Healing, Loss, Who Am I Now, Words of Endurance

The surgeon’s work completed, my arm and what it was capable of doing was gone forever. All of a sudden, I found myself in no-man’s land. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be.
Dave Dravecky – The Worth of a Man

Battling cancer is hard enough, but for many survivors, and I am one, cancer leaves us with an even tougher battle to fight. That battle has to do with our identity. When the storm of cancer sweeps into our lives. the landscape can change dramatically. Everything familiar may be wiped away or changed beyond recognition. So some of us come out of cancer as very different people. We may have lost the relationships, skills, and resources that have been an essential part of who we are and have given us a sense of joy and purpose in living.

When I lost my arm, I lost my career, my position, and my sense of identity. All I had ever done was play baseball. Who was I if I was not a pro baseball player? It was a long, painful, and difficult journey to identify the real Dave Dravecky.

For me, that journey did not begin right away. Part of the reason is because I didn’t grieve the loss of my arm. It would have been the natural, healthy thing to do. Instead, I had a cavalier attitude about it. Before surgery I jokingly waved the arm in the air, pretending that it was saying goodbye. Even after the amputation, the reality of what I was missing didn’t sink in. I was afraid to face how I really felt.

Nonetheless, I was a changed person. The questions of who I was, why I was here, and what I was supposed to do could not be held at bay. I was surprised to discover that so much of my identity was wrapped up in that arm and what it had been capable of doing. It had brought me joy. It had brought me money. It had brought me status, nice homes, and nice cars. On the outside, I continued to adjust to my new “normal” life. But inside it was a different story. Until I came face to face with the personal losses that came with the physical loss of my arm, I was awash in a storm of denial, depression, and confusion.

So in this Who Am I Now? series, we are going to share the experiences of people who have, in one way or another, faced a loss of identity. Not all of these people are cancer survivors. Individuals are caregivers who deal with long-term illness or disability (as well as people who go through a change of location, social status, or family circumstances) may experience similar life-changing losses. No matter how our loss of identity occurs, we can’t just “go on” with life as if everything is fine. If I have learned anything through my struggles, it is that ignoring the loss is a recipe for disaster. The recipe for going on with life successfully begins when we honestly recognize and grieve our losses. Only then are we ready to redefine and rebuild our identity.


Grief, Trust, When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help….Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
Psalm 31:22, 24

Dave’s comeback, his return to the pitching mound after having more than half of his arm muscles removed, was a wild ride full of excitement, emotion, and gratitude toward God. Even when Dave broke his arm and tumbled from the mound, we basked in the glow of God’s presence. Despite the setback, we could see God working. We didn’t know what the future held, but we knew God was in it. So we praised God and enjoyed all the warm, fuzzy feelings that go along with it. It was great!

I remember sensing God’s presence and love so strongly during that time that I thought my faith was unshakable. I never could have guessed how wrong I was. Just one year later, almost to the day that we had experienced such a wonderful feeling of God’s presence and wondered how we could ever doubt God, I could not feel God’s presence at all. Dave had endured two more surgeries and two courses of radiation treatment. My father had died. A friend had committed suicide. I was crippled by severe clinical depression and had become a prisoner in my home because of anxiety attacks. My mind felt like a rusty computer. God didn’t make sense to me anymore. It was even difficult to comprehend the Bible when I read it.

I can still remember the day when the burden of God’s silence overwhelmed me. Dave and the kids were gone, and I stood in our living room alone. This really stinks! I thought, Was it just a year ago that I felt You so strongly? And now I don’t see or feel You at all! When I tried to envision God, I could see absolutely nothing. It was as if an impenetrable cloud was suspended between us.

I half prayed, I can’t believe I believed what I once believed! My experience is the opposite of what I felt a year ago. A year ago You were telling me that You were going to do great works in my life, but right now it does not look good, I can’t feel You. I see no evidence of You around me. Both David and I are at the end of ourselves. We have no strength, no energy. There is nothing!

During that crisis of faith, I turned to walk away from God. I had been a Christian for nine years, and this was the first time I had thought of turning away. In order to turn away from God, however, I had to turn toward something else. So I started thinking of what I could do to escape the pain and emptiness I felt inside.

Many people who find themselves in situations similar to mine turn to drugs, alcohol, or a sexual affair to escape the pain. I love David and I really wasn’t interested in an affair. Drugs weren’t even a choice for me. I don’t know why I didn’t turn to alcohol, but I didn’t. I began considering other things I would like to do.

