UPDATE 10/3/14–We remember Ann fondly and want you to know that Sosai Donna Harris, a dear friend of hers, is raising money to help distribute her book Pink Tips to cancer care centers. For more infomation…
UPDATE 3/17/14–So sad to report that Ann passed away on Mar. 16. She lived life to the fullest and we so enjoyed having her a part of The Women’s Eye. We send our condolences to her family and will miss her kind and giving spirit.
UPDATE 10/1/13–Don’t miss Kristin Meekhof’s terrific story, ‘A Breast Cancer Heroine,‘ in the HuffPost about Ann as we begin Breast Cancer Awareness Month today.
UPDATE 10/7/12–You can see Ann’s one act play IN THE PINK in Worcester, MA on Oct. 21
With the country’s attention focused heavily on breast cancer this month, there is story after inspiring story of amazing survivors of this disease. But one woman’s journey in particular, Ann Murray Paige, truly captures the spirit of what it means to be a breast cancer fighter!
” Once life forced my face to the mat, I came back swinging, and I still am.” Ann Murray Paige
Mutual friends Susie Stangland and Lee Woodruff, whom we profiled earlier this year, introduced me to Ann, and I am so grateful they did.
This Emmy-nominated New England TV journalist, wife, and mother of two adorable young children, was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 38. Her dream of having a third child ended there.
But Ann did what she knew best; she told a story. She documented her battle in the acclaimed film, “The Breast Cancer Diaries.”
She writes an award-winning blog Project Pink , and her just-released book, “pink tips: breast cancer advice from someone who’s been there,” is the cancer Cliffsnotes she wished she had.
We both worked in television news and share a love of “Charlie’s Angels” (don’t ask!!!), so I wanted to get to know this “warrior in pink” better. I soon learned cancer picked the wrong gal when it picked her.
Be sure to tune in soon to our interview with Ann on The Women’s Eye Radio Show airing in December…
EYE: You have probably done much soul-searching. In your own words, how would you describe yourself now, and what you have learned from sharing your “story of promise?”
ANN: I’ve learned that sitting around and worrying about death doesn’t make me happy. But living, laughing, writing, feeling, experiencing what life is like when I have a fatal illness–that hasn’t yet killed me–makes me happy.
EYE: Instead of asking why you had to deal with what you termed your “personal devastation,” you said how can I move forward following my diagnosis. What was it about who you were B.C. (before cancer) that made you take action and not retreat?
ANN: Life had never asked me before to ‘show up’ for myself, so I never knew I had it in me to do so. Once life forced my face to the mat, I came back swinging, and I still am.
I just HATE being perceived a victim; I hate it even more than actually BEING a victim. If I let cancer halt me, I would be letting it kill me before I was ever dead.
EYE: You were named a top 10 blogger last year. How therapeutic is writing? What has it meant for your ability to survive?
ANN: I think it’s as important as the little pill I take every morning to subdue breast cancer. Because while the meds focus on my cells, my writing focuses on my mind. It lets out the fears, frustrations, funnies, whatever, so they don’t overtake or overwhelm me.
EYE: Tell me about your diagnosis in 2004. Had cancer ever crossed your mind?
ANN: Never. I ate right, exercised, breast-fed my kids, drank a glass of red wine each day, all because of the stories and the statistics I’d read about how these things led to good health. There is no genetic breast cancer in my family. This came out of the blue.
EYE: Isn’t it a good thing that your 1,455th breast exam caught the cancer before it was too advanced?
ANN: Yes. Sometimes when I speak I talk about how I wasted 1, 454 minutes of my life doing useless self breast exams until 1,455 saved my life. I was two years from my doctor-recommended yearly mammogram.
I had been to my gynecologist three months earlier, and she’d done a SBE and said I was fine. If I hadn’t been checking I might be dead by now.
EYE: Your cancer returned in your lung in 2010. It seems to be testing you, but you are stronger than it. Do you agree?
ANN: Hell ya! I did a fast walk 5K in February, and Feb. 5 a pulmonary oncology surgeon told me I needed emergency surgery because one lung was at 20% capacity.
I worked out with my trainer the morning of that scheduled surgery. I walked a 5 K three weeks after that surgery. I am NOT going down without a huge fight.
EYE: You wrote the “double mastectomy-no-reconstruction-dose-dense-chemo-radiation-tamoxifen cocktail” wasn’t enough. How do you work through this “new normal?”
ANN: There are great days and awful days, and I just walk through them, whichever I’m in. I meet myself where I am on any given day because the cancer journey spins you daily past all the emotions on the Feelings Wheel.
Probably the hardest thing for me in my new normal is living as a breast less female in this over-breasted world we are in. I had no desire to put back on breasts just to “look female.” But I am sexy and want to be sexy–by right, not by cup size.
