Ann’s Diary

Classic Ann’s Diary: Pink Ribbon Awareness Month

(Editor’s note: Ann Murray Paige used to joke that breast cancer deserved more than one month, that after all, women get breast cancer 12 months of the year. She also said many times that “the irony is not lost on me that I found out my cancer had come back during October–Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” She wrote many times about this month of pink, and here is one of my favorites. This is the start of a new series of classics–the best of Ann–that will run from time to time on Project Pink Diary. It reminds us of the faces behind the sea of pink. And speaking of October–please visit our Project Pink Facebook page for more information and links to sign up as a “virtual runner” for the big Project Pink 5K fundraiser on October 25th.–LP)

So here we are, another Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I was hoping we’d be over this by now, that we’d have beaten the beast.  But we haven’t.  We still have a long way to go.  And thank goodness we are lucky enough to have a month to remind the world that breast cancer is an evil still yet to be destroyed.

And this is the month that you’ll see pink ribbons donning soup cans from Sacramento to New York City, from Tuscon to Salt Lake City.  And you may wonder, why do they matter.  They’re everywhere , and  you may get tired of seeing them.  I mean, they’re on soup cans for heaven’s sake. What do they really  mean?  

I’m here to put a face to those pink ribbons: they mean me. And they mean my friend Carolyn and my friend Christopher’s grandmother and my young friend Mel and all the people who email me at Project Pink who’ve seen my film–I’m talking every 1 in 8 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States.

I know “the Pink” is everywhere this October, but so are we. And we need you to stand by us as we fight to get through another day without caving.  We are as ubiquitous as that pink ribbon you see. We’re your mother or your sister or your daughter–we are 1 in every single 8 women in this country who get hit with a disease that threatens our health and our hope and our lives. We are standing next to you at the grocery store as you pick up that pink ribboned soup can. 

And we, all of us, thank you from the bottom of our breast cancer hearts–because those hearts are still beating thanks to the help you give us.  Thanks to the donations you make and the walks you take and the ribbons you buy that have that rose hue and that meaning behind it.

Each one of us thanks you for tying that ribbon on any way you can;  so that some day–in part because of your simple effort this month, that pink ribbon may once and for all become obsolete, never to be tied around a soup can again. (October 1, 2010 by Ann Murray Paige)

Posted October 1st, 2014

Ann’s Diary: Uncle Phil

I was talking with my girlfriends the other day when one of them said, “we never said ‘I love you” growing up in our house”. I sat there and thought, “huh: we kinda never did either.”

It was the sign of the times I suppose– a 70’s kid being raised by someone born in the 1920’s, at least in my house. My assumption is that it was implied: I’m your parent, therefore I love you. And I’m sure I heard it a few times, it’s just that my memory doesn’t remember that far back. I would say it to other people, though– as a kid you do that. Or at least I did that. But in the general family, it wasn’t the norm to leave off a phone call and say “love you.” We just weren’t like that.

What I can remember is bringing the spoken form “I love you” into my life–full force. I was probably 15, and we’d just come back from a Murray Family Reunion. My Dad had 7 kids in his family originally, and I think there were 5 of them there. With their kids…and their kids…it was a mini-family circus under a beautiful sun. I for one had a total blast. When it was over, we headed home to my family’s house about an hour away, bringing my Uncle Phil and Aunt Anne Marie with us. I loved all of my uncles for different reasons. With Uncle Phil it was his amazing humor. He had me laughing a mile a minute. I can still see his blue eyes shining and twinkling as he’d make a joke or pull a stunt on me and my sister. He was pure fun.

The night we came home from the family reunion, we all gathered in the living room to watch old family slides. (Kids: those are stamped-sized photos on film that need to be splashed on a wall with a light and a really good magnifying machine called a projector.) We’d ordered pizza, and we were all laughing and joking, when Uncle Phil made fun of me in one of the photos. I don’t remember what he said, all I know is in my teenaged angst and anger at being made fun of, I simply stood up and stormed out of the room. Everyone called for me to come back, including Uncle Phil, but I tossed my hair and went straight to bed. To Hell with them, I thought, this will teach them. I’ll just leave! And I headed off to bed.

