For farmers and ranchers, there’s no time for getting sick. But just over a year ago, Colfax, N.D., farmer and business owner Cara Myers was diagnosed with breast cancer, just as harvest was getting underway. This year, she’s back farming. I climbed in the tractor cab with her when she was driving a grain cart during corn harvest to talk about the year she’s had and lessons from her breast cancer journey.

Cara has been someone I have admired through the years. I met her and her husband, Jay, nearly 15 years ago on a flight to Las Vegas. We were both from North Dakota, going to the same agriculture conference, and we’ve kept in touch. Cara worked for 19½ years for Great Plains Software and then Microsoft before choosing to go back full-time to the farm to work alongside Jay.

I asked Cara in the tractor cab if she ever had regrets leaving her corporate job, and she said only that she didn’t do it five years sooner for her kids. “We farm and we also have a fertilizer business, and it was just getting too much for my husband to handle on his own,” Cara said. She is a certified public accountant and manages all financial operations of their farm and business, but in the fall and spring, you’ll find her in the farm fields.  

Last fall, her farming routine changed. She went to her routine mammogram and then got called back for more follow-up.

Cara shared with me, “One week before we started full harvest I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Quite shocking. You know they say you become very strong when strong is your only option. And I truly believe that’s what happened to me.”

Cara’s words resonated with me as a wife and mother. She worried about how Jay would get harvest done while she moved forward with surgery and treatment. And she shared with me that telling her kids was the hardest part of the cancer diagnosis.

Her resolve and willingness to research, to get second and third medical opinions and reach out to every person she knew of who had ever had breast cancer stood out to me as I listened. The grit and determination she has professionally also applied to how she approached her breast cancer diagnosis.

She didn’t just listen to the first doctor and treatment recommendation. She sought out more information, more opinions, more feedback to find the best path forward.

I sat in the buddy seat of her tractor while she spoke to me. From the combine, Jay unloaded corn into Cara’s grain cart, and we drove to the semi-truck in the field, over and over again as she spoke. I listened and thought about all the women who I know are impacted by breast cancer.

One in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. As a result of my grain cart ride with Cara, I called my local rural health clinic and scheduled a physical and mammogram for January, a 40th birthday gift to myself and my health. I want to be like Cara, diligent in my self-care. Weeks before harvest, she didn’t skip out on her mammogram. She showed up and early detection was key in her treatment. Women, schedule your mammograms. Men, ask the women you love to schedule and go to their annual mammogram.

Cara added how thankful she is for the internet for information, Facebook support groups and area support groups who meet in person and said, “I just feel really thankful that, in a matter of three and a half months, I was done with surgery and radiation. And we made it through harvest.”

I said, “And look where you are now!”

Cara laughed and said, “Life goes on and you’re back in the grain cart the next year.”