Episode Eight: Sally Ann

Episode Show Notes

In this Episode Eight (8) of the Back Down Memory Lane podcast, Joe talks to a friend I met during the pandemic, Sally Thoun, one of the special souls that made a dark 2020 bright and inspiring for me. We talked about our initial meeting in my backyard doing a virtual Meetup last summer, our shared experiences as survivors of major health crises, and why we give back, and why it’s so important to us. An incredible personality with an incredible backstory, enjoy part one of our two-part discussion.

Memo to Self

During Memo to Self, I talked about my new telecommuting experience as one commuter pecks at a keyboard and works on his laptop as he drives his Tesla into work each morning.

Episode Transcript

Sally Ann  0:00  

“There’s got to be something more. And accessibility Was that something more where you’re making a bigger difference impacting people that didn’t have access before allowing them to have access, they were had access to an access of a website was like the whole world just opened up”.

Joe A Simpson Jr  0:28  

The voice you hear is that of Sally Ann Thoun, a three-time cancer survivor, friend, and one of the bright new faces in the North Valleys of Los Angeles WordPress Accessibility Movement. I thought I’d share this with you on this holiday weekend because this was one of my favorite conversations to date on this podcast. As a heart event survivor, some of the emotion that you’ll feel in this episode I feel it all the time, as well. 

I remembered back when I was trying to figure out what was next for me. And I was doing my (cardio) rehabilitation. I would find myself at Central Park, trying to put one foot in front of the other. And on the quiet paths in the early morning, I would find myself crying. 

I met Sally in my backyard. During the pandemic, all in-person events became virtual. And I was at a meetup for the Bakersfield WordPress group. And we were introduced. She’ll talk about it during the course of this conversation, and I hope you enjoy Back Down Memory Lane.

Sally Ann  1:52  

But I guess going back to the pandemic, I had been with a digital marketing agency, we specialized in dentists, I left and I was like, “You know what, I learned so much that I’m like, I can do this myself. And I’m going to do it ethically. And I’m going to do it right. And I was like, Lord, if you want me to go out on my own, you’ll have to bring clients to me”, and boom, I had five right away like that.

And it was great. I was going along — I was so busy. I didn’t need a Facebook page. I didn’t need a website, I had enough work. 

And just before a COVID hit, I was about to take on three new clients, I was so excited. And then all of a sudden you start getting the calls — we’ve got to close down, we’re not going to be able to move forward right now. And it was like, by the end, beginning of May I have no clients left. It was hard. Wow! That’s amazing! Like the whole rug was pulled out from under you, right? 

Especially when you start to see this, like prospering coming, you know, and but it was like everywhere, and it was just trying to find out like what’s going on what is this virus, and then all businesses are shutting down all sudden, everything’s like shutting down. And I got looped into one of my vendors partnered with a digital marketing guru, who spent millions on Facebook ads. He’s like a genius. And he started things (a course), at no charge for agency owners. So I started taking that. And that was good because it gave me an opportunity to enhance my skills and learn new skills. 

Going back to a year ago, I had heard about accessibility on the web for websites. And I started asking some of my developers that I’ve worked with or developers that I knew like so what do you know about accessibility? Because I just didn’t want to, you know, you go and you Google on the Internet. Like, there’s just so much information. I know, it can be frustrating. And everyone just kind of shrugged me off. But something kept staying inside. Like, this was something I really wanted to look into.

Joe A Simpson Jr  4:03  

Why do you think that is? Or what do you think piqued your interest about accessibility?

Sally Ann  4:08  

So I want to make a difference. And I felt like, I’m everyone’s doing regular digital marketing. And these are a group of people that are not left behind, but not included in everything. And that’s not right. And we should all have the same access to everything in life. And I’m interesting, I’ve been doing some, you know, research and studying, and the Disability Act got signed into law in 2018. For websites, not just like physical locations, right. 

So it’s interesting that like, I came in a year right after that started to be law. And then I was like, “Okay, well, now I need to build a website, you know, so I started meetups to learn how to build a website because I wanted to learn how to do myself.” 

