Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Father and son dairymen advocate early cancer screening

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 30 October 2013

Hans & Ted Johnson

Wisconsin dairyman Ted Johnson arrived for the routine exam his doctor recommended at age 50 more worried about his cholesterol levels than the results of a different routine test.



“In my family, if you made it to age 59 and didn’t have a heart attack, you were probably going to live until you were 85 or 90,” says Johnson, owner of Horse Creek Holsteins with his wife Gretchen, in Star Prairie, Wisconsin.

“This was a little different because cancer was involved.”

Now, at the age of 61, he credits early prostate screening for saving his own life from cancer. And his success story would ultimately help cheer on his 24-year-old son, who would be diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Even to this day, Johnson can’t remember how high his first prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test results were. The test helps determine abnormalities in prostate function. He recalls his family doctor telling him it showed a “blip” and asking him to return for annual screenings.

or scroll down to watch a video of Movember Dairy campaign participant, Wisconsin dairyman Clarence Mess, discuss why he is shaving off his beard of nearly 40 years this month.


After two consecutive years of increasingly elevated PSA test results, his family doctor referred him to a urologist for a biopsy. That test confirmed that three-fourths of his prostate was infected with cancer.

“The initial impression you get when someone who is diagnosed with cancer is that it’s going to be a disease they are not going to be able to recover from,” Johnson says.

Later that night, the Johnson family imagined the worst as they gathered around their kitchen table.

Johnson told his then 14-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son about his diagnosis. His voice cracks and he still gets emotional as he recalls his son’s pointed question to him:

“Dad, you’re not going to die, are you?”

Johnson had his entire prostate removed. Further test results showed that the cancer had not spread outside of his prostate, and no further treatments were recommended.


Johnson missed two months of farm work that summer as he recovered from his surgery. He says it was uncomfortable to drive or even ride in a tractor during that time. His son took on extra shifts to make sure the farm’s 900 acres of crops were planted and harvested on time.

Ted would repay that favor last year when his son, Hans, was undergoing chemotherapy for testicular cancer.

“That was the longest summer we’ve ever spent farming, and I’ve been farming almost 40 years,” Ted says. “You can work through the extra physical labor, but the mental strain, wondering and concern for one of my children felt like a 1,000-pound weight on my shoulders. We knew it was beyond our control, but not a day went by that we didn’t think about it.”

Hans says he discovered a lump on one of his testicles while in the shower one night. He said it was sore. He was most comfortable telling his fiancee of just three weeks, Catherine Mattson, about the abnormality.

“She told me, ‘Well, you’re going to the doctor right away.’”

Within 11 days of his first doctor’s appointment, Hans was in surgery to have the testicle removed. Further tests showed the cancer was fast-growing and may have begun to spread. His doctors prescribed a regime of chemotherapy.

“I was obviously scared when I heard that I had cancer, but I never went down the path of thinking about death,” Hans say. “I always kept a positive mindset. The doctors told me that testicular cancer, when caught early, had a 97 to 98 percent cure rate.”

His chemotherapy sessions were five hours a day for five days, then one treatment a week for two weeks. The total treatment time was nine weeks. “For the first few days after each session, I felt like I had a real bad hangover minus the headache,” Hans says. “I never really got sick, but I just didn’t feel good for a few days after each visit.”

Hans would have two weeks between each treatment, and when he felt well enough, he would try to help at the farm. However, his doctors gave him strict guidelines as to what he could and couldn’t do to avoid exposing his immune-suppressed body to pathogens.

Hans’ typical farm duties are to treat sick cows, manage the 325-cow registered Holstein dairy’s mating and breeding program and buy feed, when needed.

“Chemotherapy was my excuse to drive the air-conditioned tractor all summer,” Hans says with a laugh.

Hans’ fiancee went to every one of his chemotherapy sessions, and they are still engaged to be wed next year.

Both Ted and Hans credit faith, prayers, strong support from other cancer patients and their loved ones as well as competent medical teams and early detection for their eventual successes at beating cancer. As of publication, doctors say both Johnsons are cancer-free.

Ted Johnson

During a kick-off event for Movember Dairy, a month-long campaign this November to make men in the dairy industry more aware of the risks of prostate cancer and the benefits of early screening, Ted shared his cancer survival story.

He says that he’s willing to be a spokesman for the benefits of early prostate cancer screening as well as a sounding board for anyone who may be going through their own experience with prostate cancer.

“Early detection made this a lot less traumatic for both of us,” Ted says.

Ted and his son both plan to participate in the Movember Dairy campaign’s challenge for men to grow mustaches and use their facial hair to start a conversation about the risks of prostate cancer and the benefits of early detection.

“We’re not good mustache growers, but we’ll probably try,” Ted says. PD

Visit the website or Facebook for more information or to get involved in this month’s prostate cancer awareness activities.

TOP: Hans Johnson (right) says of his experience being diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 23: “When you hear the big ‘C’ word, you think the worst.” He says his dad, Ted, (left) encouraged him throughout his cancer treatments because of his own successful battle with prostate cancer. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Strong.

BOTTOM: Wisconsin dairyman Ted Johnson speaks to a group at World Dairy Expo who gathered after show hours for an event to kick-off Movember Dairy, a month-long campaign this November to make men in the dairy industry more aware of the risks of prostate cancer and the benefits of early screening. Photo by Ray Merritt.


Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman


back to top