In the 10 years and one day that Ann Murray Paige lived after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she wrote books, launched a blog that was informative and irreverent, cowrote and acted in a one-woman stage show, and was the subject of “The Breast Cancer Diaries,” a documentary she and her sister-in-law created to chronicle her initial months of treatment and recovery.
At one moment in footage posted online, Mrs. Paige, a former Maine TV reporter who once aspired to climb the broadcast news ladder, looks in a mirror after having her hair cut short in anticipation of it falling out. “Great,” she says. “I wanted to be Katie Couric and I ended up as Matt Lauer instead. . . . Chemo, here I come.”
In another scene she lies in a hospital bed after a double mastectomy, her voice a study in calm indignation.
“I just had my breasts removed and there’s really not a lot of respect for that here. At least not from what I can understand because they want me out and they want me gone,” she says. “You know, ‘It’s not an essential part of the body,’ is what the terminology is . . . why they consider this a one-night procedure. You know, if these were my testicles, I think that maybe I would have been able to spend a couple of nights in here.”
Wise in one frame, weary in the next, and often wisecracking in the face of adversity, she used the global reach of her documentary and writing to educate the rest of the world about the world of cancer patients. Mrs. Paige died March 16 in her home in Davis, Calif., where she moved a few years ago with her husband and two children. She was 48.
‘Any way that I can make something positive happen, then that’s what I need to do.’
Honored last year by Massachusetts General Hospital as one of The One Hundred “individuals and organizations who have dedicated themselves to making a difference in the fight against cancer,” Mrs. Paige gave a tour-de-force speech that touched on her activities, including the slender book “Pink Tips” she wrote as a cancer primer for those who are daunted when they are diagnosed and then handed books than run for hundreds of pages.
“I am not just a patient advocate in the fight against cancer, I am a cancer patient, and not just metastatic breast cancer in my lung. Three months ago, they told me it’s now in my brain and my liver, too,” she told the Mass. General audience in closing.
“So for this last moment, I’d like to take off my advocate hat and I’d like to put on my patient hat,” she added, slipping off her wig as ringing applause greeted the sight of her smooth bald head.
Her husband — Sandy, whom she met when she was a reporter for WCSH-TV in Portland, Maine, and he was an assistant to then-governor Angus King — said Mrs. Paige “had an ability to connect and communicate, even before she was a journalist.”
“More people fell in love with Ann through her life than you could ever believe,” he added. “I don’t mean in love romantically, but with her spirit. It was really a remarkable gift.”
The documentary, which has been seen in about 30 countries and translated into two other languages, was directed by Mrs. Paige’s sister-in-law Linda Pattillo, who has been a correspondent for ABC and CNN.
“I didn’t know what a documentary would mean for me, much less what was about to happen to me,” Mrs. Paige said in her “One Hundred” speech. “But though I didn’t know much about cancer, I knew it would change me in profound and permanent ways, and that would be worth capturing.”
According to her sister, Mary Beth of Newton, when Mrs. Paige started the documentary, “she said, ‘Mary Beth, I want to do this documentary and these books not only to help other people, but in case I’m not here, I want my children to know who I was.’ ”
Mrs. Paige’s son, Christopher, is now 14, and her daughter, Ellie, is 11. They appear in the documentary, too, as does her husband. Through her blog, Mrs. Paige left few thoughts unrecorded, and the documentary left few scenes unseen. “I think it was three days after the diagnosis that we had a camera in the house and a camera on a tripod in our bedroom recording our lives,” her husband said.
In scenes that seesaw between tenderness and humor, at one point they sit on their bed to assess Mrs. Paige’s wig (She: “Like my wig?” He: “I love your wig. It’s you 10 years ago. It’s pretty darn cute.”) and discuss plans for their seventh wedding anniversary (He: “Where are we going?” She: “Where are we going? We’re going to Dana-Farber.”).
The youngest of six children, Mrs. Paige grew up in Shrewsbury, where her father, David Murray, was a salesman and a manager for a paper company, and her mother, the former Mary Jane Crowley, had been a teacher.
“She had an inner beauty and an outer beauty that people were taken with,” her sister said, “and once they met her, they never forget her.”
Mrs. Paige graduated from Notre Dame Academy in Worcester and from Boston College, where she studied communications and Spanish. After trying out the sales field, she returned to Boston for a master’s at Emerson College. She started out doing the weather segments for a Virginia TV station before moving to Maine, where she was a reporter and anchor at WCSH-TV, and later worked for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. As a reporter, she distinguished herself with her coverage of issues affecting migrant workers at an egg farm, using her fluency in Spanish to gain key interviews.
In 1997, she married Nathaniel Paige, who is known as Sandy, and they lived in Wellesley for a time when he received a master’s in business administration from Babson College. After their two children were born, she found a small lump one day during a self-exam while showering, which led to the diagnosis.
Before and after the diagnosis “she was a fabulous mom,” her husband said. “All the same things that made her endearing to the people who loved watching her on air and in the coffee shops, those same characteristics made her understand her children’s dreams and frustrations better than any mother I’ve ever seen.”
In addition to her husband, children, parents, sister, and sister-in-law, Mrs. Paige leaves a brother, David Murray Jr. of Atlanta; and three other sisters, Ellen Murray Silvius of Wayland, Susan Murray Barakat of West Roxbury, and Joan Murray Schulz of Newton.
A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. June 7 in St. Mary Church in Shrewsbury.
There are unguarded moments in the documentary when Mrs. Paige addresses the camera crying, exhausted by chemotherapy. She is just as unflinching in projectpinkdiary.com, the website for her blog and the nonprofit she launched to provide advocacy and support for those diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I don’t know how much time I have, and it’s important for me to do something. If I’m not here for my children to know me, then my writing will speak to them and to others,” Mrs. Paige told Lee Woodruff a couple of years ago for a Women’s Health magazine article posted online. “Any way that I can make something positive happen, then that’s what I need to do. Because if cancer just simply takes me away too soon, that’s unacceptable to me. I can’t give cancer that power.”
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