It just makes me a better salesperson and client manager, project manager, you know, knowing how everything works. And that’s when we met. And so I asked Mike, who was the host? I’m like, hey, so what do you know about accessibility? Can you tell me a little bit more? And he’s like, well, “Funny that you ask.” we have Joe A Simpson Jr here.

Joe A Simpson Jr 5:24  

Uh-huh. Yes, I remember. It was funny, because that was early on (during the pandemic). And it was WARM. And I would go out in the backyard to get some peace and quiet because it was too It’s too hot in here (inside a home) in the summer.

Remember? I remember sitting outside at that Meetup. And I remember Mike calling on me. And I always feel try to help. Mike is really awesome. He saw me speak at WordCamp, Orange County, or one of those (events). And I was talking about my heart event. And he said, he was considering stopping the Bakersfield (WordPress) Meetup could because he had, you know, burnt got burned out or  my story inspired him to keep going. And I was like, “Wow, that’s really flattering”. So spin it forward. 

I always would try to drop in. And he’s helped with our WordCamp. And he’s a really awesome guy. But so it was kind of cute that he would say, “Oh, I just happen to have somebody there and call it on me.” So…

Sally Ann  6:21  

That was only one of the only Meetups that you were on. Except I think you were on one like two weeks ago. So you said okay, what we’re doing that was your first Accessibility Day (joint WordPress Meetups) that you, Sumner, and I’m not sure who else was involved.

Joe A Simpson Jr  6:36 


Sally Ann 6:38

Yes, Alicia was later in the day. And I was so excited. And I was just like, taking notes and everything because I love the digital marketing space. And it’s nice to have clients, you know, help them grow their business and make money and all that stuff. But there’s got to be something more and accessibility Was that something more where you’re making a bigger difference impacting people that didn’t have access before allowing them to have access? You know, we heard have some there’s talked about, she had someone in her family, I think, who was blind or couldn’t see well. And when they were had access to an access herbal website was like, the whole world just opened up, you know, did you have that kind of connection? or What was your connection? Or what lit the fire for you?

It just connected with me because we’re doing something to make the world a better place. You know, and I know you mentioned you do charity work as well. 

Joe A Simpson Jr  7:35  

So it seems like you’re always giving, which I mean, to me, you’ve been incredibly kind to me. Can you talk a little bit about what other things you do in terms of charity? And what other things you find? Yeah, passion for?

Sally Ann  7:44  

Yeah. So I think I’ve told you, I’m a cancer survivor three times, I still can’t believe it. I have no family history. So, the first time I went through cancer, I went through my treatments and went back to work and life just carried on, right. And then I was going to create a website. It’s called because you can and it was all going to be motivational verses and scriptures and sayings to motivate people going through cancer, because my experience was a good one. If that’s possible to say, then I’m my mum died, I think, five days after my last treatment, and that was more painful than going through the cancer itself.

Joe A Simpson Jr  8:27  

So was it sudden, or?

Sally Ann  8:29  

Yeah, yeah, she had brain aneurysm. And so I just crawled under a rock for two years, and I never did anything with that website. Then I just went back into the corporate world working, working, working. And I was nine weeks away from my 10 year anniversary, which is huge when I had a recurrence. And so I went and did that that was a harder treatment because it was much more severe. And then I went back to work, and I was there for six months, and I’m back at work just starting to get back into life. And they laid me off, which was really, really hard. Because my whole life was my career in corporate and everything right. But I, after I got laid off, I realized how burned out I was, and I had a decent severance package like took some time off. And I was getting ready to start looking for work again and diagnosed again.

Joe A Simpson Jr  9:29  

Oh my goodness…

Sally Ann  9:30  

And I was just like, Oh my goodness. And but this time, like the second time I didn’t I escaped chemo and escaped chemo. The first time was like, you know, this time I didn’t. And I went through chemo and it was a very much more challenging experience. And I got to see a lot more people going through the cancer. And when I came out, I was like, I’m not going to let chemo changed my life like you don’t, I totally get it now with older people when you try and help them and they don’t want your help, stuff like they don’t want to lose their independence, I can still do this right? 

