Dale Peterson milks 35 cows on his farm near Grantsburg, Wis. In 2011, Peterson was diagnosed with cancer and received a knee replacement. With the help of neighbors, community members and AgrAbility of Wisconsin, he has been able to continue farming.
PHOTO BY CASSIE OLSON
After finding a cancerous tumor in his knee and leg in 2011, Peterson has been operating his 35-cow dairy with the help from generous friends and neighbors, along with the aid of AgrAbility, an organization that promotes success in agriculture for farm families dealing with farm injury, disability or limitation.
“I really didn’t know if I would be able to do it,” Peterson said. “I wouldn’t be farming if it wasn’t for my community and AgrAbility.”
In 2011, just three years after starting his dairying career, Peterson went to the doctor because of pain in his knee. What seemed like a routine check-up at the time quickly became devastating. A tumor was discovered within Peterson’s right knee, and he was sent to the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, for further examination.
“I underwent surgery to remove the tumor and have a total knee replacement,” Peterson said. “Once they were inside, they noticed the cancer had progressed quickly into my femur, as well.”
In addition to a total knee replacement, 2.5 inches of Peterson’s femur was removed and replaced with a pin to connect it to the knee.
“I tried it out for a month,” Peterson said. “The pain was so bad, the doctors re-examined the femur and realized it had deteriorated more than they had initially thought.”
He found himself back in the operating room. Another surgery removed seven more inches of the cancerous femur. Peterson’s rehabilitation was set back even further, meaning more time away from the cows.
With no intention of ending his farm career, Peterson found the help necessary to keep the farm in order.
“A neighbor of mine lost his barn in a storm. He was out of a job, so I asked him if he would milk my cows while I was gone,” Peterson said. “I was unsure if I would be able to defeat the cancer, and he told me he would help me as long as it took.”
The generosity didn’t stop there. With several neighbors handling the planting and harvesting of crops, baling of hay, and filling the silo, Peterson’s farm continued to operate as usual.
With the farm being taken care of, Peterson underwent regular chemotherapy treatments. He spent five days of the week in the hospital, and was able to return home to be with his family and check in on his cows.
To alleviate the expenses and financial burden Peterson faced, the community of Grantsburg held a benefit in April 2012. Peterson expressed overwhelming appreciation.
“Everybody was and is so caring. How do I even begin to repay them for their generosity?” Peterson said.
Having the help of the community made Peterson’s desire to return to the farm even greater. His doctors, however, were less than thrilled.
“They told me I probably wouldn’t be farming again after the cancer,” Peterson said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
That’s when he heard of AgrAbility of Wisconsin, which aims to promote success in agriculture for farm families dealing with farm injury, disability, or limitation. In a partnership between the University of Wisconsin Extension and Easter Seals Wisconsin, AgrAbility has provided assistance for over 2,500 farmers and families since being established in 1991.
For Dale, AgrAbility was able to supply numerous items to make his transition back to the farm easier. Some accommodations he has received include: a baler with a chute, a throw rack, a Kubota utility vehicle, a calf cart trailer, automatic wagon hitches, a fenceline feeder with headlocks, and a grain bin to hold feed. Peterson said the difference the equipment has made is tremendous.
After his two surgeries and a year of chemotherapy treatments, Peterson returned to the barn on Nov. 20 , 2012. He’s been at it ever since. Peterson continues to milk his 36 Jerseys in stanchions, now accompanied by a milking stool to alleviate the stress on his knees.
Every four months, Peterson visits his doctors; however, he is currently in remission and looks forward to hopefully one day being deemed “cancer-free.”
“I’m still recovering,” Peterson said. “Some things take a little longer than they used to; I’m just happy I’m able to farm.”