopsies did not come back with clean edges and the report states stage 2 and 3 precancerous cells. You will need to have an excision of the area to remove any remaining abnormal cells.” Darn, again. With a family history of melanoma and other related skin cancers, I knew the excision was unavoidable. What paralyzed me in that moment was the realization of what she was implying. This wasn’t my dermatologist. She was my gynecologist and the skin cancer was in an area that had never seen the light of day. Back, arm, leg, even face…. but there?

I met with a highly respected gynecological oncologist a few weeks later and he only confirmed the inevitable. Family and personal history, combined with the biopsy results, screamed negligence if I ignored or chose not to have the excision done. But it wasn’t just a simple matter of choosing to do it or not. Once I accepted the necessity of the procedure, it then came down to my level of pain tolerance. Financially, excision in the office would save a significant amount of money. Torn with the guilt of spending more than perhaps I needed to, I asked for my doctor’s opinion. His words cut through the stillness in the room. Economically, the office was the best choice, “but if it was my wife, I might tell her something different.” Double darn – enough said. Surgery and related appointments were scheduled.

My husband, in an effort to become educated about the subject at hand, spent an evening looking up my “condition”. As he read, he reported interesting information, hoping the knowledge would make me feel better. A few articles into the research, what he was discovering, however, was nothing short of horrifying. What is performed medically in our country as a response to female genital pre/cancer is routinely carried out in other countries as a form of female mutilation. The statistics for FGM (female genital mutilation) are staggering. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Fact Sheet dated February of 2017, “More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.”[i] While some of the reasoning behind FGM is sociocultural factors, the conditions in which it is carried out (unmedicated with poor hygiene), along with the long-term psychological and physical effects, have prompted a world-wide effort to eradicate it.

Lest we fall into proudly boasting our country is above such atrocities, “the Centers for Disease Control estimate that there are around 513,000 girls and women in the United States who have either undergone FGM or who (are) at risk of doing so—mostly in immigrant communities from regions of the world where it is still practiced.”[ii] Although FGM was prohibited in the U.S. with the passing of the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995[iii], our country has not escaped unscathed.[iv] On April 24th of this year, CNN reported, “In the first federal case involving female genital mutilation filed in the United States, two Michigan doctors and the wife of one of the doctors have been charged with performing the banned procedure on two 7-year-old girls.”[v] Just two months later on July 14th, CNN published perhaps the most alarming report I have read yet, “The alarming rise of female genital mutilation in America.”[vi] I will warn you. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Years ago, I would have received my husband’s informational reporting with a half-hearted “that’s horrible” response and I would have moved on to my own self interests. But this time, I was almost instantly seized with a deep sadness and pain. Why the difference? My faith.

photo credit: Pascal Rey Photographies

Having recently studied the writings of Pope St. John Paul II on human sexuality contained in his teachings on the Theology of the Body, I couldn’t escape the reality of the attack at the very core of the dignity and the femininity of these young girls and women. We are sexual beings. This fact is undeniable and unavoidable. We are conceived into being within the context of a sexual act. We are formed within our mother’s wombs with DNA that marks us indelibly as either male or female. Not just biological beings, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which means our bodies are “even more so, theological. Our bodies offer us, if we have the eyes to see it, a profound ‘study of God.’ Just as a work of art points to the heart of the artist, so too does the human body point to the heart of the God who made us.”[vii] Every cell, every inch of our body was intricately designed for a definite purpose. To rob a woman of her femininity as God physically designed is to alter what was divinely inspired. And then, as a result of the intervention of man’s disordered misconception of God’s plans, all havoc breaks loose. The pain is felt not just by the woman herself, but it trickles down to every aspect her life touches – her future relationships, her ability to mother, her role within society, her impact on her peers, etc.

