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SF Blog: 75-Year-Old Farmer Battles Lymphoma

My family farm is fortunate to have three generations actively working on the operation. My maternal grandfather, father, and brother, like other farm families, have made farming their way of life. The last year has tested my now 75-year-old grandfather’s will.

My grandpa, Dean Reynolds, still works harder than any 30-year-old man I know. He’s stronger than an ox and is more stubborn than a mule. I imagine, upon reading this, he’d snicker and sharply deny the latter. I’d bet money he could beat most college-age men in arm wrestling. Last summer, my grandpa, who previously refused to be slowed down by a hip replacement, two knee replacements, shoulder surgery, or prostate cancer, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It took us several months to come to that diagnosis. The seemingly incredibly healthy farmer had an episode where he ended up in the hospital after having a 103°F. fever and stroke-like symptoms. Once he was out of the woods, he struggled with his health and was plagued with a recurring fever. It became clear he had an underlying health issue. After several frustrating emergency room visits, the correct tests were ordered and we found out he had lymphoma.

There were six months of draining chemo treatments every other week. He couldn’t work more than a few days every other week. He’d have a week where he was incredibly sick followed by a few days where he felt almost normal. Those days, he would get into a tractor, be in the shop, or drive around until he found a task that needed his attention. I’d go home to help during harvest and he’d be in the field. When you have lymphoma and you’re taking chemo, your immune system can’t keep up. It doesn’t matter how strong or stubborn you are, you’re more susceptible to everything. Grandpa didn’t care. He simply decided that his health was mind over matter.

The problem was his occupation. Farmers are always in, surrounded by, and covered in soil. A teaspoon of soil contains up to 1 billion bacteria – along with fungi and other living microbes that a person with lymphoma shouldn’t be working in daily. A couple hospital visits later, the doctor scolded my grandpa, and he was banned from the field. He’d already been told to stay out of the field by his wife, daughters, son-in-law, and grandchildren. The doctor’s feeble ban meant little to him. What a doctor and his family couldn’t accomplish was no problem for a fungal infection. Chemo treatments had to be postponed until he was healthier. We had now reached Christmas time and it wasn’t very merry.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much he could do outside during the months of January and February. Against his will, he grumpily sat inside. My grandma deserved a vacation.  

Spring rolled around, and my grandpa, being quite a handyman, had a solution to the soil bacteria and fungi. He rigged up a respirator. The alien was ready to get back to the field – much to our frustration. He was done with chemo treatments, and without them slowing him down, he was going to be back to the field come hell or high water.

My birthday is in April, which is during planting season, so it’s always a struggle to celebrate. The weekend following my last birthday, around 7 p.m., I got a phone call that my grandpa was headed back to the hospital. Turns out, high water had arrived. He had been working on the field cultivator and fractured the upper part of his hip in a fall. For my next birthday, I will demand he take me out to dinner – for the sake of his health.

This last year has been challenging. He refuses to slow down; the man has to be taken out at the knees to even consider slowing his pace. I wish he’d retire, take it easy, and try to enjoy things he’s never allowed himself to take the time to do. But it’s September now and harvest is right around the corner. He has to get the combine ready. 

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