By Haylee Pence
PIQUA – The Upper Valley Medical Center and the Upper Valley Medical Center Foundation hosted their annual Cancer Awareness Symposium Monday, May 16, at Fort Piqua Plaza featuring keynote speaker and former professional baseball player, Dave Dravecky.
Shortly after Dravecky’s rise to the Major Leagues, Dravecky was diagnosed with cancer in his pitching arm and half of his deltoid muscle was removed along with the cancerous tumor. After 10 months of therapy and surgeries, Dravecky pitched again. Unfortunately, five days later during another game, Dravecky’s arm snapped during “the pitch that could be heard around the world,” according to Dravecky. This and the cancer coming back forced Dravecky into retirement. Eventually, between the cancer returning three times, surgeries, therapies, and a staph infection, the doctors recommended that Dravecky’s arm, shoulder blade, and left collar bone be amputated.
Dravecky spoke about his journey and his family’s journey from his youth through college and then throughout his baseball career and battles with cancer and subsequent anger and depression.
He asked the audience to ponder “How do you and I define our true worth?”
“Our culture and society defines it through labels and material possessions, but that’s not what is important,” Dravecky stated.
He brought two items with him to discuss during the presentation, a baseball and his baseball card. The baseball was the last ball he ever pitched as a professional pitcher when his arm snapped and broke. A fan had collected it after his accident and, after 20 years, sent it to Dravecky. In his letter to Dravecky, the fan explained how the entire audience hushed and stared as Dravecky fell and later got up, captivated with worry.
Dravecky confessed how all of the bad that had happened impacted his mental health and subsequently his family. He spoke about becoming verbally abusive to his wife and children because the anger and frustration built up following the amputation of his arm. Dravecky thanked his wife for her resilience and strength and love for him through these difficult times. Both Dravecky and his wife developed depression and from the support and guidance of friends sought out counseling and anti-depressants.
“The depression was a result of burnout, of depleting our serotonin,” Dravecky stated. “We learned the value of one very important word – no.”
During Dravecky’s journey to a more healthy mental state, Dravecky worked on discovering his “warning signs” to increased anger and outbursts. “Once you notice these warning signs, stop and ask yourself, are you afraid? Hurt? Frustrated?” After asking those questions, Dravecky suggested talking or thinking the emotions out to work through and process them.
“We need people to laugh with us at our highs, and we need people to cry and sit with us at our lows,” Dravecky stated.
The event was sponsored by Minster Bank, Story Point Senior Living, and McGraw Family Fund. The McGraw Family Fund was created after Bill and Ruth McGraw, who both survived cancer multiple times. Both Ruth and Bill lived “long and fruitful lives,” according to the Bill McGraw III.
“For anyone who is fighting cancer, or is a cancer survivor, the story and example of their lives demonstrate how to live life to the fullest,” stated McGraw.