Posts from July, 2013

Ann’s Diary: Sandy Speaks

This is a guest post by my husband, Sandy Paige, who watched me go through my recent trial with a dear friend of mine as described in the blog post “This Old House.”  Here is his take on it, and on life with a cancer wife.

NO SUPRISE AT ALL by Sandy Paige

Often times when I am asked questions about how Ann is doing, I know that people are also wondering  “how would I or my loved one react in a similar situation?” The answers I give most often are along the following lines: Your loved one will probably react to cancer as they do their biggest challenges in their life so far. It won’t surprise you.  If they need to get away and be alone, they will need to do more of that. If they need family and friends around a lot, they will make that happpen. If they are data-driven and want to know statistics and percentages, they will seek them out. The opposite is also true – if they need to plow ahead with optimism and not get bogged down in irrelevant population-based data – they will do that.

I know this because I watch my beautiful wife — with no surprise at all. None of her heroics surprise me, precisely because she was heroic before she had cancer.  These characteristics that surprise everybody are why I fell in love with her — and have fallen more in love over the past 16 years – more than half of which have now been colored by cancer.

Her co-creation of a documentary to track her experience and put it on the film circuit? A one-woman show? Speaking at Mass General’s The 100 Event? No surprise for this journalist, plebian (?) and motivational speaker.

That the documentary and speaking engagements always end with a positive tone of hope and humor? No surprise at all for this hilarious, Irish Catholic girl.

That she would select double-mastectomy when a single could have been supported? No surprise at all for a mother seeking to maximize every possible chance to stay with her children and whose husband shares her goals and priorities.

But she’s not the only one who will perform in line with expectations.  You . . .the best friend . . . will also react in line with your best, and worst, emotions and styles.  As we have traveled on this journey together, I have often struggled to be the right mate in sickness and health.  There are two things Ann needs that sometimes feel contradictory to my simplistic, male, one-track mind.  On one hand, she has often said she doesn’t want to be around weakness during this journey, that is drags her down and makes her feel sick.  So, I try to be strong her confident wing-man on this cancer road-trip.   On the other hand, she doesn’t want to be around fakeness or blindness to reality. But how do I do both . . . and at the right moment?  Where are the flashing sign-posts telling me which day it is – which road to take?

What I have learned (or maybe re-learned) recently is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it so often is.  Ann doesn’t want one or the other from me, there are true moments for both. But I’ll never know which friend she needs unless I’m plugged into the daily cancer grind, create the time to talk, find quiet places for just two friends to connect.  Only at that moment we can laugh and cry together — and both easily become the right thing to do.

As her husband, I’m her best friend. But I’m not her only friend. And true friends all learn the same way . . . by doing it right, and also by doing it wrong, but professing undying love throughout.  When we miss the mark, we stand back up and try again.  We stand up, dust ourselves off, find a smile and try again.

Just like Ann has been doing for nearly 10 years.

After thinking it over, that’s really no surprise at all.

Posted July 25th, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: Sandy Speaks
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: This Old House

I was described recently of being an “actress” when it comes to handling my cancer fight. And that devastated me.

Backstory: This person who told me this loves me, and I love this person. Therefore it was of utmost importance that we got to the bottom of this.

So we went to a counselor. I know it sounds odd to go with a friend to a counselor, but I was floored and my friend was flabbergasted at my reaction and we were spinning our emotional wheels alone trying to understand the other’s point of view. We needed professional help. And living with cancer I feel zero shame admitting when I need something; if I’m thirsty I drink, if I’m hungry I eat, if I need meds I take them and if I need help I get it.

So we found a well-recommended psychologist and let it all out. And with help from this professional, my friend told me that all “they” see of my battling metastatic breast cancer is the strength and the fight part: the chemo heels, the SPIN class a day after chemo, the drinks on a Friday night, the Facebook posts, the energy I seem to have 24/7, despite a chicken broth carton-sized container of poison dumped into my body every 7 days. “It’s hard to relate” this person admitted, “to Ann’s difficulties when all I ever see is typical fun Ann.”

Now when you say “actress” to me, I hear “phoney.” So this confession hit me like a ton of spilled chemotherapy. Of all the things I’d ever liked to be remembered as in this lifetime, a phoney ain’t one of them. Thank goodness for the counselor or I might be writing this blog from Cell Block 12, serving 25 to life for throttling the throat of a loved one and meaning every bit of it. However, I’m not writing this from prison so you know the counselor helped me–and us. And how she helped was to flesh out exactly what my friend meant by the term “actress”.