I thought I might buy myself a new wardrobe. No. Better yet, I’d buy myself a new car. No. I would join the country club and take up tennis. Then I realized that everything I wanted to turn to was only a temporary solution. The thrill of a new outfit is over after you wear it one time. The thrill of a new car lasts a little bit longer, but it, too, fades. And the body gets old so it’s impossible to play tennis forever. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that everything I could turn toward had no meaning, no hope, no nothing!

Then I turned back to God and thought, So you’re asking me to walk with You even though I see no evidence of You. You’re asking me to walk with You solely on the basis that I know You are the only hope I have in the world. You’re asking me to walk with You simply because Your Word promises that You alone are my eternal hope.

I had learned enough of the Bible to know that God’s word was the truth. It had proven itself true in my life over and over again. As I considered what I knew to be true, I realized that I actually believed what I had said I believed! I didn’t have the feeling I wanted to have, but I did have the truth! So I turned to God and asked Him to please hold true to His promises.

My desire to seek out truth led me to study the Word of God and learn as much as I could. I gained wisdom through my study of the Scriptures. They became alive to me even though I felt dead. I wish I could say that all of the warm fuzzies came back right away, but they didn’t. They didn’t come for at least another year.

As I immersed myself in the Scriptures, I discovered all kinds of people who endured a wilderness experience before God used them in a mighty way. They had all gone through dark nights of faith when they didn’t feel God, didn’t hear Him, didn’t see Him, and doubted Him. It seemed that people who were used by God were first sent out into the desert. I now believe those experiences take place so that we learn to trust the Word of God rather than our feelings. Feelings change so much, but God’s Word does not change.

I think of the time Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum and presented Himself as coming from the Father in Heaven. It was a difficult teaching for the Jews and His disciples to understand, and it was even more difficult to accept. Some of His followers actually left Him because of it. At that point, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked them if they were going to leave Him as well. “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68)!

When we face a crisis of faith when God’s voice seems to fall silent and His presence is nowhere to be found, we are in the same position. We may want to run from God, but we can’t! Why? It is not because we have the feeling of God’s presence, but because we know God’s truth.

I now gain hope by knowing that learning to trust God when we can’t see or hear Him is part of the spiritual journey – that others have gone before me and have proven God faithful. That’s why I have received such great comfort when I have read the psalms of David. David felt the same way I did. He doubted God. He wondered where God was. He was miserable. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart and continually reminded himself of the truth of God’s Word. Read David’s words as recorded in Psalm 73:21-28.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.

As I journeyed through the dark valley of God’s silence, I did the same thing David did. I went back to the Word and remembered God’s promises. I remembered the times when I felt filled by His spirit when I felt His presence. I remembered that my faith wasn’t dependent upon my feelings; it was dependent upon the word of God.

The beautiful thing that came out of that time of unbearable silence is that I got to know God in a totally different way. I trusted the Scriptures and learned that God is true to His promises. I went in as a skeptic, as one who felt that God’s promises were true for everyone else but not for me. I came out with a totally different joy that I would have had before. I learned that I could trust God even when I couldn’t see, feel, or hear Him.

The Scriptures tell us that the midst of suffering, our faith will be tested: “In this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is during those dry, lonely times of silence that what we believe is put to the test and we discover what we really believe. Although it is a painful process, the outcome can be priceless.


Cancer, Grief, Pain, Walking the Path of Encouragement, Words of Endurance

Let us not love with words or tongue
but with actions and in truth.
1 JOHN 3:18 (NIV)

We know that comforting those who hurt is difficult and unfamiliar territory. It isn’t easy to step in and help carry the load for a hurting friend. The pitfalls and unexpected turns that line the path of encouragement are unsettling—even frightening. We don’t know what to do or when. We’re afraid of doing or saying the “wrong” thing. We don’t know where to turn for help. This uncertainty causes many would-be encouragers to feel inadequate and to turn back.

Although Jan and I and the Outreach of Hope staff encourage others on a daily basis, we haven’t always known how to do this. There was a time before cancer, before depression, when Jan and I didn’t have a clue. And there are times now when we still don’t know what to do. One time I knew I needed to call a woman whose cancer was terminal, and, even though I have had cancer, I didn’t know what to say to her. My cancer wasn’t terminal and I kept thinking, What do I say to someone who is dying? I was so troubled by my inadequacy that I put off calling her for weeks. When I finally mustered the courage to call her, she had died. In my eyes, I had blown it.

Many others who have tried to share the burdens of those who suffer know how painfully inadequate we are to fully meet their needs. Several years ago our ministry coordinator, Kim Jones, who is experienced in health-care and ministry, was called upon to walk with her friend through a year-long battle with terminal cancer. “My best friend learned how real and loving God could be in the midst of her pain,” Kim explains, “and I learned how inadequate and ill-prepared I was to walk with her through it. School had taught me to use my head, everyday life taught me to use my hands, but nothing had taught my heart how to bear this burden.” Yet God was faithful, and Kim discovered the truth of the saying, “God’s hand will never lead you where His grace cannot keep you.”