We have all heard the cry to protest the “Culture of Death.”[viii] We think of such issues as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. With FGM, I propose we are facing a culture of death to the dignity of femininity, a death of the sacredness of God’s design, a death of the beauty God created in the creature He called “woman.” There is hope – a surgeon, speechless by what she saw, hoping to establish a clinic for reversal surgery[ix]; organizations like Kakenya’s Dream[x] that educate and keep young girls safe from FGM and child marriage; and a documentary, Jaha’s Promise[xi], that chronicles the story of Jaha Dukureh, an activist named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

It would have been much easier for me to have brushed aside the inner voice prodding me to write about this. I could have come home from my surgery (which ended up being more extensive than originally planned), pampered myself with pain meds all the while confident in the knowledge that I had an excellent surgeon and medical team who treated me with dignity and respect, and let the topic slide by. But I know God doesn’t work that way. He won’t let me forget those women whose faces I see when I close my eyes to offer my discomfort for them. He won’t let me be silent about the pain they surely endure that I have only experienced a mere fraction of. It is for them I share my story. It is for them I share their story.

________________________________
Sources:

[i] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

[ii] http://time.com/4707899/victims-of-fgm-see-new-hope-in-life-changing-surgery/

[iii] http://www.fgmnetwork.org/legisl/US/federal.html

[iv] https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-04-21/female-genital-mutilation-illegal-us-so-why-it-still-happening

[v] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/22/health/detroit-genital-mutilation-charges/index.html

[vi] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/11/health/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-explainer-trnd/index.html

[vii] Christopher West, Foreword, Theology of Her Body, p 2.

[viii] http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Evangelization/Evangelization_008.htm

[ix] http://time.com/4707899/victims-of-fgm-see-new-hope-in-life-changing-surgery/

[x] https://www.kakenyasdream.org/about/

[xi] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/17/jahas-promise-fgm-film-premieres-at-copenhagen-film-festival; https://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2017/mar/17/jaha-dukureh-promise-fgm-video

 

Categories
End of life Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Patty Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Spiritual Growth

Three Deaths, Many Lessons

 

broken chains

I’m sure that non-Catholics find it more than a little odd that we believe there can be merit to suffering.  The history of the Church is rich with tales of suffering, both voluntary and forced, endured by saints beginning with the early martyrs to present day saints such as Padre Pio and Pope John Paul.

Suffering has the ability to purify the soul, unify us with the suffering of Christ, and unite us with our fellow Catholics here on earth and those suffering in purgatory.  The good that can be done by offering up suffering for our loved ones and those who have passed before us is boundless.

I haven’t experienced much suffering myself other than labor with my children and several horrible toothaches.  Overall, God has not seen fit to gift me with much pain. I have however, known the pain that comes with the deaths of immediate family members. These experiences have forever changed the way I perceived them and perceived the experience of dying.

 

cancerI was a senior in high school when my mother called me and told me that she had kidney cancer.  Fortunately, surgery seemed to have caught it in time.  Four years later when I was 23 and the mother of two young sons aged 4 and 3 months, she phoned me to tell me that she had brain cancer. It had metastasized to both her heart and lungs and they were expecting that she had less than six months to live.

My relationship with my mother was…unusual.  Due to neglect on her part, my father gained custody of my two younger brothers and me when we were very young. We had a sporadic relationship growing up because we only lived in the same area for a few years.  As an adult I realized that my mother probably had many emotional wounds of her own stemming from childhood which made it virtually impossible for her to mother in a healthy, normal manner.

When I received that call at 23 and she relayed to me what was essentially her death sentence, I had no idea how to react. During that conversation she sobbed, broken and lost.  She had been suffering debilitating headaches for months and finally knew the cause. I didn’t know how to console or reassure her.  I was as useless to her as the phone in my hand.  A few weeks later we spoke again.  I couldn’t believe the change in her.  She was now facing her death with courage.  There were no tears; she knew what was coming and was determined to face the inevitable with grace.  And she did just that.

My mother showed admirable traits in her last few months that I had never seen in her prior.  I had so many negative memories of my mother, but at the end she gave me the greatest gift- seeing her face her pain, overcome fear, and patiently wait for her time to meet God.   She died peacefully less than a day after I went to see her for the last time.

pattyEleven years later my youngest brother Tim, only 31 years old, called me to tell me he was fighting multiple myeloma. At the time I was living in Kansas and he was being treated in Montana.  While researching, I found that the mortality rate for young people with multiple myeloma was low. All was going well.  He would call me now and then to update me.  However, like my mother, he had made a mess of his life.  His three children were taken from him and he hid this from me.  I was furious because I could have helped him.

