By Kaytrina Curtis, Hunter Army Airfield Public AffairsNovember 26, 2008
FORT STEWART, GA -- Unlike going into battle on foreign soil, one Soldier had to go to war against a deadly enemy residing inside his body. The enemy he fought with his faith was an enemy Hunter Army Airfield Combat Aviation Brigade's Dinning Facility Manager Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Sprewer would not cave to.
As he stood in the motor pool packing for deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom V February 2007, Sprewer received a phone call that literally sent him to his knees. "You have cancer," were the words he heard on the other end of his phone.
"I cried like a baby," said Sprewer, an active-duty Soldier and native of Milwaukee, Wis., after learning of his biopsy results.
Diagnosed with Lymphoma during a time in his life when everything was going well, Sprewer recalls the supportive reaction of the other Soldiers around him.
"I saw some of them get real emotional," Sprewer said about the Soldiers around him when he received the news. "Some of the Soldiers cried."
Lying prostrate on the ground after getting his results and looking skyward he asked, "Why me, why now'" The revelation of what he was about to endure guided Sprewer to turn to his spiritual faith.
Sprewer's battle began in December 2006 when he was a student in the food service management course at Fort Stewart. He and his wife, Diamond, thought that he cracked a rib.
"I was doing crunches one morning, and I got a sharp pain in my back," he said.
After going to the doctor, he received a medical profile and was told not to do sit-ups, run or any of the normal physical exercise he used to do. Even with the physical limitations in place, Sprewer said the pain would not go away. After many trips to the hospital the doctors advised him to get a biopsy. Though apprehensive at first, Sprewer relented and the specimen was sent to a lab in Washington, D. C.
The wait for the results was tough for Sprewer and his wife. A call to the doctor proved fruitless. "My doctor got deployed to Iraq," Sprewer said. It took two months for the results to come back. The cancer was located between his eighth and ninth ribs.
"I just finished reading the (Bible) book of Job when I got that pain in my side," Sprewer said. "It was like God was telling me that 'it would be a testimony on the other end of this in your life.'"
Military doctors referred Sprewer, to a cancer and research center in Savannah were he received aggressive treatments for lymphoma, which included radiation and chemotherapy.
However painful the cancer was for Sprewer, the hardest issue he and Diamond had to deal with was how to break the news to his children, Bianca and Samuel III, now age 18 and 11 respectively. The decision to tell the children was not an easy one for them to make, but with the side effects of treatments on the horizon, it proved to be the best decision for the family. Telling Bianca was not easy, for she lost one of her best friends to cancer. Cancer meant death to her, Sprewer said.
Bianca screamed, "Why my daddy, why, why," toward the sky upon learning of her father's condition.
"Initially my wife didn't want me to tell my kids about it," Sprewer said. "How could I not tell them...if I don't tell them they are going to wonder why I am going to the doctor all of the time and why is daddy losing his mustache...so I had to tell them."
In spite of the pain and weakness he experienced, Sprewer said he had to find a way to manage to keep his and his Family's spirits up and he looked to God for strength. "That's what we had to do as a Family," he said. "One of the things I did was put scriptures all over the house. I had to do something to keep these people encouraged."
The husband, father, Soldier in him would not sit back and let the disease take over his life. When he did have enough strength, Sprewer would try to wash the Family's cars. His children, who he said were overprotective at times, would tell him to sit down. When they asked why he was doing these things Sprewer replied, "I am not about to die; I'm about to live. I had to continue with my life like it was normal even though it wasn't normal."
Sprewer said the disease helped his strong Family grow in strength. "The marriage vow, 'in sickness and in health kicked in," he said. He wondered whether his wife would be there for him. "She was there...she cried a lot, and I think it hurt her more than it did me. It (the cancer) helped my marriage and strengthened my family as a unit."
Even with the love and support of Family and friends, experiencing a life-threatening disease, left Sprewer feeling lonely and looking for someone with whom he could talk to about the effects of cancer. He sought help through his doctors and found a support group that he stays in touch with. Sprewer relates his experience to Soldiers returning from a combat zone.
Soldiers are away from their Families for a long period of time, he said. He encourages those who are having a hard time readjusting, to use the tools the Army has in place, not only during reintegration but everyday help, such as guidance from Army chaplains.
"We go to combat hooah; we train for that," Sprewer said. "We know how to do everything according to Army doctrine. When we come back, we go through the class and the chaplain is talking to you. If you don't pay attention, you are going to miss it...The chaplain is telling you things to help you survive your marriage or survive situations you are going to encounter."
Sprewer said it is the same way they train for combat; the reverse is true when coming back to work and living in garrison. Getting cancer helped him face the reality of the need to know when to ask for help.
The hint of a smile that is evident most of the time on Sprewer's face he said comes from his beliefs. "As a non-commissioned officer I am representing God, my grandfather, my father, and a long list of people before me. I am representing the country. It's a whole bigger picture than me."
Today, looking back almost two years ago Sprewer said he has so much to be thankful for among them the opportunity he said God has given him to continue to live. "I am thankful for my wife who has supported me for the past 24 years of my life...and my children who complete my Family."
On Thanksgiving day, Sprewer will be hard at work in the CAB's dining facility, doing what he is passionate about doing-taking care of Soldiers and Families, cancer free.