A little time later, I was awoken by rattling sounds coming up the stairwell. I jumped out of bed and looked outside into the bright hallway to see EMTs taking my precious Uncle Phil away on a stretcher. He was alert but breathing hard from an oxygen mask. I was crushed and my parents were trying to keep my in my room until the EMT’s left. It was the worst night of my young life. I have tears in my eyes as I write this—about 3 decades later.

I awoke to the news that Uncle Phil had died of a heart attack overnight. And I knew what I’d done. I had left that group of fun and family frolic: tossed my hair at them all because of something silly. And now Uncle Phil was dead. And his last words he ever heard from me were some fitful stupid teen blather–and now he was gone forever.

About a week after the funeral, I knew I couldn’t get Uncle Phil back, couldn’t change what I’d done…..but I could START doing something new. And from then on, any time I got on a phone with someone in my family and the call ended, I’d say “love you.” I will never forget the awkwardness in speaking those words–and wondering if my parents would think I was a weirdo. The first time I said it to my Dad, to end our phone conversation, there was absolute silence. I almost felt bad for springing it on him. Eventually he murmured an “.uh….okay”. And we hung up.

I’m happy to say I’ve kept up that tradition for more than 30 years of my life–and almost always when I whisper it, or shout it, to someone dear to me I take a moment of thanks and gratitude to my Uncle Phil, who in leaving this life for the next taught me a lesson that has made my life richer and fuller than it ever could have been otherwise.

Thank you, Uncle Phil. I love you.

Posted February 22nd, 2014 by
Ann's Diary: Uncle Phil
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Ann’s Diary: The Gifts

Some 3 decades after it was filmed, I finally watched the 1980’s movie “Say Anything.” It was adorable in the 80s way–sweet, non-complicated, hidden twist, and young love–without anything blowing up or me needing to go on Google to search something that leads to one big twist that I typically don’t understand nor want to. Living with cancer, I need the soft stuff to help cushion my shredded barrier that once kept the “oh that would never happen to me” away.

This morning I’m thinking about the movie, and how the boy was so nice, and the girl was so sweet, and how they were just trying to be good to each other. Without the cheating, the lying, the immaturity and the teen angst that is the reality of life outside the computer/movie screen. And I think I am focusing on that not because I think a “Say Anything”-style love can be achieved (I know a few who’ve been together since high school, but a spare few. It’s not typical of marriage in the 21st Century) but because as a child and in my teens I really WAS thinking, ‘Oh that’s gonna happen to me!’ The good stuff, of course, just the good stuff.

As I grew up, I was very romantically immature. I wouldn’t have known how to let down a guy if he was sitting on a stair chair at the top of the stairs and there was just one button to push. I hurt a lot of guys by never being able to properly explain myself or even knowing what my real reasons were; mostly I just turned and fled. NOT a good game plan. But it was the only one I knew.

As I look down the road of “Who Knows What’s Gonna Happen” I feel the urgent need to fill in some of these blanks with my kids. No one uses movies and books as a source of reality–at least not on their outside. But on the inside, things were always brewing in my mind. I never talked about it, but I’d be watching flicks thinking ‘Maybe my news director, who’ll look like Robert Redford, will guide me from being a small producer to a big-time anchor! Or.’.. maybe a guy will chase me from high school graduation all the way until I go to college; and along the way, he’ll save me from myself and be the most trustworthy guy in the world! ‘ (I had a guy when I was 29 literally jump off a porch, chase me down and romance me so hard over 3 weeks that I broke up with the guy I had just started dating. Guess what? 3 weeks later, that guy dumped me for his old girl friend. Now there’s a fairytale.)

So I’m the one that, when my kids would watch Cinderella would say as the credits rolled “Now remember guys, that’s a movie. It’s words someone wrote on a (then) piece of paper. And those voices are actors. Life doesn’t work like that.” And back then I’d throw in an age-appropriate kicker, like “you have to know someone” or “it’s hard. It just is. And some stuff makes no sense.”