I spoke to him in the fall of 2006.  I learned he was divorced again. One cold winter day a few months later, I had a message on my answering machine from a doctor.  It was vague but he asked me to return the call.  Imagine my surprise when the person answering my call informed me it was the coroner’s office.  I was still baffled until the doctor informed me that he had Tim’s body.  He had died from his cancer.

I frantically phoned the hospital searching for any information.  The information they could give me was limited due to confidentiality, but Tim knew he was dying and chose not to tell any of his family.  He died alone in a hospital.  That crushed me, tore at my heart and made me rage in anger at my now deceased brother.  I would have been there for him; I would have gone and held his hand.  I would have told him I loved him as he took his last breaths, but he never gave me the opportunity.   Even now, eight years later, my heart hurts when I think of that last selfish act of his.  Yes, I believe it was selfish. What he did hurt me and my father in a way that I can not fully describe.  It left a wound that will never heal.

Speaking to the hospital staff, it was clear that they had offered to contact us but he refused.  He refused pastoral care as well.  The irony of him instructing them to contact me only upon his death was cruel and so unlike the sweet boy I had been a second mother to when we were growing up.  It’s so hard to write about this because my heart breaks all over again.

Two short years later my father received the terminal diagnosis of breast cancer.  Yes, men can and do develop breast cancer.  They can and do die from it too.  He had a lump in his breast that he had ignored for a very long time and by the time he had a diagnosis, it was too late.  Shortly after he received that diagnosis he had a debilitating stroke.  He went from living independently and hitch-hiking from town to town in rural Minnesota to losing the use of his right side. His ability to communicate through speech was greatly diminished as well.

young_old_handWhen I received the call that my father wouldn’t last much longer, I packed up my three older children and we drove up to Minnesota.  We stayed with one of my dad’s friends.  During the day my children and I took turns sitting with my father.  When it was clear the end was near, my children and I waited with my father. The nuns from the church had come to his room and were praying the rosary with us.  I held his hand as he took his last breaths.  He had endured the pain and refused to complain as the cancer had invaded his body.  He tolerated the indignity of having to have all of his needs attended by others.  I have no doubt he offered up all of this and in doing so his soul grew closer to God.

The lesson I learned from losing three people I loved so much was that one’s death can either strengthen or weaken those they leave behind.  It can break their hearts for years or leave them with peace.  My mother’s death caused me to develop a respect for her I had never had before.  My brother’s death destroyed me and the relationship I thought I had with him.  My father’s death left me with peace.  He died surrounded by people he loved the most, praying as his soul left his body.  He had received Last Rites the prior day.  I can’t think of a better way to end one’s days and I hope God grants me the kind of death my father had.

All three of them faced the pain of their respective cancers with courage and dignity.  They did not flee from the pain or end their lives prematurely by their own hands.  They conquered pain and embraced the natural culmination of their time on earth.  They taught me acceptance in the face of fear.  For that, I will be forever grateful.

patty 1

 

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BirgitJ Current Events Faith Formation Fatherhood Ink Slingers Last Rites/Anointing of the Sick Marriage Motherhood Parenting Prayer Sacraments Spiritual Growth Testimonials Vocations

Breast Cancer: a Letter to Jacqueline

breast cancer detected due to sister's insistence on mammogram

 

Dear Jacqueline,

It’s October again. We both know what that means because the nation will once again turn pink. This is the month you saved my life because the Holy Spirit (and the persistent nature you inherited from our mother) nudged you to nudge me. Your reminders were rather subtle at first and then as the pink month came along you became more like an irritating little gnat that just wouldn’t go away. Thank you for that! It was a month or two before October of 2005 that you realized it had been 7 years since I’d had a mammogram. With a three generation history of breast cancer in our maternal line, that wasn’t a smart thing for me to do. Oh, I knew that I should! But like an ostrich with her head in the sand, I was hiding – I didn’t want to raise those fears again. Every time I went to any doctor or had any diagnostic test, it was a reminder of watching Mom die.  It would bring a deluge of tears and emotions too strong to bear. Five years – that’s how long it took for her to succumb. We’d grown up hearing her talk about – when – not if she would get the diagnosis of that dreaded disease that had killed her mother and grandmother in their 40’s. Then it was her turn, but at least she had lived into her late 50’s.