Despite our inadequacy, God intends for us to walk with those who suffer and to share His love by bearing one another’s burdens. This is something we each must learn how to do. Our desire is to take those who would be encouragers a little further down the pathway of encouragement. We want to point you in a direction that will help you bear some of the pain that weighs heavily on your friend or loved one. We want to help you discover the actions of love that will encourage and comfort someone who is suffering.

By Dave Dravecky


Anger, The Winds of Change, Words of Endurance

Just when you think you see the whole picture of life clearly, the channel changes.
Argot L. Shephard

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Living with cancer or any serious illness means living with change. In the battle against cancer, just about every part of life—emotions, finances, physical condition, relationships—feels like it’s in a constant state of flux. Sometimes we know changes are coming. We may sense their faint rumblings from a distance. We may see something new break the monotony of the horizon. At other times, change roars into our lives like a raging river, sweeping us off our feet and tumbling us head over heels in its current.

During the first ten months of my battle against cancer, like so many other cancer patients, I learned a great deal about coping with change. I could anticipate some changes and took steps to prepare for them. At other times, it seemed that I, unknowingly, had been prepared for changes that I could not have anticipated. Of course, some changes took me by surprise.

On August 15, 1989, I wasn’t thinking about change. I had made my comeback. I had learned to pitch again after half of my deltoid muscle and a cancerous tumor had been removed from my pitching arm. While others had said my pitching days were over, I had proven them wrong, already winning my first Major League game since my surgery. Being back in baseball was great, and it looked like smooth sailing ahead.

Smooth sailing except for the fact that Tim Raines was at bat. I had the ball in my glove, and I rubbed it thoroughly. I was unhappy about the fact that the first hitter had hit a fly ball over the left field fence, unhappy that my control wasn’t good and that I had nicked Andres Galarraga, sending him to first base. I knew I would have to bear down to get Raines out. He’s a very tough hitter, and he represented the tying run.

I came to the set position, stared at Galarraga at first, then threw. Next to my ear I heard a loud popping noise. The sound was audible all over the field. It sounded as if someone had snapped a heavy tree branch.

It felt as if my arm had separated from my body and was sailing off toward home plate. I grabbed at it instinctively, trying to pull it back. The ball left my hand and flew high up, far past my astonished catcher, Terry Kennedy, who charged after it.

I knew nothing about the ball or about the runner who ran hesitantly around the bases as if, for once, he was truly guilty of stealing. I was grabbing my arm to keep it from flying away as I tumbled headfirst down the mound. I shouted with all the air in my lungs. Over I went, doing a complete, 360-degree tumble, then flopping forward until I came to rest on my back. My arm felt as if it had been hit with a meat axe. I have never felt such pain. I wish that no one else ever would.

In an instant Will Clark and trainer Mark Letendre were beside me. I was writhing and grunting, trying to get my breath. “Oh, gosh, it hurts, it’s killing me! It’s broke. It feels like I’ve broken my arm.” Because of the pain, I was holding my breath for long periods of time. Mark started to tell me how to breathe. “In at the nose and out of the mouth. Dave! In at the nose. Now out at the mouth. C’mon, Dave, breathe with me!” He was giving me a Lamaze refresher course.

I gasped, between breaths, “I’m all right. It just hurts.”

“Shut up, Dave, and breathe. In at the nose . . . .”

The pain gradually subsided until I could lie quietly, looking up at the circle of faces surrounding me. Above and around me, the stadium had fallen awesomely silent. You could have heard some-body eating peanuts in the upper deck.

Meanwhile, apart from the pain and the activity around me, I was thinking different thoughts. I was simply amazed by what was going on. I’d thought the book had been written on my comeback and that I could go back to a normal life. Now this. No one could have anticipated this change of plans.

I wasn’t, not even for a split second, angry. I was simply astonished. I felt a tremendous sense of thankfulness and expectancy. I was full of the certainty that God was writing yet another chapter in my life. Because I saw my life as one continuous adventure in partnership with God, I trusted that He had wonderfully good things in store for me. I knew that something more, something amazing, was being revealed even though I had no idea what it was.

On that pivotal day I never imagined the changes that would be coming my way. I thought Jan and I were done with sur-prises, with having to adjust to yet another change in plans. I imagine that at one time or another most cancer patients have felt the same way. Just when it seems that things might settle down, a new change comes our way:

  • Our treatment protocol has to be changed again.
  • Relationships with friends change, and some of them pull away.
  • Our career is threatened.
  • The future feels so uncertain.
  • Plans and dreams for the future are derailed.
  • Family members react to what is happening in a less-than-healthy way.
  • We have to see that doctor again.
  • We feel so depressed.
  • Our faith may even falter.