The thing after chemo, I didn’t want things to change, I want to show chemo that I wasn’t gonna let it change my life overtake my life. And the newspaper had the local relay Relay for Life, which is the American Cancer Society. And they were looking for a survivor chair. And I was like, Okay, I was only like three weeks out of chemo. You know, when your head still spinning? And you’re just like, you know, and then I said, “Okay, if they’re still looking for someone in two weeks, I might do it”. Well, they were so I called person. And like, yes, yes, we need someone. 

So six weeks after chemo. Within that (timeframe), I put together a huge luncheon, survivor luncheon for everyone here. And because I want to prove to myself that I can still do things, I used to do events and promotions and stuff, and it was actual, and then I also did all the social media for them as well. And, and then it also helps you not think about what you have gone through. Right, right. And it ended up being like one of the most successful luncheons that we had. 

And we also Relay for Life one-second favorite charity in the town that I live in. And they’ve been doing this for 14 years, and they never won before. But I don’t think that they’d ever really gone out of court with their digital marketing. I had articles in the newspaper of the teens, and they didn’t have Sally involved. Well, it was great. I mean, it was a team effort. I couldn’t have done it by myself, a lot of my friends came and helped me a lot of volunteers. And we had about 80 people that came. And we also honored and thank the caregivers, because they’re to me, they’re stronger ones. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you don’t have the choice, you have to go through treatments, right. But your caregivers, have that choice to go with you to drive you to chemo to drive you to radiation or whatnot. And they don’t have to do that. And those people that really step up, and they’re the true heroes. So we started off by giving them gifts and honoring them. And because I don’t think they get enough recognition. And a lot of people when I diagnosed everyone sometimes, you know, families move, like the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, my doctor told me how many women’s husbands left them. And that just broke. I just broke my heart. Because I can’t deal with it. Like I have a girlfriend here that that diagnose she’d been married. I don’t know how many years and he did absolutely nothing. And they’ve since gotten divorced. You know…

Joe A Simpson Jr 12:56  

I think that occurs with everything. I mean, I felt like, when I had my heart event, my wife and I had difficult times, because I think a lot of people expect you to continue, you know, if you survived it, you should go back to the way things were. But I know for me, I felt like and it sounds like in your retelling of your history. I know. I was like, I can’t keep living like this, I need to change a lot in my life. But the people around you aren’t willing to change also. So. So that’s where the conflict was. And I feel like even, you know, even now, I feel like that was a dark period because it could have gone. But I was willing to make sure that it was going to continue on. But that kind of stress can really destroy a relationship because and I think part of we had education as part of the rehab for from our heart. And they were saying that it’s really difficult on relationships, because not only you go through an incredible change, but the people around you so so yeah, I totally understand.

Sally Ann  14:05  

Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s hard. It’s something that you don’t think about, you just expect people to be there. You know, like, the people, it’s the people who I thought were going to be there that worked. And the people that I didn’t even know like most of the women from my church that helped me and took me to chemo and made me meals and stuff like that. And I’m like,

Sally Ann 14:27  

Forever grateful to them, you know, to Gabby’s heart. And they didn’t even know me. You know? That’s when sorry. The beauty and kindness of people really come out. Yeah, no.

Joe A Simpson Jr  14:47  

I know for me when I didn’t know and what was incredible about your story, you mentioned that you immediately went back to work a couple of times. Like I didn’t know what I was doing. The impulse to do and one thing I never forget my, my wife was wondering when I was going to go back to work. And I was like, I’m at zero, I don’t know. You know, I was still I couldn’t really get out of bed without passing out. I was like, I don’t know what’s next. 

And one of the nurses that like, and by the way, another piece of good news, I returned to cardio rehab, I guess they’re opening next week. So that’s good. Because they’ve been closed because they were reassigned to the hospital. Oh, well, one of the rehab therapists, came to my bedside. And I call her my angel. Because she just appeared, and she gave me a path forward. I didn’t know what my life was going to be like, I would have probably gone back to work. 