So I wear heels and tight skirts and keep myself trim and my husband can’t keep his hands off of me. So for any woman reading this, I want you to know that your sexiness does not lie in your breasts; it lies in you.
EYE: My father was extremely private about his cancer. It is enough to deal with your own situation, yet you decided to help so many others through your books, blog, the documentary, your non-profit Project Pink. Why?
ANN: When my sister-in-law, former ABC and CNN correspondent Linda Patillo, suggested we do this documentary, I wasn’t so sure at first. But in the moments after she asked, I began to feel strong in a way I hadn’t since I found the lump.
I realized that whatever I was about to go through would change me in profound and permanent ways, and if we caught it on tape then maybe I could help other people to care about this insidious disease.
That’s where it started, the recognition that if I reach out and share, then others can learn, and we can all fight cancer together.
EYE: Is laughter truly the best medicine? Is there a funny moment that you always go back to?
I was panicking inside, absolutely losing my mind, when I realized if I didn’t laugh about something I might actually implode. And one of my family with me was making small talk about how Janet Jackson had a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the Super Bowl earlier that year, and I was thinking, “Oh, this mindless babble.”
I wish my biggest problem was that I’d flashed millions of people on television. And then it hit me that in ten minutes, even if I ever wanted to, I’d never be able to flash anyone in my entire life. And so I didn’t want to miss my chance.
EYE: Why does it take a cancer diagnosis to make people appreciate their lives more? I’m sure there have been thousands! But is there one person’s story whom you’ve helped that you could share?
ANN: Wow, there are a lot. But two immediately come to mind:
I had just finished an event at GlaxoSmithKline and this young girl said, “Ann, I used to go out, get my make-up just right, pick the best dress and worry if I looked fat. But I watched your movie, and last night I went to the bar with my girlfriends, and I just looked like me.
“…if a man doesn’t love me for who I am but what I look like, how can he ever be there for me…”
I had a little make-up on, nice pants, but I looked like me. Because, after watching ‘The Breast Cancer Diaries,’ I realize that if a man doesn’t love me for who I am but what I look like, how can he ever be there for me if I ever needed him like you needed your husband?”
That was my Oscar moment right there. The second was a mom about my age came up to me and said, “My husband and I were supposed to be talking today about him taking on more work and putting the kids in all-day care so we could make enough money to add onto our house.
Then I watched your film and my husband came to the table to talk, and I just poured him a cup of coffee and said, ‘Forget it, honey. We have enough right here.'”
EYE: What are your goals…for yourself, for your non-profit Project Pink, for your husband Sandy and your two kids?
ANN: I want to get ‘pink tips’ to every hospital, cancer and treatment center and hospital gift store possible. That’s where they will do their magic best–to help everyone figure this breast cancer beast out together.
I’d like to finally find a corporate sponsor or two to fund my speaking tour to colleges, universities and other places where young people gather and are more willing to listen about things like body image, self breast exams, fighting back, etc. than adults are (because we know it all, right?!)
I want to be an inspiration, a real life hero like Abe Lincoln, JFK and Harriet Tubman. I know I am not at all in their league, but I think kids need heroes who represent good, positive, I-can-do-it-so-can-you messages.
EYE: How is your health now? How are you treating the cancer?
ANN: I am doing well. After lung surgery and a series of medicines, I’ve found one that’s working and I have an excellent oncologist. I also changed my diet because I needed to feel like I was doing something beyond just taking medicine. I did that before and, well…here I was again.
To that end I researched, listened to family and friends, and am now a non-dairy, no-sugar, vegan. I also continue to see my trainer and exercise. My tumor markers, once 358, are now 127!!!
EYE: What is your favorite tip?
ANN: GPS yourself. On any given day, just find out where your head is and go from there. You don’t have to know it all, just show up for yourself.
EYE: Being a television journalist myself, do you think that this business causes cancer? (I’m joking…sort of!)
ANN: LMAO! Does that mean I can collect disability?!
EYE: You know every good film deserves a sequel. Will you do another film?
ANN: If I had the money, I would. The first movie put me in debt, so I can’t do another unless someone else foots the bill.
EYE: Do you live with fear?
ANN: Sure. I live in fear that I will leave my children too soon.
EYE: Just how determined are you to beat this beast? I know you will.
ANN: As Patrick Swayze said to Jennifer Gray’s father in “Dirty Dancing”: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
EYE: I look forward to talking with you on air! We can swap tv news stories. And you can bet I’ll be better about doing my self exams! Thanks for touching my life, Ann.
In memory of Ann Murray Paige, here’s Stacey’s Skype interview July 19, 2013 where Ann shared her inspiring, funny, creative and kick-butt attitude and approach to battling cancer.