Posts from February, 2011

Ann’s Diary: Radiation Ray, Part Three

I stood there, still unsure of what to say–but pretty clear now on what had happened, and pretty clear on what was about to happen.
Ray didn’t know who I was, and I had to tell him.
I felt bad–bad for Ray that he didn’t know who I was and that once I told him it might be embarrassing.  And fighting off a creeping sorry-for-myself feeling, too.  I mean, did I really look that bad?
“Ray,” I said, coming out of my growing pity party to focus on the tall, sweet gentleman who’d been so good and kind to me these last 5 weeks (this really was turning into the king of all awkward moments,)
“Ray, I AM Ann Murray.”
Dead silence.  Now it was his turn to be confused.
The entire moment–as well as the minutes afterward when I explained it all to Ray–were caught on film, and Linda and I have those tapes in a safety deposit box with the rest of the 100 min-DV films taped during the making of The Breast Cancer Diaries. Unfortunately, like the back story before it, it was impossible to weave the tale of Ann the Anchor and Radiation Ray into the film.  It was too far removed from the main story of Ann beating cancer’s butt and getting back on the horse of her life.
But the relationship that I have with Ray is now stronger than ever.  The stories we have together, begun in the radiation room and prequel-ed with the whole “I met Ann Murray once” flashback have made us lifelong friends.
In fact, on the day I finished my last radiation back in 2004, I went out to my car and found half a dozen whoopie pies nestled in a pink box on the hood of my car.  “Not all at once, okay?” was the note from Ray and his wife–also my new friend–Nancy.  I burst into tears.  Just like I did this week, 7 years later, when the UPS man delivered a full dozen wicked whoopie pies to my door. “A little bit of home for you” was the note from Ray and Nancy.
Which is why the next time somebody in an audience asks me if there’s something that happened during the filming of The Breast Cancer Diaries movie that we had to cut that I wish we could have left in, along with my husband’s 7 seconds of skin, I’ll say,
“Yes. Radiation Ray.”
Posted February 28th, 2011 by
Ann's Diary:  Radiation Ray, Part Three
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Radiation Ray Part 2

And Ray went on:
“I met her once at Kristina’s Restaurant.  She was having lunch just before she had her baby and she hadn’t been on TV at Channel 6 forever.  And I stopped over and even though my wife didn’t want me to bother her, I had to tell her that she was my favorite news reporter and I couldn’t wait to have her come back after her maternity leave.”
I stood there, completely lost.  What was he talking about? And then it hit me like a key light falling from the rafters on a well-lit television set.  I remembered that guy.  I remember the fan who’d stopped by my table as I shoved a hefty caesar salad into my pregnant stomach and prayed that my water would break so I could have my body back.  I remember him saying how he loved to see me out on the sidewalks in a snowstorm with my big suede hat, telling people that it was, in fact, snowing. I looked at tall, affable Ray and realized–this is THAT guy!
And then–oh my word he has no idea who I am.
He has NO IDEA that Ann the savvy television anchor he adored and Ann the sick cancer patient he sees every week day of the week (and likely pities every night when he and Nancy go home after work) are ONE AND THE SAME person.
AND–he has no idea that that was me last night anchoring that live PBS show either.  He thinks I was working on the show– behind the scenes.
Linda had the camera rolling, picking up every sound–but the silence was deafening.  I still just stood there.  My mind was racing.
And then I knew why he didn’t know me.  I’d never talked about my former TV job while strapped to the radiation table.  It was too many worlds away from what I was in the middle of now with this beating-back-cancer diagnosis.  And being a tiny, gray-skinned, hairless and breastless cancer patient, I in no way resembled the bold tv reporter who’d used her bilingual skills to help blow the lid off the Decoster Egg Farm-migrant worker scandal in Turner a few years back, or celebrated the comeback of the Androscoggin River every spring.
And because I came into the office registered with my married name, Ann Paige, not Ann Murray, my television name, Ray would never have made the connection that I was actually Ann MURRAY Paige, former NBC StormCenter queen and Lewiston Bureau turned anchor reporter who left WCSH6 after she had her baby and turned up hosting civic affairs programs on Maine PBS for the last 6 years….including last night.
Oh my word.  How weird is THIS? And…. what do I do now?
Posted February 27th, 2011 by
Ann's Diary:  Radiation Ray Part 2
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Radiation Ray, Part One

One of the questions I get asked from an audience every time I speak about my film The Breast Cancer Diaries is this:  “Was there anything in the film that you couldn’t include that you wish you could have?”

