Anne Baldwin stumbled into the emergency room with horrible abdominal pains. She had no idea what could be wrong with her.
Then, as she began to slip into unconsciousness, Baldwin saw the sign – for the surgical oncology center.
“No, this cannot be happening,” she remembers thinking. “I am not ready for this.”
Soon, she would be diagnosed with terminal stage 4 breast cancer, which had spread into her abdomen. And the chemotherapy treatments would prevent her from returning to work.
As a single mother with a 15-year-old daughter at home, she began to look for help and eventually found assistance through The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing.
This was not the first time Baldwin had been sick. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, she had undergone extensive treatment and surgery. But, as she had been cancer-free and on medication for almost five years, the news in October came as a total shock.
Now unable to work, she was afraid that after 20 years she was going to lose her home in Sunnyvale, the town where she grew up. “I didn’t want to move my daughter,” Baldwin said. “I just want her to live a normal life and have everything stay the same as much as possible.”
As the bills mounted, she visited Sunnyvale Community Services in search of a way to postpone her utility payments. Baldwin was referred to Season of Sharing, and when she found out it would take care of not only her utility bills, but also a month of her mortgage, she was shocked.
“I didn’t even know that was possible!” Baldwin said.
As a self-employed photographer, Baldwin spends a lot of her time in Silicon Valley working for high-profile clients. She has been feeling better after sessions of chemotherapy, but knows it is only temporary. With an application for disability pending, Baldwin hopes she can quit work sometime in January, enabling her to spend more time with her daughter at home.
“She is my pride and joy,” Baldwin said, smiling sadly.
As she sat outside a Starbucks coffee shop enjoying the warm sun on her back, Baldwin told a story she has always kept close to her heart. Wandering through a grocery store, wan, exhausted, and mostly bald except for about a half inch of hair, a man walked by and, looking her in the eye, gave her a bright, wide smile. When she asked why, he said with another smile: “I’m just appreciating your blonde beauty.” Then he walked away.
“On a day where I felt the lowest of the low,” Baldwin said, “he placed me at the top for just a moment. We don’t know how our actions and words affect people. I wish I knew his name or could see him again just so I could tell him what that meant to me.”
Today, Baldwin is focusing on living every day and celebrating the small things.
As she was helping her daughter plan a two-day “Lord of the Rings” party, she recalled one of her favorite scenes from the series. Gandalf is standing and facing a monster on the bridge of Khazad-dûm and, with a powerful voice, he shouts one of the most famous lines from the trilogy: “You shall not pass!”
“He says it with absolute determination and the future is already set because of that. It’s just like me and my cancer. I have a daughter that I have to get through high school and off to college, so it’s that same determination” Baldwin said.
Photo album for daughter
As far as the future goes, she has a couple of projects she wants to work on for her daughter, both of which involve photos. As a photographer, Baldwin laughs when she admits that she has never made a photo album for her daughter. But, on the days that she feels stronger, she has resolved to go through all the digital photos she has kept over the years and make one.
Her other project is to simply go back and look through all of the old photographs she has taken.
“I have pictures from 30 years ago that I have never seen since they were published. I want to get them digitalized so my daughter knows who I am and can see what I did, and it’s stuff I am proud of,” Baldwin said.
As far as the future goes, Baldwin is optimistic.
“It doesn’t get me down. I feel very purposeful, now more than ever. I may feel different later but I appreciate the little things, like staying up late with my daughter decorating for Christmas and finding that ornament from my childhood.”