But I’m so glad that I did. And like you said, those people that really your cells, unsung people that got me through, I mean, nothing against family and friends. But it was those people were those people that don’t really know you that really, like, for instance, there’s one person in therapy, who always asked me questions that I need somebody to ask me that no one else asked me and I’m, so I’m going to be so happy to see her because she’s the only one that cares about me in that way. And it’s not, you know, it’s not mean to say about other people. But she asked me the questions that if I was asking someone, it shows that they’re genuinely interested in my well-being so…

Sally Thoun  16:26  

Part of it is that people don’t understand. People get scared. They don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to do. So you know, now that I’ve gone through cancer three times, I really learned so much the third time where I really had to go through chemo. And I’m changing the concept of the website to show people how to support people going through cancer, because now no longer will people that will say, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I’m going to let them know that.

Joe A Simpson Jr  16:54  

And I’m, what do you feel is important to teach people or what, what’s going to be the gist of your information?

Sally Ann  17:00  

Well, I think the hardest part is to stay silent. Like I, the night I found out my old roommate from LA texted me. And I just found out he said, Hey, I just found out I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Praise God. It’s only stage two. I just found out that stage because there were two weeks in my life that after I had surgery in the hospital, I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. They don’t tell you anything. They won’t tell you.

Joe A Simpson Jr  17:26  

And why won’t they tell you anything?

Sally Ann  17:29  

Because if they do say something that’s not like, and it’s not correct, and that patients get mad at them, they can open themselves up to liability. They don’t tell you anything. So when I was in the hospital, I kind of wanted to know, so I ask all the nurses I’m like, okay, so you’ve taken care of women with stage four ovarian cancer before, right? And they’re like, Yes, and I go, were they sick? Like me sick? Less sick? And they’re like, no, they were more sick. So I knew I wasn’t stage four. But I knew I wasn’t stage one, you know. And so you know, you sit there for two weeks, and everything just goes through your mind while you’re waiting for the pathology report to come back to see what stage you are. And when I found out I just was just so grateful and thanking God because to me, it was the best of the worst news because with ovarian cancer, only 15% of cases are caught early. You know? So being one 5%? Yes. It’s very small. It’s a very deadly disease for women. 

And you know, it’s interesting, because there’s the national ovarian cancer Association, and they do a big annual conference that all a lot of the pharmaceutical companies contribute to pay for survivors to go. And I was chosen to go It was actually in Chicago. And I went, and it was really surreal, because you’re with all these women who have had ovarian cancer, but there’s like a girl there. That was like 21. And she had like a year to live if that. So she was from Australia, and she was doing a trip to the states with her sister. While she could still do and it was just hard, you know? Yeah. And I never went back just because I have a really good girlfriend who used to do this a lot. 

And she would go on Capitol Hill, you know, and rally, you know, for more studies and funding for Varian cancer, and she said every year she’d go back, a lot of the women before weren’t there and it just got too hard for her. You know, it’s really really hard. But um, you know, when you go through cancer, you’re so many people helped you like I remember I was going through treatment on Valentine’s Day and I really want to do something for the nurses. Because these people are so special. They’re there day in and day out with people getting cancer going through their chemo treatments, right. So I couldn’t really bake a lot so I could, you know, probably big a little bit so I asked all the women at my church Would anyone like to help me Bake for all the nurses at, you know, my cancer center? 

Well, so many people came forward on Valentine’s Day my car was packed with cupcakes and cooked really nice things and everything and brownies. And I brought it in and just we just covered the whole nurse’s station and just thank you. And, you know, I want to make sure the people who clean the floors that night and make sure everybody gets it, you know, and, and it was way it was my way to get back to them like to thank them because it’s a thankless job, you know, and I was very grateful for the people that work at the cancer center. It’s not easy, you know, to see people coming in and, you know, being so sick, where was the hospital was it you are done, okay.

