"Combining for Curtis": A Harvest Full of Heart

Combining for Curtis, U.S. Farm Report, 10.19.19
A farming community rallies around one of their own, after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. ( Mike Byers )

A combine is more than just a machine for Curtis Lewis; it’s his office.

“Custom harvesting, I’ve been doing that all my life,” said Curtis Lewis, who lives in Bates City, Mo.

Harvest of 2019 started out just like any other year.

“We had just started, it was within the first week, and here I am,” said Lewis.

October 3, 2019, Lewis’ life took a dramatic turn.

“I had a load of corn, and I was taking it to the elevator, when something just didn't feel right,” said Curtis.

“I called him from work and I was talking to him, and he was slurring, and I was like, ‘are you okay?’” said Lewis’ wife Angela. “I asked, ‘What's going on?’ He said, ‘I don't know. I'm just really confused, and I can't feel my right arm and my right leg, and I can't see out of my right eye.’ I said, ‘Curtis, you need to get to the emergency room now.’”

“With a piercing headache, his mom rushed him to the hospital, and within minutes, the doctors confirmed the news wasn’t good.

“All we knew initially was from the CT scan at the first hospital was that it was a large brain bleed,” said Angela.

Lewis was immediately rushed back for brain surgery and four hours later the news got worse.

“They said it wasn't just It wasn't an aneurysm or a stroke, necessarily, it was that there was a tumor that bled and that they thought it was cancerous,” said Angela.

The diagnosis?

“Grade four glioblastoma,” said Angela. 

Stage 4 brain cancer; news that still hasn’t sunk in.

“I’m still coming to,” said Lewis. “I'm still trying to gather it all. It’s hard to explain, really hard accept, “said Lewis.

“We have four children,” said Angela.

“I think it's a dream,” said Lewis.

A dream that’s quickly become a nightmare, with Lewis refusing to give up.

“I’m not going to quit,” said Lewis.

The Lewis’ immediately started searching for answers, with plans to travel to MD Anderson at the end of the month.

As the whirlwind of events took place, work was already underway to help.

“When I first thought of this, I never dreamed it would turn into something like it is now,” said Ben Brockmeyer, who works for MFA, Inc., a retailer in Odessa, Mo.

Brockmeyer and Thad Madsen, both with MFA, knew they had to do something, and fast.

“I had the idea last Thursday, a week ago, and we knew we wanted to get done soon because they're headed to Texas,” said Brockmeyer.

He had Madsen did they only thing they knew they could do. They had the capacity to take grain, and haul it. So, they decided to travel farm to farm, picking up grain from any farmer who wanted to donate, with plans to cash those bushels in, and the proceeds given directly to the Lewis’.  The outpouring of responses and support, has been both astonishing and humbling for Brockmeyer and Madsen.

“The community really took off with it, and it’s really been unbelievable,” said Madsen. “Our goal was four or five or six loads, and people have already committed about 15,000 bushels…. I’ve had people text and call me from Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas, figuring out ways that they can help.”

An act of kindness that’s turned into a rush of love and generosity.

“One person obviously doesn't do this,” said Brockmeyer. “It takes the whole community and just everybody teaming up and working together to get all this going, but it’s really neat to see all this happen and all the support that we've had.”

Generosity is pouring in from farmers like Clayton Wieligman of Wellington, Mo.

“I just told my dad I said, ‘I think that some we have to do this,’” he said.  “It wouldn't matter if we were doing anything, you could call him and he dropped what he's doing to help you, so I figured we'd probably do the same.”

In a year when every bushel counts, farmers are giving more than just a bushel.

“We’re going to donate an entire semi load,” said Wieligman. “I feel like if I was in Curtis's shoes, he’d do the same thing for me.”

The acts of kindness are a testament to Lewis’ character.

“This is Curtis' passion,” said Ron Williams, a farmer in Lafayette County, Mo. “He loves farming especially on the combine, and I thought this is just a clever way to give back to Curtis and help him the family out now that they're in the need.”

The support is being dispatched by some friends, and some strangers, and his mom, dad and family gather the strength to keep supplying Lewis with love and support.

“It really shows what a small town can do,” said Lewis’ mom Debbie, as she was fighting back tears. What the farming community, and really everyone nationwide is doing, the people that we've talked to, It's unbelievable.”

As Curtis’ fight to beat cancer is just getting started, he’s blown away by a community that cares.

“There's not enough words in this world because I never thought I was this important,” said Lewis as his eyes quickly filled with tears.

He’s savoring every minute and moment in life, while grasping onto hope modern medicine will make miracles

“We're going to fight this,” said Lewis. “I'm not quitting.”

As a community gives, Lewis is fighting to beat the odds, with grit and tenacity no diagnosis can take away.