She has lived through the darkest days of the Troubles, survived the Second World War and beaten cancer, and now a feisty 70-year-old woman has been hailed for her moving — and ultimately successful — campaigning for a radiotherapy unit which she bravely began just days after a family tragedy.
Inspired to help after her own sister’s death from cancer, Maisie Crawford has been named Pensioner of the Year in Londonderry for the part she played in securing a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Maisie was nominated for the Age Concern award by the Pink Ladies cancer support group, the organisation she joined just days after her sister, Ann, lost her fight against lung cancer.
Nine years ago the Waterside woman successfully beat breast cancer. Even though she was grieving for her sister when she was asked by community workers in Caw if she would help the campaign for a radiotherapy unit, she readily agreed.
“The First Minister was coming to Caw and the local community worker Mildred Garfield asked me to speak with him,” she said.
“It was just days after my sister's funeral so I wasn't in the best form, but I said I would and asked if I could bring my friend, Marie, who was in the Pink Ladies for a bit of support.
“When I got there I was met with a sea of pink, about 30 women all wearing their bright pink T-shirts and smiling at me.
Maisie said it was at that meeting she decided to tell First Minister Peter Robinson (below) how important getting the unit was.
“I didn't know very much about the Pink Ladies before that but seeing that sea of pink gave me the courage to talk to Mr Robinson and I told him all about what the people here had to put up with so they could get treatment for their cancer,” she said.
“I had gone with my sister up and down the road during the worst winter I remember but although I had treatment nine years ago the journey wasn't as bad as what she went through.
“So in her memory and for the sake of others I went to the rally they held in the Guildhall that same week when they launched their petition.”
She added: “They are an amazing bunch and I soon joined them and went to Stormont where we handed in the petition to the new minister, Edwin Poots and I was in the Gasyard Centre when he announced the cancer centre was going to be built after all.
“I never would have guessed I would have been nominated for anything like this and the Pink Ladies have been so supportive of me since Ann died, they have been out of this world.
“I know my sister, Ann, would have been so proud. She would have been calling to everybody she met, ‘Our Maisie got a cup for being Pensioner of the Year'.
“I have to admit when I passed the gate of her house on the way back from Age Concern I did lift the award they gave me and said, ‘Look what they gave me Ann’.”
The Pink Ladies offer help and support to women diagnosed with breast cancer, and are based at the Gasyard Centre in Londonderry’s Bogside. The were the lead organisation in the campaign to overturn the decision by former health minister Michael McGimpsey (right) to shelve plans for a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin.