Cancer and Deployment

Deployment. Here you go again.

Or, maybe this is your first experience with a military separation. Regardless, the level of stress increases as you face this time apart. The uncertainty is scary no matter how many times you’ve ticked the box of deployments. You’ve heard, or you’ve already experienced, all the things that are supposed to happen during this season: the cycles of emotions, the expectations of yourself and others, and the list of things that need to be done.

When my husband, Jim, was still on active duty and preparing to leave I wanted our separation to start because it meant he would be home that much sooner. I want to assure you, what you’re thinking and feeling is normal. In fact, what you are thinking and feeling is normal for many of life’s unexpected stressors. Whether it’s orders for deployment, health issues, a parent dying or a marriage that’s hurting, it’s what you do with these times that will make all the difference in how you will grow emotionally and spiritually. You have a choice to allow these situations to either mature you or embitter you. I think I’ve arrived in one area of life—say, raising my children—when something new comes along that challenges my endurance as a woman, wife, or mother.

A new stressor in my life happened a few years ago when Jim was diagnosed with not only one form of cancer but two.

Like cancer, deployment does not mean the end of something. All it means is something has changed. These things take you by surprise, they change your life, but cancer doesn’t mean a death sentence and deployment doesn’t mean your marriage is terminal. But life will be different. That’s the reality.

With Jim’s diagnoses, I was overwhelmed by the news. I fought fear, anxiety, and even some depression. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually I became deflated. Doesn’t this sound like emotions you might deal with during deployments?

Fortunately, we discovered that although Jim was still having complications from his surgeries and would have annual check-ups with an oncologist, his prognosis was good.

Fast forward to the following year. Lying next to Jim in bed one evening, reading a book, I felt a strange lump on my thigh. You can only imagine my/our horror when surgery and testing revealed I had NHL – Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – another form of cancer.

At one point I wrote in my journal: Tears seem just below the surface. One moment life is fine and then like a wall switch I’m suddenly despondent, afraid, and sad.  Not that I doubted the sovereignty of God, but I doubted my ability to cope with what lay ahead.

Cancer and deployment.

They have so much in common. This pronouncement for me is like the reality that your spouse will be gone. It’s hard. It’s real. It’s happening. It seems like it will never end. But, it does, as you take one day at a time. And now that the pronouncement is made, the deployment has begun, what do you do?

With the revelation of both of us having cancer, Jim and I wondered what we could do to keep our relationship healthy and vibrant. What can you do during your deployment to keep your relationship that way? We recognized the importance of remembering each other’s needs and to keep the doors of communication open. Sounds easy, but doing this can be tough even in the healthiest of marriages even during stable times.

In our current situation, with both of us sick, there were days we wanted to shut ourselves off from one another. Each person thought they had the ‘upper hand’ in their illness and needed more attention than the other. So, too, you will think you have the ‘upper hand’ in having it worse than your spouse who’s deployed.

To keep the doors of communication open and to help us move through the situation we found ourselves in, Jim and I devised a


P: Initiate the plan by Putting the other person first. We began with a verse from the Bible:

“Each of you should look out not only for your own interests but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

We memorized this verse and put our plan into action by simply dividing the week. This is how it went: on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it was ‘all about me.’ In other words I could talk about what was good or bad, what I was feeling physically and emotionally, how I struggled or was growing spiritually. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday ‘it was all about Jim.’ It was his opportunity to share. This took the focus off of our own wants and needs, and considered the other person instead.  Sunday was a day of rest. Try using this technique with your spouse. Give them the gift of days, however you want to divide them, and then merely listen when it’s their turn.

L: We began learning. Education prepared our minds for action. For cancer it was reading up on our particular diagnosis in the National Cancer Institute and learning about each other’s illness. For you, it could mean browsing websites like this one or to read about how others cope with military life. Maybe it’s time for you to learn a new hobby, expand your education, or pick up a new sport. Learning expands your mind and body, keeps you active, and keeps you from focusing on the negative.

A:  Take action. Jim and I changed our diet and began eliminating packaged or processed foods, sugars, and caffeine as the first step to healthier eating. During the deployment perhaps it’s time to change your diet, go to the gym and learn kick-boxing or some other type of exercise to burn calories and burn your frustrations.

N: With Jim and my prognosis, our need for others was greater than ever before. Finding others dealing with the same kind of challenge is an enormous step in talking about it. Sharing your circumstances with another spouse that’s experiencing deployment is essential. How about finding a ‘battle buddy’? We define a battle buddy as a friend, a member of the same sex that you meet with, be held accountable to, pray or go to church with . Needing others also includes helping others.

This simple P.L.A.N., by appropriating the ‘gift of days’ and putting the other person first, learning, taking action, and needing others, will ease your situation. Jim and I have found these tools helped us tremendously.

Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

With this plan we hope you are better able to face the challenge of this deployment or any other that comes your way.

[box border=”full”]During deployment use Our Connection or the Forty Days of Deployment Dare to help strengthen your marriage.[/box]