By Mary Pritchard, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – When Ann Murray Paige was growing up in Shrewsbury, breast cancer was not what she envisioned in her future. Ann became an award-winning journalist, a wife, a mother, and in 2004 she began her fight against breast cancer. A 1983 graduate of Notre Dame Academy (NDA), Ann credits her physical education teacher with teaching her something that she says saved her life.
“I discovered my cancer through a self-breast exam,” she said. “A week later I was told I had stage 2, or grade 2 cancer; meaning it was “traveling,” and one month later, I had surgery. Since I was 15 -16 years old I'se done what I called “useless self-breast exams.” I called them useless because I really wasn's a candidate for breast cancer. I was told by my high school phys ed teacher that I should do it, so I did. I never expected to find anything.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Ann, then 38, and her husband, Sandy, lived in Maine and had two very young children.
“I was told I had no choice but to have a mastectomy,” she said. “I chose to also have the other breast removed to lessen my fear about more cancer in my chest area. Everyone's personal journey and how they choose to deal with it is different. I knew that for me, this was best.” Ann's treatment would last nine months as she navigated through a double mastectomy with no reconstruction, chemo and radiation.
Having been a television news journalist for 15 years, Ann naturally began gathering information immediately after receiving the shocking news.
“Two days after my diagnosis I was sitting with my brother and my sister-in-law, who is a retired correspondent for ABC and CNN, when she mentioned I was handling all this like such a reporter – getting questions answered – and that this would make a great documentary,” Ann said. “I said yes pretty quickly and within 10 minutes she had a camera on me. Everything I ever understood about the world had changed. I had no control over this. The documentary, titled “The Breast Cancer Diaries,” was something to focus on, I could “out” cancer and show people what it's like, and I knew I's be changed in profound ways through all of this – I didn's know how, but I knew it would be worth documenting.”
Ann described her husband of 15 years as her rock.
“When we talked about me not having reconstruction, he said “I just want you healthy and we'sl figure out the rest,”” she said. “He is more in love with me now than he was when we were first married.”
In 2010 the family moved to California, and Ann's oncologist detected something in her lung.
“I was told that my breast cancer had not gone away, that it had hidden in my lung for six-plus years,” she said. “I describe Metastatic Breast Cancer, also called Stage 4, as cancer that jumped the fence. It is still the same cancer, but has moved to another place.”
Angry and scared, she began treatment again.
“When I was first diagnosed in 2004, I realized that I didn's want to read thick books about someone else's hell – I had my own hell,” she said. “Feeling like I had about a ten minute attention span at the time, I wanted something short, like Cliff Notes.”
Ann had penned her cliff notes during her first battle but now had a new push to get the book written.
“I thought “What if I's not here to write this book?”” she said. “I needed this book six years ago and now I need it again. I need to get this out there for people.””
“Pink Tips” includes 50 of Ann's top tips and inspirational quotes, and is described as a valuable tool for coping with any trauma.
“One particular Winston Churchill quote was crucially important during my first fight; “When you'se going through Hell, keep going,” she said. “I believe whatever traumas we'se going through, we need constant coaching.”
Earlier this year Ann attended the funeral for her Godmother, Dotti Cardigan, or as Ann affectionately called her, “Darlin.”
“She had always told me I was a star and that I should be on Broadway or in Hollywood,” she said. “At the funeral someone asked me what I was going to do next. I'se been blogging, doing speaking engagements, and working on my non-profit; Project Pink (www.projectpinkdiary.com), to give help and hope to women with breast cancer. I said anything else I do would have to be funny because my humor is what gets me through.”
A friend, Virginia Byrne, theater director at NDA, suggested a one-woman show.
“I smiled and thought, “Forty-something years later Darlin is getting me on stage after all.” While this is a breast cancer inspired show, it's really about what we do for each other when any trauma hits our life. What we can all do to help each other. My hope is that people feel inspired, positive and hopeful when they leave the theater. I think the point of life is to give out your gift however long you'se in the world and I feel like I's doing that. People need people to help them. That is what this show, my film, my blog and my life are all about. I didn's start out feeling this way. When the world falls in on you, you don's always have the strength to get through but watching someone else can give you the hope that you'sl get there yourself someday.”
Ann's one-woman show, “In The Pink,” which “chronicles her journey as she faces raising a family, developing her career and dealing with cancer,” premiered at NDA recently.
“We'sl see what happens,” she said. “I's not worried about whether the show will be successful or not – what really matters is being here to do it.”