God Carries This Army Couple Through Cancer and Injury

August 15, 2017 • United States

Dealing with disease and war wounds, Walter and Elana Brown found relief, encouragement, and tools to strengthen their marriage during a week in Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Army Staff Sergeant Walter Brown and his wife Elana found physical and spiritual refreshment in Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Army Staff Sergeant Walter Brown and his wife Elana found physical and spiritual refreshment in Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Early this year Army Staff Sergeant Walter Brown and his wife Elana were exhausted. Years of the military lifestyle had taken a toll, and even though Walter was medically retired in 2015, he still deals with daily back and shoulder pain caused by an Iraq war injury.

On top of all that, the couple was worn down by Walter’s cancer treatments. In late 2016 he had been diagnosed with a rare form of the disease that manifested in a tumor between his stomach and left kidney, with one on his clavicle as well. He finished his last chemo treatment on January 30, 2017.

“You talk about walking dead—everything hurt,” Walter said.

Just a few days later, the couple applied to go to Alaska for a week of Christ-centered marriage enrichment through Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse project designed to strengthen the marriages of war-wounded veterans and their spouses. The Browns had heard about the program through another couple—2016 participants—and felt it would be a great opportunity. Despite uncertainty over Walter’s condition, he and Elana trusted that God would make a way for them to attend this summer.

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About a month after they turned in their application, they got great news. Walter’s doctor declared him cancer-free: the tumor on his clavicle was gone, and the other tumor was shrinking and would disappear in time. But then, in late April, a second doctor contradicted the first assessment and recommended that Walter undergo extensive surgery as soon as possible.

Walter and Elana enjoyed hiking in Alaska with our trained wilderness guides.

Walter and Elana enjoyed hiking in Alaska with our trained wilderness guides.

On May 9, after an additional test, they met again with this second doctor and his recommendation remained unchanged. The news was tough, yet on that same day our Operation Heal Our Patriots staff called and told them they’d been selected to travel to Alaska from June 4-10. What a day!

The Browns then sought a third opinion. In late May, a doctor with the Mayo Clinic recommended that the shrinking tumor be monitored but not removed. Walter and Elana would be heading to Alaska—definitely an answer to many prayers!

“There’s nothing but evidence upon evidence of His grace,” Walter said.

Help Going Forward

The Browns’ week together in Alaska turned out to be just the encouragement they needed.

“It’s so amazing how God placed this in His perfect timing,” Elana said. “We just really needed a break. This is like a true gift from God. It’s rejuvenating.” Walter called the experience a blessing and a “second breath.”

Walter and Elana together kayaked Lake Clark.

Walter and Elana together kayaked Lake Clark.

The couple greatly enjoyed hiking, kayaking, and fishing together in Alaska’s wilderness. They were also thankful for the chance to meet other military couples in similar situations. And, they appreciated the Christian love they felt from our staff.

“With what we’ve been through, especially since November, with constant attacks…It’s like a real healing,” Elana said.

The best part, though, was the daily marriage resiliency training with our retired military chaplains. Through these classes, the couple learned more about interpersonal communication and how to handle conflict Biblically. They also went through exercises that helped them better understand their personal and family histories. In addition, they began to think through realistic expectations for daily life in light of Walter’s health, Elana said.

Marriage classes taught by our retired military chaplains provided Walter and Elana with Bible-based tools to handle life's challenges.

Marriage classes taught by our retired military chaplains provided Walter and Elana with Bible-based tools to handle life’s challenges.

The Browns also learned how better to battle anxiety, which means keeping their eyes on Christ, taking one day at a time, and spending time in prayer and Bible study, both together and as individuals. Since leaving Alaska, they’re trying to keep up with daily devotions.

“[It] was such an amazing experience. We learned from each other and from the program,” Walter said. “We’ve learned to take one day at a time a little bit better than before.”

The couple has been through a lot—and the trials are not over—but God has remained faithful and they see that.

“There were times where I felt alone with the battles that my husband was going through, [but] I really never ever was,” Elana said. “It’s God who carried me through, and God who has carried us through as a married couple.”

God Took Care of It

When Elana refers to battles, she means not only Walter’s recent bout with cancer, but his injury in Iraq and the resulting struggles.

Walter and Elana have been through cancer and other struggles, but God has carried them all along.

Walter and Elana have been through cancer and other struggles, but God has carried them all along.

In 2005, just a few months into his first combat deployment, Walter was wounded during a nighttime scouting mission near Baghdad. An artillery shell hit his vehicle, which then rolled over into a ravine. The impact seriously injured his neck, shoulder, and back.

“I didn’t know until I tried to walk that I couldn’t,” he said. He was medevacked to the States for his first back surgery.

After partially recovering, he returned to Iraq to fight from 2007 to 2009. Afterward he was deemed non-deployable, because he was [and is] still wrestling with lingering issues from the 2005 incident. He was soon assigned to Florida as a recruiter, where he met Elana at a gym in 2011.

He was attracted to her “beautiful spirit” and love for God. She was attracted to his strong presence and goal-oriented focus. She also wanted him to be a spiritual leader—but that would take time as his faith walk was rocky at best.

Walter and Elana hug our staff after receiving a Billy Graham Study Bible in Alaska.

Walter and Elana hug our staff after receiving a Billy Graham Study Bible in Alaska.

In May 2013, Walter and Elana married and he was sent to Long Island, New York, again as a recruiter. Elana and her two daughters were not able to join him, so the couple remained geographically separated for a year and half.

During that difficult period, he sensed, through various circumstances, that his leadership wanted to push him out of the service. He did not, however, want to retire. It became a terrible struggle for Walter, what he calls the low point of his life. It brought him to his knees, though, which is where God wanted him.

“I was on my face and I just gave it all to God and God took care of it,” Walter said. “That was the evidence that I needed to know that, hey, I really need to walk in full faith and put my emotions and whatever false beliefs that I had behind me. [I] let everything follow my faith and I’ve walked that ever since.

“Right then I felt such a peace.”

He did retire in 2015, and he’s still wrestling with what that means for him. But he’s now walking more closely with the Lord than ever before. He knows God is guarding his family even in the midst of difficulties. The privilege of being a part of the Operation Heal Our Patriots family is now another good gift the Father has given them.

“There is no denying that Jesus is alive and that He’s protecting our house and our marriage and our kids and everything surrounding us,” Walter said. “I mean just to be able to come, to be selected for this trip, for this marriage enrichment [was] such an incredible blessing.”

Editor’s note: Please pray for Walter as he does now have surgery scheduled for September 22. This should remove the tumor in question between his stomach and kidney.

Operation Heal Our Patriots provided Walter and Elana with marriage-strengthening tools for now and the future.

Operation Heal Our Patriots provided Walter and Elana with marriage-strengthening tools for the present and the future.

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Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build a strong spiritual foundation during a week of Biblically based workshops, relationship-building wilderness activities, and individual care by our retired military chaplains. We offer all this free of charge to these American heroes as a token of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Your gift will help us cover the costs—including transportation, lodging, activities, and long-term aftercare—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.
Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build a strong spiritual foundation during a week of Biblically based workshops, relationship-building wilderness activities, and individual care by our retired military chaplains. We offer all this free of charge to these American heroes as a token of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Your gift will help us cover the costs—including transportation, lodging, activities, and long-term aftercare—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.

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