A Journey in Faith
Reprinted from the December 2017 Guernsey Breeders' Journal
It is during the Holiday season at the end of each year, that we tend to center ourselves on faith, family and thankfulness. Berneta Gable of Snider Homestead Farm is no exception. This past year has been one of turmoil and thankfulness for the Gable clan. The Snider Homestead Farm is a family farm that has been breeding great Guernseys for a very long time. The farm has produced over 200 All-American nominees over the years, many that go back to Cedar Fringed Altann EX-95. Berneta and her husband Brad are the sixth generation to operate the farm. Her son, Aaron, and his wife Amy and their children Bella, Blaire and Cannon are the seventh and eighth generations on the farm. They farm roughly 400 acres and milk approximately 120 cows in a herd that stresses longevity with many cows over 100,000 pounds of milk and high components.
Last winter, Berneta began experiencing strange headaches, throbbing, flashes in the head and more. “I said to Aaron one night milking that there is something wrong with my head,” said Berneta. “My brother had just had a stroke, so I was afraid it could be something like that. So I went to the doctor who put me on some medications that didn’t do anything. Then they did an MRI, and found the mass. The local hospital said it wasn’t something they could deal with, that it needed to be done in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh said it was too risky and they would just watch it. At that point, I finally saw the MRI and it was diagnosed as a base brain tumor. After their third visit to Pittsburgh, the doctor there suggested a neurologist. The neurologist said it had to come out but that it needed to be done at a research-based hospital. I had started researching when I found out what it actually was, and as soon as I put it in the internet, John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, showed up and I told Brad we had to go.” About this time, word had gotten out to the local community, and shortly after, word reached the Guernsey and dairy community and the cards and notes and prayers began to flow.
Dr. Henry Brem, M.D., is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Ophthalmology and Director of the Department of Neurosurgery for John Hopkins Hospital. At their appointment, he explained to Berneta and Brad that the tumor was actually pushing against the top vertebae and had nerves wrapped around it that affected the tongue and shoulder region and that it needed to come out as soon as possible. The decision was immediate to proceed, she said. It was a month later, though, before the surgery could take place because the doctor wanted three others involved, two more neurosurgeons and a spinal surgeon. The tumor was going to have to be broken open and taken out in pieces because of its location.
“When I went into surgery that morning, there was just peace and I knew I was going to be okay because of all the support and thousands that were in prayer,” said Berneta. “Everyone was so calm, the surgery that was supposed to last 10 to 15 hours was a little less than nine. He was worried about my tongue and shoulders being affected, but when he came in that night to check on me, the first question he asked was if I was ready to go home and milk and I said no. At that point, he gave everyone a thumbs up and laughed. The anesthesiolotist also stopped by and told me he normally doesn't check on anyone as an assisting doctor, but there was such a peace and he was so astounded at the outcome that he had to stop and see me,” she said.
She went on, “Everything worked out so well, yeah, the timeline wasn’t the best because this all started back in January and it was the end of August now, but the reason for it and the outcome could have been so much different without the phone call to John Hopkins.” The doctors had explained that tumors like that were usually the result of something traumatic happening during youth. It had been growing over a long period and just now had started to affect her. Berneta said she could think of lots of things over the years that could have caused it, from accidents to run-ins with cows.
Today Berneta is back at the farm, starting to work back into the everyday life and is so thankful for the support she and the family received throughout this journey. “I was overwhelmed with support from cards and phone calls from across the United States when word got out. It brought tears to my eyes and it opened my eyes to the great people we have. Some people I had never even met, but they took time to send a card to say they were praying for me, and the neighbors stepping in and the people we met,” she said, “it was just overwhelming.”
Berneta talked about many who came to their aid and helped give her peace of mind throughout this journey. “Aaron stepped up and made decisions on his own that had always been mutual and my husband, who has always been a great support, he had to figure out paying the bills. I was worried about it, but they handled it all and their decisions were as good as any I would have made!” she said. “Then there were the local boys and Emma who came to help. Aaron said people would just appear at milking time and when shows drew near. Cara Trotter came and became me. She took on cooking and babysitting and answering the phones. She gave me great peace of mind. And the food - Aaron said there was so much food they didn’t know what to do with it all. My cousin Ronnie and his wife Shelby brought meals every day for a week, and my brothers, their wives and my sisters all pitched in. Even the church family had a big send-off benefit before we went to John Hopkins. The parking lot was so full when I got there we couldn’t find a parking spot, and every friend I think I’ve had and people I didn’t know were there. Even Kevin and Dina Stoltzfus and Jim, Dave and Jill Trotter were there! I couldn’t believe that people were so gracious.”
It wasn’t just on the farm and from the local community that support came. Berneta and Brad’s daughter Kendy, who is a musical artist currently in Berlin, Germany, came home and took the show string to the All-American in Harrisburg with Joan Seidel. Berneta laughed, “Poor Kendy, who has been out of this for a few years, stepped in and handled the All-American with Joan getting cattle ready. That the two of them, who haven’t really worked with these specific cows before, getting them ready and to the ring and they did so well. And of course Chase Cessna, Colleen, Allie, Eion and Nolan Snider all got down there and helped. Kendy called me Friday before the work crew showed up on Saturday and was a touch overwhelmed, but by the next day the crew showed up and it all came together and they got it done.”
It didn’t stop there though. The icing on the cake came November 6th when Snider Homestead’s two cows took home the Futurity and Grand Champion banners from the National Guernsey Show in Louisville. “I almost didn’t send anything, but I’d been talking to Justin (Kauffman) about taking the Futurity cow, Jayso, and Keith and Madison Fisher stopped by and Keith commented that Ashanti looked even better than Harrisburg. So with Keith and Justin’s help, we sent the two cows. We had the best time watching it on the computer. I wish I could have been there, but I am still having a few issues with my neck, so driving that distance was out of the question. But, if I was going to send them, those guys are the best and great friends of mine and I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Berneta and her family are thankful - thankful for a journey that has developed an even deeper faith and the love of those that touched their lives during this advent season.