National Cancer Survivors Day

Coping® is a proud sponsor and publisher of the exclusive coverage of National Cancer Survivors Day®.

 

Click here for Coping® magazine's Exclusive Coverage of National Cancer Survivors Day® 2017 (pdf).

Return to Previous Page

Major League Survival

Finding My Identity in the First Inning after Cancer

by Dave Dravecky

Inspiration image

Battling cancer is hard enough, but for many survivors, of which I am one, cancer leaves us with an even tougher battle to fight. That battle has to do with our identity.

When I look back on my life, discovering who I am has been an ever-evolving journey. I believe I am not alone in that. In fact, I know that while we may be on different paths and experience different life-changing events, many of us find ourselves on the same quest.

I have evolved from a son and a brother to a hus­band and father. And I have been a student and an athlete – first an amateur and then a professional. I have loved, accepted, and transi­tioned with every new identity. But my first major identity crisis – asking God, “Who am I now?” – came when I lost my arm to cancer.

Battling cancer is hard enough, but for many survivors, of which 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. We may have lost the rela­tionships, skills, and resources that had been an essential part of who we are and had given us a sense of joy and purpose in living. So some of us journey out of cancer as very different people.

Inspiration image

Dave Dravecky

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, the journey did not begin right away. Partly because I didn’t take the time to mourn the loss of my arm. That would have been the emotionally healthy thing to do, but oh no, not me! Instead, I had a cavalier attitude about it. Before the amputation, I jokingly waved my left arm in the air, pretend­ing it was saying goodbye. After the amputation, I thrust myself into travel and speaking engagements to prove that I could overcome this loss.

The truth was I didn’t want to face the pain and the reality of the loss or the fact that I was a changed person. However, the questions of who I was and where I was supposed to go from here could not be held at bay any longer. My wife, Jan, continued to say to me, “The only way to heal from the pain of losses suffered is to go through the pain. There is no way around it. You can stuff it, and you can dodge it. But eventually you’ll have to face it.”

When I started to take that first step by asking those questions instead of ignor­ing them, 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. My arm had brought me joy, worth, and status, and had provided an unbelievable career and wonderful lifestyle. I lost all of these when I lost my arm. Until I came face to face with the deeper losses that came with the physical loss of my arm, I was awash in a storm of denial and depression.

If I have learned anything through the loss of my arm, it’s that ignoring the loss and not taking the time to mourn that loss was a huge boulder on my path to discovering who I truly was. So step one for me was to remove that boulder by honestly facing my pain and loss and then moving on with God.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

In 1988, duing his seventh year in Major League Baseball, San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky was diagnosed with a cancerous desmoid tumor in his pitching arm, which eventually had to be amputated. Though the loss of his arm ended his base­ball career, Dave found a new calling as a motivational speaker. He penned the books Comeback and When You Can’t Come Back, and he, alongside his wife, Jan, founded Endurance, a nonprofit organization that offers resources for people facing serious illness, loss, or de­pression. Learn more at endurance.org.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2015.