Anita and Pieter Van der Laan
October 8, 2019

A Dairy Farmer’s Fight With Breast Cancer

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, we wanted to share the story of Anita Van der Laan, a dairy farmer from Oklahoma. You can read more about Anita and her family here or in the November issue of MILK. Here’s the story of her fight with breast cancer, we hope it will inspire you to listen to your body and seek medical care if you need it. 

Two years after a tornado tore through the Van der Laan’s dairy, Anita was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“That’s been my biggest challenge,” she says. “I think about the tornado and I know God prepares you for tough times. I got diagnosed on Sept. 17, 2013.”

Earlier that summer, a Brown Swiss heifer named Gema hit Anita with her bottle during feeding time. 

“It felt like I got hit with a baseball,” Anita recalls. “There was a big bruise that didn’t go away and it still hurt so I had it checked out.” 

It turned out to be an aggressive form of breast cancer. While she felt she didn’t have time to deal with the cancer, her doctor told her she needed to make time.

“I told her, I’ve got a high school senior and a business to run, I don’t have time for this. And she said ‘Anita, you will make time for this.’ So I did,” Anita says.

In October 2013 she had a mastectomy and then in December she started eight rounds of chemo. She also did a full round of radiation. 

“It was a blessing that it was in the winter because it was easier to make time to go to Oklahoma City [two hours from their farm] for treatments,” she says. “My sweet husband Pieter came with me to every appointment.”

Anita is grateful their employees picked up slack and allowed her and her husband the space to go to the appointments together. None of her children were back on the farm at that point.

On May 31, 2014, she was declared cancer free. Unfortunately, the calf that saved her life didn’t live to see that day. 

“She died of pneumonia during my treatments,” Anita says. “That’s really rare for us and at first I was really upset about it. Then I realized she may have died, but I lived. I truly believe she was an angel sent in the form I needed, so I would see a doctor.”

Listen to Anita tell her story on The First Years podcast. She talks about her battle with cancer at the 21 minute mark.