In the face of such changes, we sometimes long for the days or weeks when nothing new appears on the horizon. We find ourselves envying those whose lives appear to be stable, routine—the “normies” as one cancer patient calls them. But the winds of change bring blessings as well as challenges.

I, for example, never imagined that my faith in God would be as strong as it is now. I had no way of knowing that I would share my story and faith with thousands of people. I never dreamed that God would direct Jan and me to start the only national cancer ministry in the country. All I knew for sure as I fell from the pitcher’s mound that day, was that God was in control. He was doing something I couldn’t possibly understand or imagine.

Did my faith in God make it easier to deal with all of the changes brought about by cancer? Yes. But Jan and I still stumbled over each change. We still felt anxious. We still asked, “why?” We still struggled to readjust our sights in a new direction. We still made mistakes. And we learned some valuable lessons that we want to share with you in the hope that our experience will be an encouragement as you deal with the changes taking place in your life.

We can’t prevent the winds of change from blowing. But we hope this issue of The Encourager will help you as you respond to the changes that come your way. Most importantly, I pray that the stories and Scriptures in these pages will help you experience the peace that comes from knowing that you aren’t walking through these changes alone—Someone is walking beside you.

Portions of this article adapted from Comeback by Dave Dravecky with Tim Stafford ©1990. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. Dave’s story is told in Comeback and When You Can’t Come Back. If you wish to order autographed copies of these books, use the order envelope inside this issue.

We sometimes long for the days or weeks when nothing new appears on the horizon.
We find ourselves envying those whose lives appear to be stable, routine – he “normies” as one cancer patient calls them.


Cancer, Loss, Who Am I Now, Words of Endurance

My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.
Job 17:11

At what she calls “the naive age of 20,” Sally quit school to marry her college sweetheart, Wayne DeRue. Wayne was a natural leader who rose through the ranks to become a U.S. Air Force Colonel. As is true for many military wives, Sally’s life revolved around that of her husband. During his 29-year military career, the family moved 17 times, including a stint overseas. Between the frequent moves, the demands of raising a family, and the expectations of her as an officer’s wife, Sally never had the time or opportunity to develop an identity of her own.

Although Sally accepted her role as “Colonel DeReu’s wife” with little complaint, she always looked forward to their life after the military. She was eager to live in the same house for more than two years. She hoped to finish college or pursue some of her own dreams. She anticipated a change, but she had no idea of the storm that headed her way with gale force intensity.

A mere two weeks before his retirement ceremony, Wayne was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of abdominal cancer. Sally remembers the next ten months as a complete blur. Overnight, she changed from being “Colonel DeReu’s wife” to being “Wayne’s caregiver” Instead of enjoying their much-anticipated retirement, Wayne and Sally embarked on a four-year battle. “We went from diagnosis to surgery to treatment to survival.” During that time, Sally cared for Wayne, comforted him, and this past summer, she buried her husband of 33 years.

Sally views the past four years as “living in survival mode.” The daily struggle of living with cancer – the doctor’s appointments, insurance claims, pharmacy runs, physical therapy, keeping track of medications and dosages, updating friends and family on new developments, – in addition to the daily chores of running a home and family leaves precious little time to process what is happening. Because her loss and grief is so fresh, Sally admits that she hasn’t gotten to the point of facing all the losses. When you’re going through it, “You don’t have time to think about what you’ve lost, to think about the future, to think about the loss of your dreams.” That comes later.

The process of redefining who she is now that she’s not an officer’s wife or a caregiver is still ahead for Sally. She knows it won’t be easy. Being an officer’s wife and mother makes it difficult to establish strong personal goals. Like many others who live through a period of adversity and loss, Sally is just beginning to become acquainted with personal issues that have been long forgotten or placed on the back burner.

Yet Sally is determined to move forward. “I don’t know who I am now or where I’m going,” she admits, “but I’m just going to get through today, and tomorrow, and then God will show me the way.” Admitting her loss, she believes, is the first step in allowing God to fashion a new identity for her.

What Am I Worth?
Our worth stems not from what we have or what we do or what we control or whom we know, but from what God has done for us and in us. This was great news to me because I always felt that my worth stemmed from my performance – if I performed well, I was worth a lot; if I messed up, I wasn’t worth much. But when I finally started to discover that my worth wasn’t tied even a little to my abilities or my performance, but rather depended entirely and forever on what God had already done in me and for me, my world suddenly opened up. I was free!