Everyone has a story to tell and for years as a broadcast journalist Ann Murray Paige’s job was to tell those stories. Now as a breast cancer patient, she is sharing her own story on film, in speaking engagements, and on the page. Ann is the author of Pink Tips, and was recently honored at Massachusetts General Hospital’s gala. Her speech (find it here) has inspired thousands.
Ann’s story begins in 2004, at age 38, she did a self-breast exam and discovered a lump. She was devastated and shocked to learn that she had breast cancer. She recalls, “I don’t have the breast cancer gene. I don’t smoke. I eat organic and wear my seat-belt. I did everything right.”
At the time, Ann Murray Paige, then 38, was a stay-at-home mom to a 1-year-old daughter and 4-and-a-half-year-old son. She and her husband decided that Ann would undergo a double mastectomy. In addition, Ann decided to film a documentary about her journey. The film, The Breast Cancer Diaries, made on a shoe string budget is now in 30 countries and in two languages.
The film starts with Ann, days before the mastectomy surgery, speaking directly to the camera. It is a sobering thought to think about coming out of surgery minus your breasts. She wonders, “How do you say good-bye to your breasts? Am I going to wake up after surgery and (think) now I’m not a woman?”
The documentary takes place over seven months, and contains moments of humor and optimism. The footage blends stark hospital scenes and tender moments between Ann and Sandy, her husband. There is a moment, so personal when they are sitting at the foot of her bed and he first sees her bald head that you feel you are intruding on their emotional nakedness. His sensitivity to his wife will bring tears to your eyes.
Throughout the film, Ann also manages to balance parenting stressors. On one particular day, Ann is sitting in her hospital bed, tethered to her IV, phone cradled in her neck, writing notes and talking to a school administrator. While her nurse is attempting to administer nausea pills, Ann is trying to understand why her child was rejected from kindergarten. Her husband sits in a chair next to her bed, looking more worried about his wife’s medical condition than their son’s academic status.
What is ironic about this academic rejection is that the couple’s 4-and-a-half-year-old son is extremely articulate. The camera catches a beautiful and heartbreaking conversation between Ann and her son. Ann is asking her son how he is feeling with her getting a lot of attention. He says, “That (the attention) makes me a little bit frustrated.” Ann then asks how he copes, and he responds, “I walk off and play… I’m a little bit sad.”
Following the mastectomy, she took Tamoxifen for five years, and was in good health. However, in 2010, the doctor found the cancer had spread to her lung. More recently, the doctors discovered Ann’s cancer is now in her liver, brain, and a small spot on her spine; however, her spirit is not tainted.
Ann’s blog contains an honest, no-nonsense approach to her daily chemotherapy appointments, spin classes (yes, that’s right she exercises), MRI scans, and parenting. She is outspoken, grateful and kind. Her sentences are punctuated with sass and spunk. It is clear if she has to attend chemotherapy that she is doing it on her own terms. This means she’s sporting high heels and a fun cap. When one views her fan Facebook page snapshots you look twice because it is difficult to believe that she is battling metastasized cancer.
Despite this battle, Ann is one of the few people in life that can honestly say that she fully embraces life. She says, “The stuff I do best is showing up. I tell my kids to learn what your gifts are and give your gifts.”
When I asked Ann why she writes her blog, she speaks about her children. “I write to be remembered. I don’t want to be forgotten. If something happens, I want them know that I was a fighter. I wanted them to see there is another way to get through a crisis.”
Kristin Meekhof graduated from Kalamazoo College and completed a Master in Clinical Social Work program at the University of Michigan. In 2007, when she was 33, her husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer. About eight weeks after the diagnosis he died. Ms. Meekhof is working with Dr. Gary Hammer to bring awareness to an ultra-rare cancer: adrenal cancer. Currently, she is co-writing a book, “Just Widowed:6 Things You Need to Know”. She is also a contributor for the Huffington Post. This is her website: www.kristinmeekhof.com