That of course rolled into, “what is the point of life, anyway, Mum? What are we doing here?”

And I would always, to this day, answer them like this:

“Life is about giving out your gifts. I don’t know what they are, and at this point you may not have discovered them either. But you have gifts, from learning and sharing you gift of music, to bringing a smile to a sad person’s face by just acknowledging them when you walk into a room, to maybe being the best doctor, business owner, teacher, tennis coach, –whatever. And you have many more, too. Life goes forward. Not backward. You don’t look back and say “I should have..” You say, “I think I’m read for…” and then DO IT.”

And never give up. There’s my affinity for Winston Churchill coming out again, because that’s his quote. But many use it. Many look into the low end of a toilet bowl as they are letting go of whatever is in there because of chemotherapy and between each wretch think “I can’t give up. I still have gifts to give.”

You can imagine the conversations that happen in my house. I don’t have them often because it’s pretty heavy over here under our roof these days. But there’s no time like the present as someone said, and for me the blessing is that I still have a present to be in. And I’m gonna “be” as long as I can, still seeking out the gifts I’m supposed to be giving while I’m here.

I hope you have that same game plan in mind for your many years to come.

Posted February 7th, 2014 by
Ann's Diary: The Gifts
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Ann’s Diary: World Cancer Day 2014

I was getting out of the shower this morning–well, it might have crested noon by that time–when a good friend texted me and said, “It’s World Cancer Day. Feel like blogging?”

I didn’t know it was Tuesday, much less World Cancer Day, and I stood and looked at the text. Just half an hour earlier, wrapped in my bathrobe that I couldn’t get out of this morning, I had said to myself, “You haven’t blogged in a long time, Ann.” But the thing about my blogging is I don’t blog until I feel like I have something to say. And not a whining thing–a real thing. A thing you and I might actually get something from…

…and there will be thousands of articles about WCDay today anyway. So what’s the point.

That’s not unlike what I’ve been feeling about this whole metastatic-cancer-in-brain-in-lung-try-this-new-chemo-which-makes-you-sick life I’m leading right now. What is the f-ing point of this? What if I just stopped all the chemo and said F it. Clearly the C is in the lead and Ann’s life-as-she-knew-it is in the ash can. What if I just tossed all the bags and the pills out the window and let the clock run down?

These are simple questions that fly around my room like rabid bats, occasionally getting tangled in my mind. Letting the clock run down means countdown to no more Mum, no more wife, no more pals, no more me. I think of that one and I think ‘why wouldn’t the world want me here?’ Like I just told a friend who emailed me with her condolences, “I just keep asking the universe, are you SURE you want me gone? Because this world does not seem full of positivity. I can bring that, you know. I’ve been doing that. Are you sure you want that voice to be silenced?”

And then I go the other way: what if I just keep up like this? Pills every day, setting up meetings with friends (for walks), losing weight, fighting for my day so that I don’t lose another one sitting in bed. Every day I live now is dedicated to NOT letting cancer take me before I’m gone. It’s a boatload of work and it’s no fun–but I’m doing it.

Still the questions….

So…if I have two green smoothies instead of one per day, will that help? If my trainer volunteers (which she has) to come by each day and help my lung capacity get stronger with easy exercises, will that help? If I have 4 bags of saline….if I eat pineapple seeds….or jalapeno pepper seeds…flax seed oil (which I’ve taken for years), Graviola leaves (check), no-dairy (check), meds from the docs (check)…’s exhausting. Everyone it seems has “the cure” for cancer, but claims an industry/government conspiracy of repression to keep it from us. That’s some dedicated, organized, well-managed industry/government work. If they could transfer that ability to Capitol Hill, oh what a world this could be.

So back to World Cancer Day. As usual, I am so happy that groups everywhere, like this one, shed a spotlight on this stupid, life-leaching, long-going, determined-to-kill bastard of a disease. I thank all of you from the bottom of my breaking heart for caring.

