Tom & Ian McMillan, Sale - January// 2023 Mental Health Calendar

by Gippsland Jersey

How long have you been in the dairy industry?
I grew up on the family farm and I've been full time in the industry for 11 years now.

Did you go to school in Sale?
Yeah, I started at Bundalaguah Primary and finished in Sale. After school I completed a certificate Ill in Agriculture followed by the certificate IV. I was also managing daily operations on one of the home farms during this time.

Tell me what is it about dairy that you love?
I like the challenge of it; it's rewarding to see the results of your hard work each year.

How many kids are there in your family?
There are four of us, I'm the oldest, my sister, Lavinia, and two younger brothers, Will and Tim. All us boys are home working on the farm and my sister helps a few days a week between her nursing career.

Have you always had a strong bond with your dad?
Yeah, definitely. We've always worked side by side since I was a kid.

So, Tom...a little bit about your family situation that had you come back to Gippsland in a hurry?
So, I farmed at home for six years full time and at 22 I met my partner Steph, through friends of ours. She lived in the Kiewa Valley. After a year of travelling to see each other, the opportunity came up to move to the Kiewa Valley too. Steph had a good job and was studying at the time. I worked for a large family-owned dairy farm not far from where we lived for the next three years and we travelled back home every few weeks to see the family. Up until Dad got crook.

What did your dad say in that phone call?
Did he specifically ask you to come home?

In July 2021 dad asked me to come home for a week to run the farm. I thought, 'well if dad's asking me to come home, it must be pretty serious.
He'd had some tests come back and needed urgent surgery. As I was travelling home, mum and dad were driving to Melbourne. The cows had just started calving and I ended up staying for four months. Dad was hospitalised for three weeks after doctors removed 3.6 kilograms of tumour and affected tissue. Three months later he went back to the doctors for scans, only to discover the tumours had aggressively returned.
Dad wasn't sure if he wanted to start treatment as things looked pretty grim, but after talking to the family he decided to give it a go. It took seven months, two different trials of chemotherapy and three rounds of genomic testing to even diagnose the cancer properly and decide the next trial of treatment, which was immunotherapy. The efforts of Mulgrave Private Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have been amazing.

How does it make you feel knowing that your dad is sick and that without a miracle his health will deteriorate?
It's hard to believe there could have been a miracle after his initial diagnosis, but his recent results with immunotherapy have been incredible. Fingers crossed these results continue into the future.
We're so thankful for every day that we get with him.

Is there an understanding that you re taking over from your dad?
Yeah, that's what we're working towards now that Steph and I have moved back to Gippsland. Dad's still very much involved though.

How do you and your dad enjoy time together? Just by being with him each day and working alongside him? How's your dad coping with it all?
We enjoy working alongside each other and getting jobs done. It's good to talk about things and bounce ideas off one another. Safe to say, it's been a rough journey, but dad's coping well. He shows up every day and does what he can.

Have you changed the way you manage your feelings and emotions as a man because of your dad getting sick, Tom?
We definitely talk more about certain things and take our health more seriously than before. It's been a big wake up call.

Can I ask you a personal question Tom? Have there been tears between you and big heart moments, breaking down those barriers between father and son?
Yeah of course, there has been with the whole family. We were also extremely close to losing my youngest brother, Tim a year earlier after he had a bad motorbike accident and was flown to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. It's been a tough few years.

What are you doing to look after yourself, Tom?

I normally jump on the dirt bike and disappear for a day, or weekend, with mates. I'm pretty easy going and l've got plenty of good people around me to talk to. Just talking about it is probably the biggest thing.
Once upon a time that was unheard of; just keep it to yourself and move on and whatever. But no! It's definitely something people are a bit more open about these days. Its important to talk and be willing to accept help when offered. One of our neighbours, and good mate, Andrew, organized a group of locals, and members from the Heyfield Lions Club, to cart hay for us back in January. This was a massive help.
Our family is very appreciative of their time and efforts.

What's been your big take away from the journey with your dad?
You've gotta look after yourself, check in with yourself and your family.
Forget the typical farmer attitude of 'it'll be right. If something doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't and it's time to do something about it.
This applies to your physical health as well as your mental health.

The Farming Conversations 2023 is brought to you FREE by Gippsland Jersey, Connect Well, East Gippsland Community Foundation, Orbost Regional Health and the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

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