Nurse navigator Lillie Shockney shares how her father, Frank Dierker, learned to embrace life with his prostate cancer.
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.