Former Major Leaguer Dravecky shares journey with cancer with H-LG
By Erica Henry
December 16, 2002
HANNIBAL, Mo. —"The world of sports parallels with life," former San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky told an audience of 800 people during Hannibal LaGrange College’s 61st annual Booster Banquet held Nov. 22. Dravecky suffered the loss of his pitching arm and shoulder due to cancer and amputation at the height of his career in 1988.
"The game of baseball has certain rules that always apply. The game is played between the first and third base lines, there are six outs to every inning, and there is always a winner or loser," Dravecky continued. "As a pitcher, holding the baseball in my hand, I was in control. There was power in holding that baseball."
After six years of pro-ball pitching, Dravecky discovered a lump on his pitching arm. "I heard the doctor’s words, saying, ‘Dave, you have cancer.’"
Dravecky said he had to embark on a journey that was unfamiliar.
"For a pitcher who had all that power, I was now standing on a playing field against cancer with no lines to define where to play. I didn’t know how many innings I would play or how many outs there were," Dravecky said. "The scariest part, even as a Christian, was I didn’t know if I would win or lose."
"When you hear the word cancer, it changes everything," said Dravecky. "For me, baseball was no longer important. Cancer put life into perspective."
The doctor told Dravecky that outside of a miracle, he would never pitch again. The determined athlete had surgery to remove the tumor and underwent extensive rehabilitation. Ten months later, he was back on the playing field.
Dravecky pitched 93 pitches against the Cincinnati Reds, leading the Giants to a 4-3 win on Aug. 10, 1989. He authored a book based on his triumphant return titled Comeback.
Then, five days later in Montreal, Dravecky experienced another setback. During the sixth inning, Dravecky’s left arm broke with a snap that was heard throughout the stands. He announced his retirement following that game. The cancer had returned.
He endured four more surgeries, radiation therapy and a painful staph infection that lasted ten months. Doctors told him it was time to amputate his arm and shoulder.
"At that point, I thought, ‘Good, get this thing off. It’s a nuisance. It’s done nothing but cause me trouble for the last eight to ten months,’" recalled Dravecky. "I wanted to get rid of the pain I was feeling physically, emotionally and spiritually. I thought getting rid of my arm would get rid of all of that pain."
Dravecky told about the day after the surgery, when he got up and looked in the mirror in his hospital room and was shocked by the reality of his loss.
"The thing that brought me more love than just about anything else in the universe was now gone, completely gone. I was spiraling down into clinical depression. After cancer, I had to face the question, ‘How does Dave Dravecky define his true worth?’" he wondered.
Dravecky candidly told the audience that he and his wife both suffered depression and went on medication to help deal with their pain. As Dravecky ripped his baseball card in half with his right hand and teeth, he asked the audience, "If my baseball card now looks like this, do I still have worth?"
At that point, he had to go back to eight years earlier when he had asked Christ into his life.
"When you and I enter into faith in God through Jesus Christ, we become one of his children. Because of that, we have worth beyond comprehension.
"I learned that it’s not what you do that matters most, it’s who you are. If you are a Christian, you should know who you are–children of God–and that makes you more precious than anything," he said.
"When I was eight years old, I had a dream to become a Major League Baseball player. One dream may end, but there are other dreams to fulfill. Christ is what sustains me in my journey of life."
Dravecky said God has used cancer in his life to make him more compassionate to others and more understanding of other people’s journeys. He and his wife, Jan, founded the ministry Outreach of Hope to help others dealing with cancer and amputation. In the last ten years, the ministry has sent out thousands of resources and receives 15-20 calls a week from families dealing with cancer.
"There was a point and time when I was not able to say this, but I can say it now. Cancer has been a blessing in my life," he concluded