When my father learned his prostate cancer had returned and spread, he decided that his life as he knew it was over. A farmer all his life, he sold all his farmland, and he and my mother moved closer to town. He was depressed, fatigued and felt a lack of purpose.
But things changed at a Grandparents’ Day breast cancer fund-raiser organized by Johns Hopkins volunteers. Called the Barnyard Blowout, it was held on a farm. Dad picked up his great-granddaughter, Keira, and walked her around: “This is a John Deere tractor,” he told her. “It’s green. You only sit on green tractors. That’s important.” She repeated the word green. He watched her make a scarecrow. He went on a hayride with her when prior to that day he could barely walk.
The next day, Dad called me with stunning news: “I bought back one of my farms. I listened to that woman yesterday when she said that those of us with metastatic cancer have the right to choose: We can be living each day or dying each day with our cancer. I realized that I was dying when I could be living. There is no reason I can’t still be a farmer.”
So dad resumed farming, with the help of others in the community, and the support of my mother by his side. Farming defines him; metastatic cancer does not.