Now here you were, my pesky, sensible little sister. Yours were the words that finally drove me to go back to the facility I so dreaded. Here I was, in my lovely hospital gown – waiting, praying, sobbing. I promised myself that this time would be the time that I would become consistent in getting a mammogram. When this one turned out normal I would go every year without fail. I promised this to myself as I waited for my turn. Except…

The technician saw something right away. It led to an ultrasound and then a biopsy. Then the confirmation came. I had a sizable tumor and it was aggressive. The surreal feeling of hearing those words, ‘you have cancer’, was a lump of hard cold coal, sitting on my chest. My heart in my throat, I gave up on life at that moment. I was going to die – just like the others before me. There was no point in submitting myself to the hell that is chemotherapy – no point in having surgery. It was over and I cared about nothing more at that point.

Then the family chimed in. They begged and pleaded and prayed as we went to visit each one in person, to tell them the news. With stoic faces, they tried to swallow their own fears and give me the support I so clearly needed. Yet it didn’t sway me. It didn’t matter because it wasn’t them – it was me. This was happening to me and they were safe in their world, even as mine was crashing in all around me.

Our son lived an hour away and we traveled to see him. He and his wife were loving and kind but I went away from their house unmoved. I was going to die so it was over for me. In my heart, I wanted the very best for them – but that simply didn’t include me anymore. They’d get by. They were fine.

That’s when I had an urge to go see Jesus. Their parish had around the clock adoration and my husband and I sought Him for comfort. In a front pew we knelt and cried and prayed. I felt the first stirrings of comfort. Then came the good pastor of the parish. We really didn’t know him all that well but very much loved this holy priest. I asked him to anoint me because I was experiencing an unquenchable hunger for the Sacred (and after all, I was preparing for my inevitable demise). Afterward I shared my feelings with Father B. He looked at me with fire in his eyes and said, ‘you will do all you can to get better! You owe that much to those who love you!’.

We drove in silence for that hour long ride. But in my heart and soul, I too, felt the stirrings of a fire. I felt hope. Most of all, I felt peace…at peace with cancer, at peace with chemo, at peace with whatever it would take to live. That began a long and arduous journey for me and those who loved me. We chose MD Anderson, the #1 cancer facility in the nation, because we were going to give this fight all we had. Our resolve was great and we battled mightily. I can’t say that the fight was easy – it wasn’t. I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted to give up again – I was. But with an amazing husband by my side, caring healthcare providers who prayed with me and wept with me, and a loving family, I managed to submit to chemo and surgeries.

breast cancer chemo look for wedding
My ‘chemo hair’ at daughter, Erika’s, wedding

And here I am – seven years later. Although my type of breast cancer is the most vicious (BRAC-1 triple negative), I am still here – cancer free! During that time God has given me the opportunity to watch our daughter marry and to see the birth of 5 grandchildren. I have lived a wonderful seven years surrounded by family that I love and working in service to the pro-life community. My faith has grown stronger and I continue to yearn for more knowledge, wisdom, and faith.

Had it not been for you, dear sister, I would likely be long gone by now. I would have missed the opportunity to grow and love and serve. As I do every year, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your loving concern. Your concern was my first step in the right direction. It also makes me smile to know that when you were tested for this terrible gene you were found negative. What a wonderful gift for you! I pray that those loved ones who come after me will be spared what I and now my 31 year old daughter have survived. God is great and He has given us so much!

All my love, Birgit

😳 To find out how to MORALLY help find a cure for Breast Cancer, please read my post from last year – PINK Betrayal

Categories
AnnMarie C. Ink Slingers NFP and contraceptives Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Month

Would You Feed Your Daughter Arsenic?

No? Then don’t let her go on the Pill. Oral contraceptives are listed by the World Health Organization as a Class 1 Carcinogen. This puts them in the same category as arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde.

That prescription isn’t a ticket to sexual freedom. It’s a potential death sentence. Think about it.

