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From Paige, a positively pink message of hope

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Ann Murray Paige, left, enjoys a "positivity celebration" Thursday evening at Fit House with co-owner Jen Miramontes. Paige is fighting a recurrence of breast cancer that now has spread to her lungs, brain and liver. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | October 06, 2013 | 1 Comment

Ann Murray Paige breezes into Barista Brew, looking every bit the part of a Davis mom.

Clad in workout clothes, she’s between phone calls with her son’s doctor, awaiting word on what to do about a possible broken nose.

Her husband’s traveling for work, so it’s all on her right now. Soon she’ll be heading to her part-time job at Fit House, where she works the front desk and handles social media. She gets in her regular workouts there as well.

Many a mom could relate to how she spends her days.

“I’ve got kids (Christopher, 14, and Ellie, almost 11), a dog, laundry, a husband,” she says.

Oh, and one other thing: “Chemo on Tuesdays.”

Paige has been through 24 rounds of chemotherapy since March following a 2010 recurrence of breast cancer that has since metastasized to her lungs, brain and liver.

But you wouldn’t know it.

She exudes nothing but good health and energy.

Paige credits exercise and good nutrition, both thanks to experts at Fit House, for her general well-being and minimal side-effects from the chemo, and she admits, “if the scans weren’t telling me I was sick, I wouldn’t think I was sick.”

Then again, a positive outlook may have something to do with it, too.

Paige was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 37 when she and her husband, Sandy, and their children were living in Maine. A television journalist who’d taken time off to raise her children, Paige decided to turn the camera on herself, chronicling her fight in 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 Paige’s sister-in-law, former ABC and CNN correspondent Linda Pattillo, during the nine-month fight. It 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.

In 2008, Paige and her family moved to Davis, where she immediately found people she loved to be around, who loved to be around her and her irrepressible spirit.

Good thing.

Because when she was re-diagnosed in 2010, “they kept coming toward me,” she said. ”This community has been overwhelmingly supportive. My children are supported, my husband. That’s critical.”

And much-needed, she said, because that re-diagnosis was tough.

After all the hoopla that surrounded “The Breast Cancer Diaries,” after being a survivor and inspiration to so many for six years, finding herself back at square one seemed to take all of the meaning out of the experience.

“I felt a little disconnected from the film after that because the story didn’t go the way I thought it would,” Paige said.

She found herself thinking that if she died, the film wouldn’t have the same positive message any more.

She took time to deal with the blow, to cry and experience the disappointment. And then, in what surely would be described as inimitable Ann Murray Paige style, she gathered herself together and said, “OK, let’s do this.”

As she began treatment again, this time with a heavier emphasis on exercise and nutrition, people began asking if she’d be making another film.

The answer: Absolutely not.

But a book she had started a couple of years earlier — the book she wished she’d had when she was first diagnosed — re-emerged instead.
It was a book 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 imagining the possibilities of getting the book in cancer centers, sending it home with cancer patients. She’s still figuring that part out.

She’s also remained active on her website and blog, www.projectpinkdiary.com, which has a worldwide following, and like her film, captures the good, the bad and the ugly, but always with Paige’s positive outlook. Even that really tough day in March, when she learned the cancer had spread to her brain and liver, seems to encapsulate who she is:

“So here’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying today,” she wrote. “I have cancer in my brain and in my liver.

“I can hardly believe it. I went for a scan last week and there it was. My doctor was stunned about the brain. I’d been having some trouble with my lungs so that wasn’t a surprise that it showed up a little bigger there… but the liver?

“The brain?

“WTF?

“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.”

That news in March wasn’t just discouraging: It impacted relationships in her life, she said. It was when some people “got scared away.”

“I’ve had to let people go … some have left me … which is hard, but I have to remind myself that everyone is doing their best,” she said.

“You just get to a point where the ending will be closer than you think… you can see it and you think, ‘Why are you wasting your time?’ ”

And clearly, there was no shortage of people at her side: the ones continually inspired by Paige’s spirit and positive outlook.

Rose Cholewinski was one.

The SwimAmerica owner and swim instructor knew Paige from Fit House.

“She decided I was a representation of positivity,” Paige said with a laugh. “She told me she was going to start selling positivity bracelets and giving me all the money, for treatment, medical costs, lattes … she said, ‘You inspire a lot of people.’ ”

Cholewinski started selling the bracelets at SwimAmerica, Paige said, and Fit House began selling them as well. Even Paige’s oncologist at Sutter, Melissa Williams, started selling them.

The bracelets came in packs of three; people who purchase them are supposed to wear one and give the other two away, to people who spread positivity in the world.

“Rose told me she only gives them to ‘Ann-worthy people,’ ” Paige laughed.

Paige loves giving them out herself.

One morning last week she gave them to two workers at Dutch Bros Coffee and another to an employee at her bank.

It made them feel great, and Paige even better.

The receptionist at her doctor’s office was given one after casually remarking that Paige looked so much younger than her age. On a day when Paige was feeling tired and bald and not the least bit young, it made all the difference in the world.

“I said, ‘I’m giving you a positivity bracelet,’ ” Paige recalled. “She was so excited she came around and gave me a big hug. I felt so good about it.”

So good, in fact, that she wrote about it on her blog. Word spread at Sutter, and soon the CEO was commending the receptionist for her positivity, Paige said.

Positivity, it seems, is contagious.

On Thursday, Fit House hosted a “positivity celebration” for Paige, with Cholewinski presenting to Paige all the money collected so far through the sale of the bracelets.

Paige spoke at the event, about the role of positivity in her ongoing fight, as well as the role of Fit House in maintaining her physical health.

Such public speaking is something she’s been doing more and more of.

Earlier this summer, she was invited to Massachusetts General Hospital’s “The One Hundred,” which honors 100 people or organizations for their contributions in the fight against cancer. She was thrilled, and immediately agreed to attend. Turns out they wanted more than that: They wanted her to be the one of The One Hundred to speak at the event, which she did.

That in turn has led to more speaking engagements — she’ll return to Boston later this month to speak again, including to breast cancer researchers, to give them a face and a story to help fuel their work.

Back in Davis, she’ll be at an inaugural Project Pink 5K run that A Change of Pace will sponsor on Friday, Oct. 25, because it is, after all, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The event takes place at 6 p.m. at the Putah Creek Winery.

“It’s a way to galvanize and unite people, and do it through the mode of exercise,” Paige said.

And she’ll continue to blog and, she hopes, find a way to get her book into the hands of people who could really use it.

“I’m not going to cure cancer,” she said. “I’m not going to fund the cure for cancer. But I’m going to show up and say, ‘There’s another way to handle it … with hope and exercise and nutrition.’ What I’m doing, I’m doing because I can. Because I’m here.”

She won’t be shoving her message down anyone’s throats either, she said.

“But if you get inspiration, if I make you laugh, perfect.”

Whether it’s breast cancer or divorce or bankruptcy or losing a family member, “everyone has something,” Paige said.

“Whatever it is, we all need something else to believe in, because what once made sense, doesn’t make sense any more. I just want people to say, ‘If she’s not in a corner crying, maybe I don’t have to be.’ ”

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Mary LiuOctober 06, 2013 - 9:03 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article! Highlighting Ann's inspiring story really shows how our community has together to support one another. No one works harder than she does and it's great to see her message of hope and strength out there.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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