Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

How Maggie Lived Beyond Cancer

Former first lady battled disease for nine years and isn't the only one to exceed expectations

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Maggie Daley's story is inspiring because the diagnosis she got in 2002 was, until recently, viewed as a death sentence.

    Metastatic breast cancer is something that cannot be cured. It can only be managed. And yet Mrs. Daley lived a full life as a politician's wife, often in the limelight. And with each passing year, she showed women who were also battling the disease what was possible.

    It's a very public story, but there are others that don't make as many headlines that are just as inpirational.

    Take, for example, the story of Shirly Mertz, 64, who has lived with the same disease for 20 years.

    Mertz had a double mastectomy in 1991, but the breast cancer came back 12 years later, spreading to her liver and spine. Her first doctor told Mertz she had just months to live.

    But Mertz, a former principal from Fremd High School in Palatine, found a proper treatment regimen for her cancer at the University of Chicago Cancer Center. Mertz told NBC Chicago that the key was discovering exactly what type of breast cancer she had.

    "You really need someone to take the time to biopsy your tumor to find out the biological class of that tumor and match that tumor type with the appropriate treatment.  That's a different approach from 20 years ago, when they considered all tumors to be the same," she explained.

    Mertz began infusions of a drug called Herceptin, and within months her tumors disappeared. She had no evidence of the cancer anywhere in her body. 

    It doesn't work for everyone, and she knows she's not cured.  Mertz continues the treatments every few months.

    She's now the Midwest coordinator for the national Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and trying to convince others that metastatic breast cancer is not a death sentence.