Woman behind Farmer Dolls faces cancer
Kam Elliott has been sharing her day-to-day photos from the fields and pastures around Durango, Colo., for about four years. Like many social media accounts, @farmerdolls began as a way to share photos of the scenery and the American flags on the tractors she drives as part of her job farming and haying in the area. As she shared tractor cab selfies, photos of baby calves, and of the cowboy girl work, more and more followers joined. Elliott said it surprised her so many people were so unfamiliar with where their food comes from, so she kept sharing.
Knowing she isn’t the stereotypical male farmer consumers may picture in their mind’s eye, she said she also tried to put a face to farming and to women in agriculture who are working directly in production agriculture. An introvert by nature, Elliott said sharing so much about her life was challenging but has become worth it, especially in recent months.
Her photos and reels (short videos with audio on social media) run the gamut and reflect her life — some days spent in a tractor cab, other days sorting calves, some days covered in grease working on equipment, and some wearing fringe and red lipstick. Elliott is also a co-host of the Huddle Company podcast. With a cast of women in agriculture, the podcast is known for hosting “huddle magic” and raising funds a few quarters at a time to benefit someone in agriculture in need.
In none of the photos she has posted, did it appear that basal cell carcinoma was present on her cheek. Several years ago, she was helping her husband, who owns a welding shop, and received a small spark burn while welding overhead. The tiny burn didn’t heal, and by her own admission, Elliott said she waited entirely too long to make an appointment with a dermatologist. When she finally did, biopsies were collected, and she was diagnosed with cancer three days later. The burn, she said, didn’t heal because cancer surrounded it. That was in January of 2022.
“I would have never known,” she said. “I would have never known.”
Elliott faced a six-hour surgery during which she was awake and numbed multiple times with lidocaine injections. On March 14, her surgical team removed a nearly 2-inch portion of her nose, including her nostril but they were able to remove the cancer without radiation or chemotherapy. A second surgery followed on March 17 to perform a skin graft.
On March 22, Elliott posted a video update that showed the stitches on her face from her cancer surgery. One social media platform, TikTok, removed the video for containing “violent and graphic” content. On Instagram, the video has received more than 70 million views. Elliott said the views are amazing, but the direct messages she has received have made all the difference to her. She has received messages from people in agriculture who have taken the step to make an appointment with a dermatologist, and a woman reached out who saw her dermatologist after seeing Elliott’s post. That ag producer was also diagnosed with cancer and Elliott said she has been able to be a source of strength and support for her.
As the stitches were removed, Elliott posted a series of photos of her in a red dress, cowboy boots, and a felt cowboy hat in a pasture with cow calf pairs. She is smiling and wearing red lipstick. That photo prompted a message from a young girl with facial scars who told her mother she didn’t often see beautiful women on the internet who look like her.
Elliott said she had no intention of showing her post-op face on social media until she came home from an appointment and prayed, asking what she was supposed to do with the experience.
“More clearly than I’ve ever heard before, He said to share this, it’s going to help someone,” she said.
With so much of this surgery coinciding with springtime calving and the beginning of fieldwork and planting season, so many weeks cooped up in the house healing has been difficult, she said. After her initial surgery, her sister-in-law, a wound care nurse, stayed with her. She warned Elliott that after the second surgery, she may not be happy with what she saw in the mirror. She said when she removed the bandages, she was surprised with how good it looked and how the doctor was able to fill the hole and cover the area.
Elliott had another surgery on April 21 to rebuild her nose with a piece of cartilage from the back of her ear.
“We’re praying for this new plan — he’s going to take the top of my ear off and rebuild my nose and it’ll be covered for three weeks, we won’t be able to see it at all for three weeks,” she said. “Then on May 12, he’ll take it off and we’ll see if it lived. I’m praying that it will live and be fine.”
The worst-case scenario, she said, is a second rebuilding surgery that will require an open flap on her forehead to supply blood flow to her repaired nose. This procedure would require her to remain inside for a month to avoid infection.
She’s hopeful that she’ll be ready to take the wheel baling the first cutting of hay, though she admits once haying begins, there won’t be any easing into the long and late hours. More than anything, though, she said she hopes other farmers and ranchers are inspired to visit their doctor rather than waiting.
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