My joking answer is, “Yes–there’s about 7 extra seconds of my husband walking in front of my diary camera in his boxer shorts that I wanted to keep, but for time sake we had to cut.”  After the laughter, I usually say, “No, it’s all in there.”
That is until this week, when a dozen whoopie pies arrived at my doorstep and I remembered that there was an entire story line that did not make air.
Let me back up:
In 2004, after my bilateral mastectomy and 8 rounds of dose-dense chemotherapy, I had 25 rounds of radiation to go before my breast cancer treatments were over. When I arrived at the Bath, ME facility to start the zapping, I was scared.
This tall, affable, lovely man named Ray told me he would be my radiation technician. That means he’d help me up onto the long flat table, bind my feet so I didn’t move, and close the big, metal door that said “DANGER: KEEP OUT” separating me, on the wrong side of the danger door, from the outside world that did not have cancer. He’d also come back inside the room in between the 3 radiation hits to make sure I hadn’t moved–so that the invisible beams were hitting the exact right spots to hopefully keep my cancer from ever coming back.  I was still scared but Ray–or Radiation Ray as I kiddingly started to call him–was so kind that he made me feel better every time I went.
When you have that kind of a close (every day) but brief (the treatments lasted 10 minutes tops) relationship with someone, even a stranger, you talk.  And you bond.  I told Ray about my kids, my husband, my love of whoopie pies (a New England cake-like snack), and that I freelanced at Maine PBS. He told me the sometimes-receptionist at the radiation front desk was his wife, that they lived in a darling old home on a hill in Bath, and that he often worked behind the scenes at the local “Chocolate Church” production house.  Over the 6 weeks we saw each other about a half an hour every week day, and I really began to see Ray not just as a technician but as a friend.
And it was with that kind of friend-to-friend excitement that I came into radiation one day toward the end of my treatments and told Ray that I was getting back to work at PBS.  I was doing a show that night in fact, and since I hadn’t had the energy or strength to work since my diagnosis 6 months earlier I was very excited–and nervous, too–to “get back on the horse” as they say.  I was going to be normal again, if only for one night.  Ray was thrilled for me!  He promised that he and his wife Nancy would watch. He’d put sticky notes up so as not to forget–and we’d talk about the show the next day when I came in for my regularly scheduled radiation.
That night I did the show, I went on air again.  Seeing HOST, ANN MURRAY, as the credits rolled was a much needed boost for my cancer-weary soul.  With a wig and professional make-up I’d anchored an hour long civic affairs program on education in the state of Maine.  It went off without a hitch–I even threw off my fake breasts 10 minutes to air and said “let it be!” and no one noticed the difference–and I couldn’t wait to ask Ray what he thought.  Could he believe that skinny, sick patient he strapped onto his radiation table each day was the same strong anchor woman who nailed that PBS show the night before?
The film’s director (and my sister-in-law and friend) Linda Pattillo and I went into the office the next day with the camera rolling. Ray met us at the entrance to the treatment area and I smiled a wide smile.  “Did you watch the show?” I grinned.  “Yes I did!” Ray beamed.  And then he said,
“You know, I met Ann Murray once.  She was always my favorite when she worked at WCSH6.”
I stood there, confused.  Surely he was kidding. I was Ann Murray.  What did he mean by that?
Posted February 26th, 2011 by
Ann's Diary:  Radiation Ray, Part One
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Ticket To Ride

Do you like amusement parks? Or more specifically, do you like roller coaster rides?

Grab a handrail and read on, because if I’m not on the biggest loop-de-loop of a life I don’t know what I’m on…

I got amazingly GREAT news from my oncologist yesterday.  This is the same oncologist who, like my lung oncologist after my surgery last week, saw all kinds of cancer in my pulmonary region and thought “Oh sh-t, this girl needs chemo.”

But three days ago, my tumor markers came back–the ones that had been stabilizing a month ago and then faked me out when all this cancer was found–and are reading not just stable but DROPPING.  And not just dropping a few percentage points but really plunging downward, in one case by almost 50 percent!

Did you lose your breath?  Join the club.  As my sister-cousin said to me yesterday when she got this latest news, “I don’t think we’re tall enough to be on this ride!”  (She lives near Disneyland.)

Seriously, this is nuts.  One day we’re up, one day we’re down.  Yesterday I’m preparing my kids for a hairless, exhausted shell of a mother and today I’m dancing toward them with their breakfast plates full of food I just cooked because I had the energy–and the hope–that goes along with good news.

How’d it happen? It’s hard for a non-medical person to explain it, but the doctors said something like:  the cancer they found, which on first blush looked like new cancer, is really likely old cancer that they hadn’t realized was there.  And part of the reason they hadn’t realized it is because I look, act and am trying to be as healthy, active and as upbeat as I can. In other words, I don’t act like a cancer ‘patient’–if there is a definition to that, and I’m not sure there is. We patients go through a whole load of junk on this journey and who we are changes and morphs every which way throughout the experience.  I don’t recommend a ticket to this ride.

But for now, I have to thank you for helping me out.  I know this is exhausting for you as well as for me, and as my husband asked me last night, “Do you think we’ll suffer from ‘friend fatigue’?  Do you think at some point our friends are just gonna bow out because this is all too much for them?”  I thought about that for a second;  certainly that could happen. Hell I’m fatigued and it’s happening to me.  If I could step off this ridiculous ride I would, so why not you?

So I figure this:  if you need to bow out for awhile and get some popcorn, a drink and a long walk far away from this Spacey Mountain, you go right ahead.  We will not hold that against you.  (And if you could some day take my husband with you and buy him a

beer(s) so he could forget about this for a nano-second, I’ll buy the drinks.)

This is a ride I’ll be on for the rest of my life, and I don’t expect any of you to hang on to every twist, lift and plummet. I really don’t.

But I do want you to be there when this terrifying machine has slowed down and I can unclench the handrail and catch my breath–vibrant, healthy, and tall enough to have withstood the ride.

Posted February 23rd, 2011 by
Ann's Diary:  Ticket To Ride
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Ann’s Diary: Motivate

Motivation is hard to find in my life this week–which I’ve already told you.

And today, having broken the news to our children about upping my cancer battle game with chemotherapy in a few weeks, motivation is even harder.  People may think “don’t your kids’ faces motivate you enough?” and I can honestly say “yes–and no.”  Yes because they need me and I want to live to help guide them in their futures.  But no in the sense that inadvertently dragging them through this truly breaks my heart. When she should be worrying about when that next play date will be and he should be more concerned with what kind of 12th birthday party he should plan,  they’re worrying about losing me. What kid deserves that?

So when I opened an email from my brother-in-law this week I got an unexpected boost.  Stephen is an athlete and he’s been running, biking, hiking and freewheeling his way around the country with his wife for decades.  If there’s a mountain in the way, Stephen climbs it–literally.  His reasons for doing so are always those that a non-athlete like me doesn’t understand: because I can.

Today he’s doing this crazy 24 hour bike ride–one that you don’t sleep through.  I have to state that because although it seems obvious to not sleep through a day long bike ride I just have to repeat it.  He doesn’t S-L-E-E-P.  Not only that but he BIKES the whole time.  It’s like a college all-nighter, minus the coffee and doritos, add a bike and ride it from college campus to the next state or 200 miles–whichever comes first.

But for Stephen–and this is unusual for him–he was having trouble finding his motivation.  He writes,

“I considered raising money for some worthy cause – kids, Africa, Bangladesh, Haiti,.. – but I couldn’t raise enough determination to ask all my friends and family for money for something that was ultimately serving to motivate me to ride my bike … (But) tonight..I found myself getting stoked all over again for the ride.  And I know in large part I have you to thank… Your battle has been a wonder to watch. Your determination, hope, attitude – despite the underlying unknowns and easy access to doubt – have put me in the best frame of mind I could possibly ask for for this insignificant undertaking.”

I’ve been a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a (lousy) godmother, and a friend: but I’ve never been a motivation for an athlete before.  I have to tell you, it feels pretty good.

He sent me a photo of himself and his bike–and taped to the front is my picture.  He finishes his email saying,

“You and I have our own races going on. Mine’s shorter and way easier. But you and I will go through them together. “

So while I struggle to find my motivation to get through my future, today I’ll also be doing laps on the front of a racing bike with the breeze blowing through my inkjet-printed hair hanging on for dear life and pushing my bro-in-law Stephen through his paces to find his motivation to win his battle, too.

Wish us both luck.


Posted February 19th, 2011 by
Ann's Diary:  Motivate
Posted in: Ann's Diary