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?PART TWO OF THIS BLOG WILL BE PUBLISHED TOMORROW...