I’ve always been Catholic and pro-life. These two attributes are intrinsically linked not only to each other, but also to my character. My brothers and I were blessed with wonderful parents who instilled Catholicity and respect for life. We attended Mass, prayed rosaries, received a Catholic education, and lived out our Catholic faith. We were even blessed to attend World Youth Day 1994 in Denver.
While I was growing up, my mother was very involved in pro-life concerns. The passionate and spontaneous rallies she organized are some of my fondest memories. My brothers and I drew posters for the rallies, spoke to other pro-lifers, learned about politicians’ life stances, and learned to debate and investigate life issues all well before being near legal voting age. Due to my tenacious nature, I never abandoned the Church or pro-life issues–even through college. Yet my analytical nature still spurred me to seek answers on my own and not blindly follow. As a molecular option-biology major I entered into undergraduate research with a vengance. Initially, I was matched with a cell-biology/embryology project. However, I quickly requested a change of project due to the possible immoral uses of the research I was conducting.
As a young woman I had more than my share of “female issues” for which the prescription was usually a type of hormonal birth control. I never succumbed to the “expert” opinion of doctors who never fully researched the beauty of the human body and it’s mechanisms–specifically reproductive function. In fact, at one point, I gathered a binder full of research articles contraindicating the use of hormonal birth control in women with a family history of breast cancer and disproving the efficacy of hormonal birth control on endometriosis. After seeing my collection of materials, he was so inflamed by my refusal to use the Pill that he violated doctor-patient privilege and decency by vividly describing how he would have to examine me since I “did not know man” – in front of my father. This was even more disturbing since I was just hours out of emergency surgery, having my nearly ruptured appendix “delivered” by this gynecologist.
One of the first serious discussions I had on dates was my adamant stance against birth control of any kind in addition to my family history with cancer. I met my husband a little over a month after my mother’s diagnosis with BRCA1 breast cancer. She was the fourth generation of “female cancers” and we were very frightened what the diagnosis would mean for her and us. My future husband was raised very differently than I was, and so I felt it necessary to lay the ground-rules out very early. Instead of completely chasing him away (which may have been my intent since I wasn’t all-together sure I was ready for dating again), he calmly listened to my stories and reasoning and accepted me for who I am. Prior to our marriage, he not only accepted my position on birth control and morals, but also supported me through the use of NFP, NaPro, and surgery to eliminate my endometriosis. Even though this all differed significantly from his upbringing, he stalwartly stood beside me through it and encouraged me to live my convictions. I was also able to accompany him throughout his conversion to the Catholic Church.
We married and immediately conceived a child, but shortly thereafter, my first miscarriage occurred. We again used NFP and NaPro to help us with this horrible issue. Another miscarriage occurred before our first living child was born on St. Valentine’s Day. Shortly thereafter, we again conceived twice, but both ended with miscarriages The last miscarriage was devastating to me both physically (severe blood loss, hospitalization, and surgery) and emotionally (I’d lost 4 babies and was not sure I could stand to lose another). Yet, we again conceived a child.
It was then that I was challenged most fully to live my Catholic pro-life character. At 12 weeks pregnant, I found a lump in my left breast. Since my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis two years earlier, I was certain long before the doctors were that the lump was breast cancer. Just days before we discovered I was carrying a little girl, we got the official diagnosis. This diagnosis, handed to us less than three years into our marriage, was devastating. But as scared as I was, this life-changing disease didn’t tempt me to abort or abandon my faith. Calling upon my inner strength, instilled in me by my faithful parents, I successfully fought the cancer while pregnant with chemotherapy. I was in a fairly unique position; just one in 3000-3500 breast cancers occur in pregnant women. This prompted amazing support especially from my mother, but also from my husband, father, family, church family, friends, and even strangers. We welcomed our daughter, Rachel, into the world as a living miracle. Fittingly, she was born on Thanksgiving Day!
Since my diagnosis three years ago, I have embraced a mission to educate about the truth of “life of the mother” diagnoses like mine. I received the Life Award from Right to Life of Owensboro (Kentucky) for this and my dedication to saving Rachel’s life while working to save mine. After the most critical aspects of treatment were over, I felt called even further to support pro-life causes. I joined an ecumenical pro-life board, but was dissatisfied. Then my mother, once again, guided me to the perfect organization: our diocesan Gospel of Life. It embodies everything about me: it is unapologetically Catholic and unwaveringly pro-life. The organization supports pro-life causes that both directly and indirectly help those tempted by abortion, regardless of faith or background. We educate and evangelize, but don’t continuously beg for donations. What a perfect fit for me!
Gold is purified in fire and my faith certainly was when I struggled to protect both mine and my daughter’s life. Though few will have to face as dire a crisis as I did, we have all experienced challenges as part of being “open to life” as Catholics. So why are you pro-life? And more importantly, how can you use your own unique witness to the value of life to share the Gospel with those who most need to hear it?
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.