Ann Murray Paige’s fighting spirit — one which inspired thousands of women all over the world to never give up in the fight against breast cancer — was evident even in her final Facebook post.
“The docs say they’ve done all they can do,” she wrote on March 9. “You know what I say.”
Attached was a photo of her wrist, around which was a black bracelet with the words “stupid” and “cancer” divided by a hand raising the middle finger.
Paige died one week later, on Sunday, 10 years after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. She leaves behind her husband, Sandy, and children Christopher, 14, and Ellie, 11.
Services will be held in Davis on Saturday.
Paige was living in Maine, a former television journalist who had taken time off to raise her young children, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2004.
With the encouragement and assistance of her sister-in-law, Linda Pattillo, she turned the camera on herself to chronicle the fight for her life in what would become the documentary, “The Breast Cancer Diaries.”
The award-winning film provided an intimate glimpse of what it’s like to battle cancer as a young mother and wife. Unsparing but very funny at times, the film also included footage shot by Pattillo, a former ABC and CNN correspondent, during Paige’s nine-month fight. The film later was shown on the Discovery Channel, and continues to be screened at many breast cancer awareness events worldwide.
Together the women founded Project Pink, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting young women with breast cancer, and Paige later developed and performed a one-woman show about her experiences.
In 2008, having been cancer-free for nearly four years, Paige and her family moved to Davis, where they were welcomed into a warm and loving community, she said last fall. And here she became a local source of support, encouragement, knowledge and inspiration for women battling breast cancer themselves.
The sheer number of people she impacted, near and far, may never be known. A tiny glimpse could be seen on Facebook in the last two weeks as person after person described Paige’s impact on their own lives. They spoke of her supportive phone calls and texts — sometimes to women she’d never met, but who were recently diagnosed friends of friends — her honesty and encouragement and positivity.
Said one: “You melted some of the icy loneliness that is often hidden behind the pink ribbons. It is rare that someone walks this earth who has helped as many as you have.”
“Your love and positivity inspired more hope and courage than anyone will ever know,” said another.
“You have touched so many lives, and especially mine,” wrote North Davis Elementary School teacher Paulene Bitners, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. “You are my hero, my mentor and my role model in life and in the (breast cancer battle). You will be in my heart forever.”
Unsurprisingly to those who knew her, just weeks before Paige’s death, she made a donation to a fund helping Bitners’ family, and left what would be considered a typical Ann Murray Paige message: “Cancer can kiss my behind, Paulene, and yours too. Hang tough girl. Love coming at you big time.”
By 2010, of course, Paige wasn’t just a cancer activist helping every breast cancer patient she could; she was also a patient again. Cancer had been found in her lung.
And as she returned to treatment, she stepped up her writing, on her blog, www.projectpinkdiary.com, as well as a book.
The book was one she had started years earlier — one which she wished she’d had when she was first diagnosed. It was full of quick and easy tips to help stay on track, she said: Hold someone’s hand when you’re sad; let go of the people who can’t handle the journey with you; go ahead and panic; then, stop panicking; celebrate the milestones.
They were all the reminders she needed dealing with her re-diagnosis, Paige said.
She finished the book, “Pink Tips: Breast Cancer Advice from Somebody Who’s Been There,” published it through Amazon, and began getting it into the hands of women who needed it everywhere.
Meanwhile, she was doing everything she could to battle her own cancer, including focusing more than ever on nutrition and exercise, both of which she credited for helping to minimize the typical chemotherapy side effects.
Just last fall, she said, “if the scans weren’t telling me I was sick, I wouldn’t think I was sick.”
But by then the cancer had spread to her liver and brain, a development that had thrown her for a loop, though only briefly.
On her blog she wrote, “Gang, all I can tell you is this: I am pissed off. And I am originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and I am of Irish descent. Are you getting me? (Or as said in ‘Southie,’ do ya folly me?) When you’re Boston Irish and you’re mad and you’re ready to fight, you don’t lose; the other guy does.
“I’ll write more when I can find the words. For now, just send up your best most positive most strengthening thoughts, prayers and love to me.
“It will make all the difference in my Boston-Irish-fighting cancer world.”
And fight she did, even while still inspiring everyone around her. She received requests to speak, and did so — to small groups of Davis Girl Scouts gathered in a living room and huge audiences like that at Massachusetts General Hospital’s “The One Hundred” event last fall, which honored people and organizations who contribute to the fight against cancer.
Her speech was classic Ann Murray Paige: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkTydsoAwxs&feature=share
And she inspired simply by the way she lived.
At Fit House of Davis, where she both worked out and worked the front desk, Paige struck nearly all who encountered her as an extraordinarily positive person.
Rose Cholewinski, owner and swim instructor at Swim America, was so inspired she began selling positivity bracelets and saving all the profits for Paige. The bracelets came in packs of three with the instructions that whoever bought them should wear one and give the other two to particularly positive people.
Soon Fit House was selling the bracelets, as was Paige’s oncologist at Sutter. Even Paige loved giving them out.
She described arriving for a medical appointment last fall, feeling tired and bald and somewhat discouraged, only to have her spirits lifted by a receptionist that insisted Paige looked so much younger than 47.
“I said, ‘I’m giving you a positivity bracelet,’ ” Paige recalled last fall. “She was so excited she came around and gave me a big hug. I felt so good about it.”
Fit House would later hold a “Positivity Celebration” where the proceeds from all those bracelets were turned over to Paige, making it possible for her whole family to take a vacation in Hawaii in November.
Last fall also featured the inaugural Project Pink 5K in Davis, a run and walk organized by A Change of Pace Foundation intended to spread the message of hope and positivity while also benefitting Project Pink. Hundreds of people — including Paige herself — participated.
Even in recent months, as Paige’s health declined, her many Facebook followers and blog readers were treated to regular doses of her sense of humor and positive outlook, as she posted inspiring blog entries and funny pictures and videos of herself and friends, often being goofy during various medical treatments.
As one commented on Facebook, “You will no doubt be remembered for your epic battle with cancer. But what I treasured most about your regular (Facebook) dispatches were the lessons they offered in living. You managed to find love and laughter under the most trying circumstances. You reminded us that life’s inevitable challenges are best fought in the company of family and good friends. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.”
For her part, last fall, Paige distilled all of her efforts down to a simple purpose:
Whether it’s breast cancer or divorce or bankruptcy or losing a family member, she said, “everyone has something.”
“Whatever it is, we all need something else to believe in, because what once made sense, doesn’t make sense any more.”
She wasn’t going to find the cure for cancer, Paige noted. She wasn’t going to fund the cure either. But what she could do, she said, was show up.
“What I’m doing, I’m doing because I can,” Paige said. “Because I’m here. I just want people to say, ‘If she’s not in a corner crying, maybe I don’t have to be.’ ”
A celebration of Paige’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at 8130 Slayback Ranch Lane in Davis. The celebration is open to the public.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy