Posts from May, 2013

Ann’s Diary: To Medical Staff Everywhere

The good news about my life is I have fantastic people around me.  So fantastic in fact that they are selling “positivity bracelets” in my honor at two local stores.

So yesterday, having one of the worst physical days in a while, I had to go to the imaging department to get an x-ray.  I’m standing there, feeling like I’d been run over by a truck, and the sweet, bright-eyed woman at the desk looks at me and says, “Hello! Welcome to imaging.  Can I have your name and date of birth?”

I looked at her and thought, well I’m glad she’s got a smile on her face.  It makes the pain in my heart just a little less hard to bear. Then I answered her with my name and my birth date.   She then shrinks up her shoulders and giggles a little and says to me, “Oh my goodness.  You do NOT look that old!”

Now mind you, this is the visual of me at that moment:  sweat pants and t-shirt, no boobs, no hair, hat on my head, glasses, chills, fever and body aches– and about 9 years of cancer battling on my emotional shoulders.  In other words, I look like hell.  But this girl–I tell you, she wasn’t a faker. Her face was genuine. Her demeanor was real. She actually liked her job–I could see that. Plus, there were so many things she could have said.  She could have said, “okay Ms. Paige, have a seat,” just as easily.  There was no need to fill a void of verbal space by throwing fake compliments my way.  It’s a busy clinic–I was about to sit down.  But then she–I’ll call her K– said that–and I could have cried.

I pulled off one of my positivity bracelets and passed it on to her.  I said, “You don’t know how much that one tiny little comment just balanced some of the junk I’m dealing with in my day.”  I explained the point of the bracelet–you buy them in a pack of three and you pass one off to anyone whose random act of kindness makes you feel just a bit better.  And as luck would have it, the color I’d purchased also matched K’s outfit…

So to K–and to all the people who work in hospitals and imaging centers across the country and around the world: you will never know how much your simple smile, your upbeat attitude, your knowing glance or your tiny bit of extra kindness means to those of us trudging through the crap of cancer.  Sure you do it every day.  Sure you see us in various stages of grumpiness, irritation, exhaustion and just plain anger at being shoved down a road none of us ever thought or expected to be on.  It must be exhausting for you to do what you do every day–see the sad ones in life–and not want to ditch your job and go work at a salad bar or a coffee store where people are just wondering whether they should add tomatoes or an extra shot into their fun, foaming latte.

But for all of us on the other side of your desk, I want you to know that who you are and how you smile and show up for us patients matters.  It matters BIG TIME.

And if you ever wonder if you make a difference in this world wonder no more–

because you do.


Posted May 31st, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: To Medical Staff Everywhere
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Wish Me Luck

One of the worst things about battling this friggin disease is how everyone else around me battles it, too.

They don’t have breast cancer, of course (and thank God)–but they go through their own trauma watching me go through mine.

I have friends who’ve backed off, friends who’ve stayed present, friends who see me in 40 years rocking in chairs at the nursing home with them and friends who are marking my gravestone.  It runs the gammit.

And I know I should be strong enough to put everyone in their box and think, “It doesn’t matter what they think; it matters what I THINK.  And I think I’m gonna beat this beast.”

But to be brutally honest, there are days when the negative feelings, the sideways worries and the lack of hope and faith around me about my future gets me down.  That’s the way it is, and that’s just life.  I can’t change it.  I can however, work through it and get passed it.

Send me some good thoughts, will you?

And wish me luck. Always.

Posted May 29th, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: Wish Me Luck
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Angelina’s Decision

One of the hardest things about this cancer journey is realizing my immature behavior. Please know I am not proud of what I’m about to admit. And understand that I write this down for the world to read if only to look at it myself and try to understand it. And that’s just so that I have a shot at getting passed it and through it, so that I can stop feeling like this…

I’ve had numerous people ask me what I think about Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy because she has the gene that predisposes her to breast cancer. And I have to tell you each and every time I get asked it’s all I can do to not say “Who cares?”

Now of course I don’t truly feel like that about Angelina Jolie.  I wish her health and hope always, as a woman. As a mother. As a wife, as a daughter…etc. What’s truly going on for me is this: I feel angry about the world’s attention to a starlet who has every opportunity to tell her story, via a New York Times Op-Ed piece, interviews that will definitely be coming on Oprah, and every single magazine cover in the market today including TIME magazine. I am jealous and upset at the attention her “brave” choice–that’s what the headlines are calling it–is getting.  And why is that?

Because: this whole thing crashes up against the reality of my life as it is now. I’m a nobody who can’t get even one speaking engagement unless I happen to be receiving an award at the event.  I’m a person who’s been forced to make dozens of “brave” choices for the last 9 years and it’s all I can do to update my website with photos of me and 6 local girl scouts. Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie makes a non-life-threatening decision based on personal medical history and the spotlight shines on her in ways I would give my teeth to have. And what’s ahead? I’ll call it now: Angelina Jolie will be deigned the “woman who helped save millions with her “brave” decision” to remove her breasts and have them replaced. And I’ll be lucky if the folks at the dry cleaners give me back the right shirts.

I know life is not fair. I know it’s not important to be a celebrity. I know this is how society works–what glitters gets attention. And I realize I have helped hundreds of folks in my own small, tiny, itty-bitty  way–and with luck I will keep doing so for many years to come. But I am inwardly outraged at life as it is playing out now in the cancer headlines and it has nothing to do with Angelina Jolie the future cancer survivor.  Many will listen to her story and read it and absorb it and maybe duplicate it–and save their own lives.  Bravo!  I am thrilled! How could I not be–it’s exactly what I’m doing.  But damn, she sure jumped waaaaaay ahead of me in the make-a-difference category.

