Spotlight: Sunfarm (Sally Ramsdell)

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on June 20, 2011

Sally, or Sunfarm as we know her here on Cubits, is one of my Kentucky friends. She lives nearer to my mountain hometown than I do and sometimes I have to look at her pictures just to get a glimpse of my beloved hills. Uplifting, you bet! And it's even more uplifting to know Sally.


Life is not about waiting for storms to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain!

This I Believe

Sara D. Ramsdell

Irvine, Kentucky

June 2009


I believe I am still Me. A glimpse in the mirror still startles sometimes, though my family seems to recognize me. I have to reintroduce myself to people who have not seen me in some time.  Some friends have drifted away; others have proved more caring. The egg-bald-alien look has given way to that of a Buddhist nun now that chemo is past. My brows and lashes are returning.  Although pink was never my color, I have joined the beribboned sisterhood.


Some things are simpler.  Though I have lost the womanly contours of my torso, it is easier to pull on a t-shirt (now that I can raise my arms) than to fumble trying to mate hooks with eyes.  No need for shampoo, conditioner, or even brush and comb for the daily routine.  No need to dread the annual uncomfortable compression by the radiographer; it may have saved my life.


In the past few months I have learned more about medical matters than I ever dreamed would be of interest. I prefer to focus, however, on the topics of herbs for my kitchen and garden, weather and bird observations out my window, and the daily adventures of my family. No, I am not my illness. Yes, I believe I am still Me. 



Those words in blue belong to my friend, Sally. The following words are mine, but they tell Sally's story. We spoke on the phone this week and emailed back and forth as friends often do. My shorthand is pretty rusty, but I think my heart knows her story well enough to tell it to you. 

Sally was born 70 years ago in Utah and grew up in Salt Lake City. Being a woman way ahead of her time even then, she went to college in Ohio and studied geology. For a time she worked for the United States Geological Survey. During that time she also married, had three children and moved to Kentucky. 

The marriage didn't last but Sally remained in Kentucky and remarried, then went back to school to study civil engineering, another unusual choice for a woman, particularly during those years. My brother is a civil engineer and he's had some unusual jobs over the years but Sally had to explain to me just exactly what it was that she did. I bit my tongue and held in the gasp of 'Huh?' when she told me she was a concrete technologist. I didn't even know there was one. 

But I learned a lot from Sally. She told me that concrete was like food; environment, temperatures and timing can make a world of difference in concrete. It can make a difference in it's strength, it's durability and its use. She started working in the concrete field in 1972. In 1981, she opened her own business; she tested concrete. I didn't ask her, but I'll bet there were not many other women out there who tested concrete and made a living from it. Just as with her work in geology, Sally was and always has been an original.

Sally has three children, the youngest daughter is a musician, a tuba player and is now a high school band director.

Her middle child, a son, is an executive with a company that makes aut2011-06-17/Sharran/c45865o parts. He lives near Cincinnati and travels with his job. He has an 11 year old son, Sally's only grandchild.

Her oldest daughter is a veterinarian who lives on the same farm land in Estill County, Kentucky, where Sally lives. That was Sally's retirement dream, that farmland. She moved there with her husband in 2004 following her retirement.

That, in a nutshell, is the outline of Sally's life. Oh, but it's the details that prove interesting. Let me just tell you.

As a concrete technologist she traveled all over central and eastern Kentucky and all the way to Mexico and China, testing concrete and making sure it was up to environmental standards.

The Lane Report is a business and economic magazine published by Lane Communications Group focusing on Kentucky businesses. In 1994, Sally was named in the Lane Report as one of the Top Women in Business in central Kentucky.  

Even before that, in 1988, she had been named a fellow of the American Concrete Institute, an organization that advances concrete knowledge through seminars, certification programs and publishing technical documents. "A fellow," said her husband, teasing her that she might have to have a sex change to be a 'fellow'.

So you see, in what is most often considered a man's world, Sally rose to the top on the wings of knowledge and determination. But it didn't stop there. She took a fall in 2003 while on the job, fracturing her skull, so in 2004 she retired, looking forward to living on the rich farm land that she and her husband had acquired with her oldest daughter. It was waiting for them and she was ready for it. 