So my treat so my surgeries were at UCLA in LA. But they didn’t want me I live in Central California now. And they didn’t want me commuting four hours for chemo. So there’s a center up here that’s affiliated with UCLA. Okay, so I went there, and but you know, these people who take you they’re giving up their whole day, you know, it’s an hour, an hour and a half to get there, then they stay with you all day, and then they drive me home. Like, that’s a lot to ask for people. 

And I’m just, you know, forever grateful. So, um, so after my treatments finish, and I did mean, the survivor lunch. It was great, because it’s like, Yes, I still got it. chemo hasn’t won me over, I can do this. You know. And my Cancer Center has a nonprofit called the conscience counting Cancer Foundation, where people donate money, and they help you with your medical bills, because it’s expensive, cancers expensive and insurance doesn’t cover it all. You know, and, and they actually helped me because I didn’t have enough money to pay all of my medical bills. So my way to give back was they asked me that year if I would be their survivor chair. And they do fundraising through the year. 

And then in October is a big, they do a big run. And then they have like a whole bunch of different vendors there. Oh, actually, it’s called camp out against cancer. And people go in camp out for two days, and they all kinds of activities, and we have vendor fairs and all that stuff. So one of the things I wanted to bring in was good nutrition. Because when you go through cancer, you know, you shouldn’t sugar, sugar, you know, made my pain and my legs worse and everything. So I brought in a couple of farmers and we did a farmers market there, which is really cool. And it just allowed me to give back to help them to help so they can help other you know, cancer survivors down the road.

Joe A Simpson Jr  22:48  

Hmm, you got such a kind heart.

Sally Ann  22:50  

You know… It’s like… I think I was given a second chance at life…

And I want to make a count [sobbing]… You know.. you are.. you.. sorry. 

Joe A Simpson Jr  23:03  

That’s all right, that’s all right.

What an incredibly emotional interview. We’ll pick up on this and part two of this podcast next time. But as you can see, Sally has been incredibly important to me because we’ve connected My mom is currently fighting a battle against cancer currently. And Sally’s really been there for me to talk me through some of my darkest times. memo to sell random musings while out and about in Los Angeles during the pandemic. Lots of things were canceled, including my maintenance program for more cardio health at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital here in Santa Clarita. 

So to make up for any activity that resulted from that cancellation, and keep my cardio maintenance going, I decided to begin walking Hillcrest Parkway again. Here in Castaic. It’s a pretty steep hill, I think it is about a 1200 foot difference in elevation from the top to the bottom. And I would do it each morning. And for me as a heart patient, as someone that takes high blood pressure medicine, I need to do this walk before it gets too hot here in Southern California. So what I do is I try to leave five minutes before the sun rises. And in the summer, that makes a big difference because once the sun rises in Southern California, it gets hot really fast. So the other reason for two is that it’s nice and quiet. The air is nice and fresh. It’s a lot fewer cars on the road and I get to be mindful In the morning. So this episode, I wanted to share my new telecommuting experience, or I should say, telecommuting experience that my neighbors, so as I walk up the hill, I make sure I get eye contact with folks that I want to get run over, I try to walk in the street because the asphalt is a lot Kinder on my knees than the concrete. So I try to get eye contact. And the funniest thing about my morning uphill, or my sunrise walk is noticing what people are doing in the morning as they head down the hill. The sun is rising, and again, folks are headed towards the east or down the hill. So the sun’s in their eyes. In addition for grabbing at their visor, which is understandable, I’ve seen quite a few things. And the funniest is, there’s this gentleman and he drives a Tesla. And he has his laptop up. And it looks like he’s actually working as he’s driving down the hill, which is the ultimate California thing, which is the ultimate and distracting dry distracted drivers. And another thing that I needed to document just so that I believed it actually happened. Thanks again for joining me on back down memory lane. Hopefully in the coming months, we’ll have some more interesting conversations with some of the most interesting people in my life postcard event. We’ll see you next week. Take care.


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