Resilient and Faithful: That Was My Mom

Brave Storyteller Rachel Gray

Even while fighting cancer, Rachel’s mom was constantly making sure that everyone and everything was taken care of from the cattle to the kids.

Farmers face many hardships. It’s a tough line of work that tests you emotionally, physically, and financially. Thankfully, I come from a long line of women who are as tough as they get. But my mother was the toughest of them all. She battled breast cancer for 20 years while working two jobs, raising a family, and nurturing her marriage. No matter how hard things got, she always stayed positive.

She was a school teacher and a farmer. When she got home from work she’d change her clothes and go straight out to the barn to finish chores. Even while fighting cancer, she was constantly making sure that everyone and everything was taken care of from the cattle to the kids. I remember one night in early April we got hit by this terrible snowstorm. The snow was starting to pile up. My mom had just arrived home from her cancer treatment, but I knew we had to go check on the cattle. So we loaded into the side-by-side and headed out into the storm. When we reached the cattle, we could tell one had just calved but we couldn’t find the calf. So we got out and started trudging through the snow until we found it buried up to its nose in the mud. We pulled it free, loaded it up, and got back into the side-by-side. Both of us were frozen and caked with mud, and I told my mom, “I’m so sorry. You should be in the house resting.” But she looked at me and said, “No. This is where we need to be. We have to live. This cancer stinks, this blizzard stinks, everything about it stinks. But this place has to go on, and we have to keep living.” She would have rather been out feeding cows or in the side-by-side any day.

That’s just the type of person my mom was. She was resilient. No matter the hardship, she just kept going. Her advice to anyone dealing with cancer was to get the absolute best medical care possible, give yourself something to live for and above all, stay positive. That’s exactly what she did. She planned her dream vacation, she looked forward to seeing her granddaughter graduate, and she never missed her grandkids’ football games or wrestling matches. 

One of my favorite things about this farm is that I’ve been able to live so closely with my mom, grandma, great-grandma, and now my son and two grandchildren. We’re making memories together. Yes, farming is extremely hard work. But it’s been an honor to do this work alongside women who are strong and unwavering.

If you have a loved one who is sick or fighting breast cancer, I encourage you to have those hard conversations with them. Ask the questions you think are too hard to ask. Talk about the things you think are too hard to bring up. In the end, I feel so lucky that my mom and I got to do those things. It was very hard to be there with her and help her through those last months, but it was also a very sacred time for the two of us because we got to have conversations that we’d never get to have otherwise.