Posts Tagged ‘pink tips. breast cancer advice from someone who’s been there.’

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
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Ann’s Diary: The One Hundred Event, Part Two

The one hundred event–the yearly fundraiser for the Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital–rocked my world.

I’ll be blogging regularly about my magical night at the Boston Westin Waterfront because so much happened in one evening I can’t possibly recount the entire wonderment at one sitting.  But for now I want to bring you some of the visual highlights of what has become what I call the 7 Wonders of My World: The one hundred event, 2013.

To begin, I needed to get my wig on.  Unlike my groove, to get my wig on I needed someone really good to style it.  And I found her: Michelle.

Michelle does my sister’s hair, and was the perfect woman to look at photos I’d brought with me from home and match to a tee what my California stylist did for me when she styled my wig last month.

Once the wig and dress were on, it was off to the event to practice my speech.  My wingman,





C and I took a cab and enjoyed the awesome calm before the inevitable storm of success that was about to enfold.


When I walked into the grand ballroom at the hotel, I was blown away by the meticulous work it took to make a large, vacuous space come to life with color, class and cancer-kicking costuming….


right down to the gorgeous flowers on the tables and the jumbo-tron-like screens illuminating the future speakers who were just hours away from taking the stage and standing up for the fight against cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Posted June 7th, 2013 by
Ann's Diary: The One Hundred Event, Part Two
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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
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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
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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
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