But if you really want to do something for those of us in the battle, or those who are going to be, do it soon. Some of us are going….much faster than we ever expected. If you need any extra reasons, think of any little face you see, boy or girl, and think–“I could save him/her.” And if you need a Real Big Reason for helping crush cancer, think of what I told Tyler Jacks, Director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research during the “Women on the Frontlines Fighting Breast Cancer” Conference at MIT last fall when he asked me:

“Ann, you have a lot of medical people in the room, researchers, educators: What is the one thing you want them to know, the one thing (modified here because my memory is bad) that could make their practice better? ”

And I said, “Cancer has changed. It’s sneaky. It’s no longer just after the fast food eaters, the smokers and the women over 60. It’s after all of us. If there’s one thing that you can do to make you practice better, it’s to treat your patients like humans. They weren’t stupid, they didn’t overindulge or forget their almonds or ignore the gym. New cancer patients are some of the healthiest people out there–until they find (in my case) a lump. So Tyler, I guess my advice to all medical people is this:

to make your practice better, every time you open that patient door to see another frightened face on the other side, whisper to yourself “there but for the Grace of God go I.”

It’s compassion that will make us all feel better as we fight for our lives and you try to smother this world cancer beast–once and for all.

This blog is dedicated to Chris F.

Posted February 4th, 2014
Posted in: Ann's Diary

Ann’s Diary: The Weather

I’ve been a bit under the weather and not able to write; but here I am to check in on how life’s been for me lately.

It’s been a drag.

Which is why I haven’t written–I’m not big on complaining here at this blog. It’s depressing and it doesn’t make me feel strong. But to ignore this part of the journey would be inauthentic, really–it would be passing over the incredibly difficult part of being a cancer patient: the treatments that don’t work. And that’s why I’m going to give you a quick sketch of how things are right now for me.

After I spoke in Boston in October, I went to Hawaii with the blessings and the gifts of dozens of friends from my world who fundraised their backsides off to get me and my family there. We had a great time; scuba diving, helicopter rides, safaris and the like. When I came back, I started new chemotherapy Xeloda (the Taxol chemo I was on had stopped working.) I was due to have 3 rounds (2 weeks on, one week off) and then see how the drug was working. The problem was, I felt like junk every day. I mean don’t-get-out-of-bed, no-interest-in-the-gym, I-can’t-eat kind-of thing. It was the antithesis of who I am: like someone transplanted me right out of myself and threw in I-don’t-even-know who. What character in TV, movies, books never wants to get out of bed? That’s who I was. And I’m afraid to say still am.

It got so bad that I, a cancer fighter, one who knows that you only have a certain amount of chemos to work with before you run out of choices, had to call “uncle” on the Xeloda. It was the worst feeling of my life: literally taking the medical reigns from my oncologist and saying “no more. I can’t handle this.” But on Dec 23, that’s what I did. And the chemo wasn’t showing fabulous results, either–they were “mixed.” So I said, “we’re done here.” I need some semblance of my life back.

But it never really came. I went on a vacation with my family and my brother’s family which was a huge “happy boost” for me, but when I got back home it’s been crapus-status-quo. My family and friends are doing double time to convince me to get out on a walk, take the dog out, go for coffee–at my request, mind you. I need people to get my sad butt out of my home before I become some kind of a hermit in here–getting fearful and woe-is-me. F-that. That’s not how this story’s gonna go….

Now I’m on another chemo–and so far no change. I am not Taxol-great, but I am not Xeloda-sick, either. I’m somewhere in the middle. We will find out in a few weeks whether this new drug is working–and whether I can withstand it–and then go from there.

So gang, that’s Highlights From Cancer Mountain. To all of you who’ve FB’d me and asked if I’m okay, this blog is dedicated to you. Yes, I am fine. I look myself in the mirror all the time and tell myself that, even as some tears fall. Like I tell my kids, you are your own best friends. You will be the ones to take you through the good, the bad and the unfair of life. Don’t ever forget that–I tell myself, now, constantly. You can do this.

And if you can’t, I tell me, I’ll still be there with you through the good and the bad. I got your back, Ann Murray Paige. I got your back.

Posted January 16th, 2014 by
Ann's Diary: The Weather
Posted in: Ann's Diary