It turns out “actress” can mean quite a few different things depending on who’s saying it. The meaning of actress to my friend was more like a building with a beautiful facade. You look at it and think, “wow, that is gorgeous. It must be heaven to live in there.”

And I said, “but check the medical, I mean city inspector record, and you find out it has rot in the walls, mold in the ceiling, and that roof ain’t gonna hold much longer.”

Yet it’s not my style to show the mold and rot in my life. I’m not a phoney, I just don’t wear my cancer heart on my sleeve. To do so would make me feel sicker. I don’t like to talk about what’s going wrong because it serves me no purpose but to remind me I’ve got a really bad diagnosis and the odds are kind of against me. Talking about my physical changes on a daily basis, or even in an occasional conversation, makes me feel like a whiner. And I ain’t no whiner.

“But I need to know,” my friend said, “because I just can’t see it.”

OY, I tell you. This was hard.

So I told my friend: “Look: if you really want to know how I’m doing, we have to be in a quiet, relaxed place with no one else around and we have to have some one-on-one. It’s hard for me to talk about. It’s painful. The conversation needs kid gloves. And I need to feel safe around you.”

We agreed to go forward trying to find a way to compromise: to let my friend in on a few of my aches and pains and to let my friend know it’s important to check in with me every now and again for the real deal.

So here’s the “inspector’s report” on my cancer facade these days:

1.trouble swallowing
2.teeth that ache
3.painful nail beds
4.supersonic hot flashes
5.unexected exhaustion
6.inability to drive long distances (see no.5)
7.sleeplessness when I want to sleep
8.tiredness when I want to be up and around
9.nose bleeds
10.unexpected nausea
11.hair loss
12.anemia
13.sluggish kidneys

And here’s the “working report” on what else that building can do:

Monday: personal trainer
Tuesday: work/chemo
Wednesday: SPIN class
Thursday: work
Friday; SPIN/personal trainer
Saturday: yoga
Sunday: coffee

Now that I’ve said it, I hope it helps. I don’t act sick because I am more than a sick person. I am a healthy person trying to maneuver her way through a strange time in life. I believe I am going to be better. I focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. That is how I make it through this crap. And it may be how you–or someone you love in this same fight–does it, too.

You may not be able to judge a building by its facade, but you can keep your friendship with a friend-in-crisis in tact. Just get a little professional help along the way.

And an occasional walk through the door of the building to get inside to find out what’s really going on behind the beautiful brick exterior couldn’t hurt.

Posted July 24th, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: This Old House
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: Who IS That?

I had the weirdest day yesterday.

I prepped for chemotherapy number 13 by working–as staff, that is–at my training studio, logging folks in to barre class, making sure there were enough towels, etc.  I do that every Tuesday/Thursday..

…then I rushed home–by way of a donut store to give my son his reward after the hour long workout he’d done while I worked…

…and rushed into the shower to rinse off before getting picked up for infusion and my baker’s-dozen-number chemo. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I was–it’s that strange place of “this is gonna knock me over/this is gonna save my life” that someone like me has to wrap her head around every week.

Anyway–none of that seems extraordinarily weird–except that somewhere in the middle of all that I got a text that my speech that I’d done for “the one hundred” back on June 5 was up on their website.  And that I should take a look.

I wanted to see it–I’d been waiting to see it for awhile, because even though I’d done the speech, I didn’t really see it myself.  I just knew how I felt doing it, and the wonderful reaction I’d received from the audience, and the strength and love in that room. The visual of the moment, however, was beyond me.

So somewhere in between clients accounts settled, choosing my chemo heels and picking out a honey-glazed donut with my 14-year old, I got on line to see myself at the one hundred:


And to be honest, the reminder of what one person can do in the face of all that adversity gave me the courage I needed to get in that chair yesterday and face my next round of 12 weekly chemos–with a smile on my face and a virtual middle finger in the air to cancer.

I’m sure that sounds weird since I do this every week, but for me it’s a constant battle to keep spirits high. This cancer thing isn’t easy. What it IS is constant, daunting and a pain in my -ss.

So seeing that composed, candid and occasionally comedic woman stand up in front of almost 1000 people in that video and basically inspire me to keep on keeping on was exactly what I needed yesterday.

Some day maybe I’ll get around to believing that that woman with the hair and the dress and the f-u cancer attitude in that video tape was…IS…actually me.

Posted July 3rd, 2013 by
Ann's Diary:  Who IS That?
Posted in: Ann's Diary, News