So if you ask me about Angelina’s decision to take off her breasts prophylactically and I reply thoughtfully, “It’s her decision. I applaud anybody’s choice to get to their own path of health,” just smile and believe me.

And I will work hard to start to believe me too.

Posted May 20th, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: Angelina's Decision
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Spinning Out

Some days I swear I’m moving backwards in time.

I don’t mean health wise–as in when I was cancer free and never dreamed I’d get it.  That would be a nice problem to have–but no..

I mean emotionally.

Lately I have been strangely pubescent in moods.  I’m fine.  Then I’m sad.  I’m happy.  Then I’m upset.  At whom is usually the other crazy thing–at people whom I love and who love me.

People who have been nothing but generous and kind, thoughtful and helpful.  Folks who have my best interests at heart 24/7 who, if they knew they’d offended me, would be devastated.  I look at these folks and think, “Ann, all is well. There’s nothing wrong here. It’s just your life. Your life is f-cked up with this cancer and you can’t possibly expect smooth sailing all the time.”

And I reply, “I know, I know–but why can’t I stop feeling like crap?”  And I say back, “I don’t know but get a grip.  You must.  So maybe your peeps make minor verbal faux pas’ that they don’t know bother you.  Tell them and they’ll stop.”

“No, I can’t,” I retort, mad at me for not understanding this cancer space I’m stuck in that forces 95 percent of this awkward, awful headspace into my brain. “I can’t say anything because a) I don’t understand it myself and b) if I try to explain then my pals will walk on egg shells around me afterwards, worried they’ll mess up.  I can’t have that–that’s like another kind of cancer, a social cancer, where you’re something nobody wants to be around.”

“Alllrighty then,” I stare at myself, one eyebrow up and the other hovering over my other disbelieving-what-it’s-hearing eye. “I think you need to take a holiday. Step off, step out–get away from yourself for a while.  You’re going crackers.”

“Yeah, that’s genius,” I think sarcastically.  “Thanks for the hot tip. Like I didn’t know that.  I came here for answers.  You don’t have answers, you have observations.  I already know I’m spinning out.  I need help to slow the hell down.”

“Well,” I say out loud at me, taking stock in the fact that I’m actually talking to myself–“if I don’t have the answers, who does?”

Of course there is counseling. Of course I will figure this out, eventually.  But lately, this maze of myself has been a hard puzzle to move through–and that’s where the conversation ends today.

And that’s where it begins all over again tomorrow.


Posted May 13th, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: Spinning Out
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Boston Strong

I am not typically political, but today is different.

So much has been going on in this country, in the world and in my life this past month that I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight in my head, never mind write anything down coherently here. The dust is settling and I’ve found a quiet moment.  My mind is still spinning but my fingers have found their way to the keyboard.

What really overwhelmed my ability to write this last month was the Boston Marathon Bombings.  Just the thought that people from another country would come to the United States and use the system here for their own benefit and then attempt to destroy it drives me insane.

I have a lot of friends who find fault with the United States and its political decisions; I have a lot of friends who are from other countries.  I know people who live in countries where suicide bombers exist and detonate themselves in the name of God. Or politics. Or both. I love my friends, they love me, and neither of us like the violence: but my friend is used to it, because it’s what happens where she lives.

I know people who have started recent conversation with, “well this happens in (pick a country) every day, why do the Americans make such a big deal out of it?” My answer is: because we don’t do that here. It’s not our style as a civilian country. We leave the politics to the politicians, whom we voted for–because we get to vote in this country in the first place, by the way. And I know no one in my world who is so short-sigthed, so arrogant, so ignorant and so reckless as to think that terrorism does any good, never mind change anything that the terrorist is trying to change. All it does it make us afraid.

But I do know some amazing people in this country: take all those amazing people, runners, bystanders, medical people, police, fire, rescue–all of those humans who jumped in to help on Marathon Monday in the streets of Boston, my old stomping grounds. I was so proud to be from the Boston area, more proud than I was ill at watching the spectacle from so many miles away–and that’s saying something, because I felt ILL.

I know people who don’t understand “it all” but when they don’t get it they either write a letter to congress, start a campaign, run for office or sit back and shut up.  I know of no one who thinks that because others in other countries blow people up to make their point that this country shouldn’t be any different.

This country IS different.  That’s one of the many reasons I am proud to live here, to work here, to raise my family here and to be an American, even with all the wrongs and mistakes and history that this country has, good and bad.  I love this country. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t blow anybody up.  I’d just pick up my suitcase and leave.

Which is what I invite anybody who doesn’t like it here to do: just leave. Nobody’s making you stay here.  But blowing people up and killing in the name of anything is just plain evil.

As a breast cancer fighter I fight for my life every day. I am horrified that anyone would be so arrogant as to think that stealing a healthy life–or 4 in this case, and maiming and/or mentally scarring 173 others–has any place in this country, never mind this world.

It shouldn’t happen in other countries, either–but this is my country. This is my home. And I am proud to live here.

I thank each and every person out there who had anything to do with showing the world that in the worst of circumstances, the city of Boston and all those who traveled there that day were and still are “Boston Strong.”  That’s the term that’s being used to describe the city in the days and weeks after the devastating violence: BOSTON STRONG.  I love that.

It’ll take a long time for the city to heal from this nauseating robbery of faith, hope and life, but I know Boston will get there. And as one of the city’s biggest fans, I’ll be cheering the city on from my chemo chair. Because as I punch away at my own personal terrorist, metastatic breast cancer in the brain, liver, and lung, I know I can do this: I know I can win.  I have faith in myself,

after all, I’m from Boston.  And I’m Boston Strong, too.





Posted May 1st, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: Boston Strong
Posted in: Ann's Diary