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

Assessing the Damage After the Storm

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!