Sally is a nature photographer and what better place to find nature tha2011-06-17/Sharran/3aff5dn on a beautiful farm in eastern Kentucky?  She set about restoring the old farm house and cultivating the land around it. But retirement didn't seem to slow her down. She became a cooperative weather reporter for the National Weather Service. She also volunteered as arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau.

June has always held important moments in Sally's life. She was born in June, she and her husband married in June. It was two years ago on June 15, 2009, that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was then that she decided she didn't want the illness to dictate her life.  

The first writing above, the words in blue, that is what Sally wrote after her diagnosis and surgery. It was chosen as a winner in a contest that was sponsored by WEKU, a radio station in Richmond, Kentucky.

Now it's June again. With breast cancer, the most common sites of distant metastasis are the bones, lungs, and liver. Less commonly, breast cancer may spread to the brain. Just yesterday (June 14), I received this email from Sally:

I was so happy to celebrate our 39th anniversary and my 70th birthday this past week. The news from yesterday was not so good. I had been having problems with hand coordination for a few weeks so we saw my oncologist who confirmed a neurological problem and sent me for an MRI of my brain.  Even I could see the abnormalities in the images, so in our followup call this morning she gave her best guess as my having about six weeks left, considering the rapid spread of the tumors first to my lungs in the past few months and now to my brain.  I will have my first visit from a hospice nurse this afternoon. Tomorrow marks my 2-year anniversary of the initial breast cancer diagnosis, so with median survival of only 9 months with this type (triple negative) I feel like I have already beaten the odds.

I could hardly breathe. It was not news anyone would ever want to hear. But remember,  Sally has already succeeded in a world where a lot of women would have given up before they even got started. In one of her short notes to me she said:  "A question for you: What's the difference between a well-organized 2011-06-17/Sharran/c000bcwoman who wants to decide what's important in making her own life decisions and a controlling b...ummmmm...rhymes with witch?  I suspect it may be a difference in perspective/perception." 

Did I fail to mention there is not a thing wrong with her humor? Perhaps it's her humor that keeps me smiling even as I write. I'm sure it's her dignity, her grace and her humor that have made her the strong, well organized woman she is.

And retirement? It brought with it a whole new world and she doesn't waste a bit of it. She exalted in restoring and decorating her new home, in her nature photography, in her family. She volunteers her abilities and she enjoys every minute. What a beautiful life. 

This week she's resting at home and when I talked with her this morning this is what she said: "The National Weather Service in Jackson is coming en masse to visit and bring me lunch. Isn't  that sweet? I hope there is no severe weather around!"  I assured her that since I'm west of her, if stormy weather started her way, I'd just hold it back here until her lunch and visit are over and the weather service people could return to their jobs. It was a feeble attempt at humor, I know, but I really try to match her humorous quips. 

She's lost some motor skills recently so she couldn't type her story for you. I didn't think that mattered at all since it gave me an opportunity to talk with her by phone. When I received her email yest2011-06-17/Sharran/6ffac7erday, it was pouring rain. I told Sally I had gone outside and cried in the rain after I'd read it. She reminded me of the slogan that she attaches to her cubits signature:  "Life is not about waiting for storms to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain."

Sally, what a beautiful life, what a beautiful strong person you are. You glow with dignity and courage! Your humor shows through, no matter what's happening around you. Thank you so much for joining our Spotlight. Thank you so much for sharing your humor at a time when I was holding back tears. Just knowing you is a treasure and I am holding you close in my heart, even while learning to dance in the rain. 

Remember to scroll over the photos to see their descriptions and click on them to enlarge. Also remember to comment following this article. Sally will enjoy reading what you have to say. 

****We lost Sally this morning, 22 August 2011. She left footprints on our hearts, long-lasting footprints. What an amazing woman she was! 


Related articles:
attitude, cancer, interview, spotlight

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired Art and Humanities teacher living in western Kentucky. I love writing and art with equal measure, but I also have a passion for nature and plants.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Dear Sweet Sally!!! vic Sep 2, 2011 9:59 AM 40
What to say?? Trish Aug 24, 2011 9:18 AM 22
Brilliant! NEILMUIR1 Aug 23, 2011 6:36 PM 39
Concrete... Aguane Aug 22, 2011 10:00 PM 3
Sally Story murielw1 Aug 22, 2011 5:33 PM 2
Wonderful/inspirational kaglic Jun 23, 2011 10:06 AM 2
Thank you Sharon Trisha_S Jun 19, 2011 10:12 PM 1

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