Saturday, February 06, 2010

Courageous Man and Woman

Making a difficult choice

In April 2005, I was diagnosed

with cancer. It was just two

weeks after the birth of my

ninth baby, and days after my

youngest brother’s death in a car

accident. I stopped breast-feeding

immediately as I needed many

tests including an MRI and CT

scan, the latter of which required

the ingestion of radioactive material.

What’s more, chemotherapy

was next to come. A mother simply

couldn’t nurse with those toxins

rushing through her body.

Immediately upon weaning, I

experienced complications. I had

an allergic reaction to the CT dye.

I also felt relentless mental

anguish of not being able to nourish

and bond with this baby the

way I had the other eight. I felt

guilty. I worried that she might

grow up without me. I was

exhausted from birth, from tending

to a newborn, from dealing with

grief. I was uncertain of my own

life and future.

But the proverbial straw that

broke the camel’s back of my

emotions came when my husband

and I were sitting in the oncologist’s

office, after a tests had been

completed, while my mind was

spinning with the diagnosis, treatment

plan and clinical trial

options. The oncologist ended his

discussion of my future by saying,

“Now before we start, we need to

get you on birth control because

you absolutely must not get pregnant.”

A pregnancy, the doctor

explained, would hamper my

progress, my prognosis and the

ultimate outcome, which was a

nice way of saying that my life

depended on it not happening.

“We practice Natural Family

Planning,” I remember offering


The doctor kindly stated that

chemotherapy would wreak havoc

on my system. I had at least six

months of rigorous treatment

ahead of me. The symptoms of

ovulation could not be relied upon.

Sometimes chemotherapy pushes a

woman into early menopause.

Other times her cycle simply

becomes erratic and irregular,

making determination of fertility

signs difficult. I couldn’t afford to

make a mistake reading my signs.

I was told that if people used NFP

during cancer treatment, they usually

also used a “back up.”

Suddenly this became clear. At

one of the weakest points of my

physical and emotional life I was

going to be morally challenged

too. Herein lay David’s and my

difficult choice: Would we choose

to be fully Catholic and reject artificial

birth control, or choose to

make an exception for ourselves?

As the oncologist delivered his

birth control recommendation

David and I looked at each other.

We simultaneously but quietly

vetoed the idea.

Some Catholics counseled that

our situation was “different.” “You

have a serious reason to avoid a

pregnancy,” they said, “You can’t

be expected to give up relations

too. And besides you have been

open to life.” Others said, “God

will understand birth control is

necessary in this one exceptional


I appreciated the empathy and

the genuine concern behind the

words, but I knew in my heart that

I could not follow something I

knew not to be true. If artificial

birth control were okay for me it

would be okay for another exception,

and then another, and then, of

course for anyone at all. We would

stay the course.

Perhaps you think that a twoweek

post partum, exhausted and

sick woman does not have marital

intimacy as a priority on her mind.

You are right. But if you were

diagnosed with a life-threatening

disease and you thought that you

might die, you would likely begin

to yearn for the love, reassurance

and intimacy that the marital act

provides. The thought of the possibility

of never having that again

was terrifying. Sometimes my

mind would wander too. What if I

died? What if my husband remarried?

What if his new wife were

better, prettier, holier than me? As

I grew bloated from treatment, as

my hair fell out, I continued to feel

ugly and depressed. How could he

still love me? Stay with me? I had

nothing to offer him. It was tempting

for me to reconsider our decision.

In my husband’s mind, however,

the matter was settled. We

would get through this cancer trial

and all it entailed and look forward

to a normal relationship again. I

contacted the Pope Paul VI

Institute, spent hours learning the

nuances of interpreting data in a

situation such as mine, and considered

an ultra-vigilant NFP

approach, ultimately David and I

took the most conservative route.


Six months later, after 12 grueling

treatments I was pronounced

“cancer-free.” I was grateful for

the strength and leadership of my

husband. Our life slowly resumed

to a “new normal,” and now today

we look back on the cancer experience

as just a blip on the screen,

an experience that was extremely

challenging but thankfully in the

past. We are happy we made the

decision we did.

I believe God gave David and

me that time for productive soulsearching

and deep spiritual bonding

together. God offered us a

chance to definitively choose Him,

to grow in maturity and be

strengthened through the myriad

ways that suffering does.

Today I also look at Catholic

couples who struggle with the

Catholic teaching on birth control

and who feel tempted to think that

artificial contraception might be

the answer. I want to encourage

them. Be strong. Stay true to your

faith. You can do this! Even in

exceptional situations, make the

right choice, even if it is the difficult

one. Blessings will follow.

What was your difficult choice?

How has it changed you? Write

me at theresathomaseveryday




Theresa Thomas, is the mother of

nine children and wife of David.

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