Maggie Daley: She Did It Her Way

Maggie Daley (center) surrounded by former athletes and other members of the Chicago 2016 delegation in Copenhagen in September 2009; AP Photo/Matt Dunham

I was sorry to see Maggie Daley, wife of Chicago’s former mayor, died this past Thursday. Daley, 68, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. She had bone, liver and lung mets.

“Certainly she had a disease that was sensitive to a variety of different therapies,”  said Dr. William Gradishar, director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Maggie Daley Center for Women’s Cancer Care in a Sun-Times article. “She had perseverance — that was an element that can’t be underestimated. Mixed in there was some component of things we don’t understand. The end result was she had a long survival.”

As the Sun Times reported: First diagnosed with cancer in June 2002, Mrs. Daley more than tripled the average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with the disease in which cancer cells spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes. In July 2006 she had surgery to remove a tumor in her right breast. In April 2009, she underwent a biopsy of a lesion on her spine, a sign that the cancer had spread to the bone. In March 2010, a foot-long titanium rod was inserted in her right leg to support the bone, weakened by radiation treatments.

Maggie Daley dealt with cancer as she did with public life: on her own terms. She was a private person. She gave her time to the city and many charitable programs, especially involving children and the arts.

But, just as she reserved Sunday as a family day, Mrs. Daley kept most of her cancer issues to herself. If she had to attend a public event on crutches, in a wheelchair or using a walker, she did. She seldom commented on her health.  She showed many people it was possible to have an incurable disease and still carry on.

I never met Mrs. Daley. From television and newspaper reports, however, I gained glimpses of her poise.

I am sure many reporters and well meaning people gave her “The Look” while asking “How are you….really?”

I can’t imagine many people made the same mistake twice. In one print interview, Mrs. Daley offered a polite “Just fine” type answer, and deftly changed the subject.

When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2009, I felt like a fugitive.  I was hiding from a disease I fully expected to find me soon and do its worst.

In September 2009, I saw a picture of Maggie Daley leading a delegation of  Olympic athletes to Copenhagen. Copenhagen! I only had a small volume of bone mets and I was walking on eggshells.

Maggie Daley had bone, liver and lung mets and she wasn’t sitting around feeling sorry for herself. She wasn’t just marking time, waiting for cancer to come get her.

She looked pretty damn good.

If she could could have metastatic breast cancer and still have some kind of life, well, maybe I could, too.

Mrs. Daley’s official mission failed–the Olympic selection committee rejected Chicago’s bid. But she inspired me and countless others–so it did succeed on that level.

Maggie Daley also inspired Shirley Mertz, my fellow Metastatic Breast Cancer Network Volunteer.  Reminding us that much of the focus on breast cancer goes to prevention and screening, Shirley told a Tribune reporter that Daley’s case shows that more research must be done on treating metastatic cancer, which is what kills 40,000 women a year.

Noting Daley’s influence on her husband’s city beautification program, Mertz added, “When I see those pink tulips come up along Michigan Avenue next year, I’ll think of her.”

“Maggie reminds us — everybody has to decide what they want to do with the time they have.”

–Shirley Mertz, board member, MBCN

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2 thoughts on “Maggie Daley: She Did It Her Way

  1. Fantastic post about a fantastic lady. Everybody does, indeed, have to decide what to do with the time they have. Hasn’t this always been the case? It’s just that before BC, we naively thought we had all the time in the world (at least I did). Post-BC, I know that I don’t… yet neither does anyone else.

    May Ms. Daley rest in peace, she lived by example!

    -Renn

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