Photo courtesy of Tina Mahar

 

 

 

Categories
AnnMarie C. End of life Faith Formation Offering your suffering Prayer Respect Life Rosary

How to Die

I met my friend Melissa about 14 years ago at a Mom’s bible study sponsored by my diocese. She was an outgoing and vivacious woman and I was completely drawn to her. We became fast friends. However, life was busy and we rarely saw each other, except for our bible study meetings. We spent time on the phone visiting and that was the extent of our friendship. But we would pop in and out of each other’s lives over the years and the contact was always welcome.

One particular time I remember was on one of my daughter’s birthdays. Melissa dropped by with a huge bag of clothes which included several very elaborate ballet costumes in perfect condition. When she showed up on my doorstep I burst out crying because I realized God had used her to answer a prayer. My husband was out of work at the time and money was tight…especially for extras like birthday gifts. I had been praying that we would find something we could afford to give our precious little girl for her birthday and those ballet costumes fit the bill.

Later that same year I saw Melissa at bible study. She asked me how my oldest son was doing. He has autism and Melissa always had a soft spot for him in her heart and prayed often for him. Then she broke the news that she had been diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and asked for prayers. I was shocked but the look on her face made me hold back my emotions. I could tell she didn’t want me to cry or react. She needed strength. After the meeting she asked me for some information. So many years later I don’t remember what her request was; it could have been a phone number. When I rifled through my purse all I could find to write on was a pamphlet on how to say the rosary. Weeks later she called me and told me she had never said the rosary before and that pamphlet had helped her to start. She now had begun praying it every day.

I ran into Melissa at daily Mass some time after that and she looked gaunt. The cancer treatment was taking its toll on my beautiful statuesque friend. She smiled brightly, though, and said, “I thank God every day that He allowed me to have this cancer. Without it I wouldn’t have needed Him and I certainly wouldn’t have gotten my life in order.”

Melissa had been married for a very brief time during her late teens. She divorced but never applied for an annulment. When she met her husband they married outside the church. It was the cancer that spurred her to apply for the annulment, which was granted. Melissa and her husband then had their marriage validated in the church. Melissa’s faith grew as fast as the cancer spread throughout her body. Frequent Mass, confession, and constant prayer helped her live her life boldly and fiercely. When she had to have a part of her tongue removed she praised God that it wasn’t all of her tongue. When she went on to have a part of her jaw removed she continued the praises.

Melissa spent her days in a beautiful garden built for her by her husband. He put a screened gazebo at the center of it and added a soft recliner so his wife would be able to relax and enjoy the nature. She walked the paths he had constructed with her parents and her children who sacrificed each day to make her life comfortable. Melissa humbly accepted any help offered to her with dignity and grace.

I remember the last time I saw her. It was in that garden on a warm early summer day. I was going through a rough time emotionally and opened up to her. By this time Melissa was no longer able to speak intelligibly, so she carried a notepad with her.

“Forgive,” she wrote to me. “Forgiveness is the key.”

Then her eyes rolled up in her head from intense pain. Her frail body leaned on me as I walked her into the house. She injected her feeding tube with pain medicine and I could see the color return to her gaunt cheeks.

She led me to her bedroom and showed me her wig collection. We both giggled when she held up a platinum blonde pageboy. But she was tired and made her way to the bed where I tucked her in. I said my goodbyes but she shook her head and grabbed my hand.

“Pray over me,” she requested in garbled speech.

I put my hands on her head and begged the Lord to save her, although Melissa and I both knew He had other plans. I asked for protection and comfort for her family and friends. Melissa relaxed and her eyes closed as I quietly left the room.

She died just a couple weeks later surrounded by her parents, husband and children. She received Viaticum and then slipped quietly into the arms of Jesus.

On the day of her funeral I wasn’t surprised to learn that Melissa had chosen the music and written her own eulogy, which the celebrant, a childhood friend of hers, read after the Mass had ended.

Her final words, borne of a life of suffering and hard lessons, but resulting in true faith and humility, have stayed with me even to this day.

“Do not cry for me. Instead, draw me a picture, sing me a song, dance me a dance…live!”