Shiralee Seerden’s cancer diagnosis changed her life in an instant. In her candid final article for the Dairy Exporter, she talks openly about the challenges she and her family now face.

At the same time articles were going to print regarding our running two dairy farms, doctors were giving us the news that I have an incurable cancer aggressively spreading, and a time limit was given. Rob’s heart was instantly turned back to myself and family; farming was insignificant. Rob’s ambition of running multiple farms with his family was gone. Life was transposed fast: Rob’s focus switched from organising farms to full-time carer for me. I had been sick for many months but life for our family altered forever on 5 December, with new dreams and goals.

We put up all our weaner calves for export, because Rob is unsure how his future is going to look. It may mean selling up and starting something new, so reducing debt is a priority. With export prices three times higher than what we could possibly get for the weaners in New Zealand, it makes sense at this point.

Talking with both farm owners directly was foremost, with our lives changing dramatically and decisions being made rapidly to overcome the predicament of cancer. We needed them onboard working alongside us, and to our delight they have been fantastic. Unfortunately though this meant Rob could no longer contract milk the 550 cows up the road. With only six months under his belt it was not enough time to get a complete team together that could run the farm in his absence. It wasn’t fair to the staff or to the owner, who has plans for his farm that require somebody with their head fully in the game, so we reluctantly ended our contract a few weeks after my diagnosis in December.

Our eldest son, now held up from traveling overseas, took this opportunity to become 2IC on our sharemilking block with Rob as overseer, relief milker, and homeschooling teacher to our three youngest.

On another positive note, I enjoyed being able to be Rob’s AI assistant as it allowed me to get to know the locals better, as well as having my own annual job for a second year with LIC as a delivery driver. Additionally, this season saw our district with a good non-return rate on an average six weeks of AI. Well above mating expectations from past years, especially considering the Hawke’s Bay drought last season making this spring tough for most.

Farmers are readily thought of as stoic, but it’s a word I would never use for myself. Yet it’s the term most thrown about while I was in hospital having surgery and pain relief sorted. Now that I look at it, it is the word that best describes how I am coping with everything: ‘we’ll get through this’ and ‘it will be ok’, no matter what the situation. It probably also explains why I was in agony for six weeks while under medical care, because stoic personalities don’t scream their heads off: ‘she’ll be right’, because there’s always someone worse than myself. This mentality is where I think farmers just grin and bear it, when dealing with mental health. All of this is very ironic, because I was asked about stoic farmers and mental health recently in an interview. Of course my narrow mind never put myself as one, and maybe that’s the danger.

I love stories and when people talk about tales of remission I think they’re encouraging, however every time I see the oncologist the news is worse. I don’t have anything common about my cancer. If I am cured it will be a miracle, and I do believe in these, due to my faith.

I am grateful for the way people both urban and rural have been nothing but generous: dinners and books dropped off, offers of baches and relief milking, balage picked up and stacked, driving me anywhere, and babysitting. Community coming together; empathy isn’t dead.

Thanks for reading our articles, this will be the last.

God bless, Shiralee and Rob.