About Maggie’s Brightside
Maggie Turner Van Duyn was a mother, a wife, a social worker, and a woman who naturally looked on the bright side. On September 29, 2015, Maggie was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer and was forced to add Cancer Thriver to her list of descriptors. As a healthy, energetic, 35-year-old mother of two, she was shocked and devastated to have been ushered into the Cancer Club. Maggie would come to intimately understand how difficult it is to be a member of that club; one that can include extremely toxic regimens, invasive surgeries, and drastically impacts one’s life physically, emotionally, and financially. With her cancer already metastatic at the time of diagnosis, Maggie’s doctors told her a mastectomy was not advised, and she would be facing ongoing chemotherapy for the foreseeable future.
Maggie was a skilled writer and previously documented her experience serving as a gestational surrogate for her friend on her blog Womb Womb Pow. So naturally, upon receiving the news of her diagnosis, she immediately started a new blog called Maggie’s Brightside. It was a way to not only keep her community up to date about her diagnosis, it was a space to chronicle the highs and lows of treatment, parenting, and life in general. Maggie’s authentic voice and belly-laugh-inducing humor resonated with other people living with cancer- both locally and across the country- and her following continued to grow.
Simultaneous to her forming the blog, and shortly after her diagnosis, Maggie was on Church Street in downtown Burlington, VT buying hats for her impending hair loss due to chemotherapy treatment. The store clerk, who knew her story from the blog, offered her 50% off each hat she purchased. Maggie was incredibly grateful that this person had offered her this substantial discount, but also knew she never would have bought those hats if she didn’t have stupid cancer. Maggie thought everyone with cancer deserved a discount- they want to look good, feel good, and have easy and affordable access to things that will help keep their spirits up. So, the idea was born for an actual ‘cancer card’ someone could ‘play’ and receive a discount.
Maggie spent 2016 and early 2017 reaching out to communities in her corner of the Green Mountain State, laying the groundwork for what would become the “Maggie Card,” all while receiving treatment, being a mother and a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cousin and a friend. On May 1, 2017 Maggie formalized her vision and registered Maggie’s Brightside as a L3C entity. That month she signed up nine local businesses as the first ‘partners’ on the Maggie Card offering discounts on goods and services; by the end of 2017, Maggie had a total of 40 businesses signed on. On October 6, 2017 at the annual Women and Cancer Conference, fellow Vermonters living with cancer were signed up for the first ever Maggie Cards (then called Cancer Cards).
By early 2018 it was clear Maggie’s idea was resonating with her community–from thrivers, to business owners, and to others who wanted to do whatever they could to help their neighbors facing such a hard time. Maggie dissolved the L3C entity and incorporated Maggie’s Brightside into a nonprofit 501(c)3, effective February 27, 2018. This step involved establishing a Board of Directors and bringing in amazing people to help her steward the vision and mission of Maggie’s Brightside forward. In 2018, Maggie brought on an additional 19 partners, bringing the total to 59 businesses providing discounts to Maggie Cardholders. She had registered 44 people living with cancer as cardholders.
Maggie was an advocate for people in need through the end. Her health took a turn In September and October 2018 with her liver and bone mets growing and not responding to the variety of treatments her doctors tried. On October 21, 2018, nine days shy of her 39th birthday, Maggie died, leaving behind devastated family, friends, and a huge community of followers.
In all of the groundwork she laid for her vision and legacy, she was clear that this work would live on beyond her. The Board sent out this message after Maggie died:
“This is the part where we assure you that although Maggie can no longer come with us on this journey, MBS is not going anywhere. Maggie founded this organization and although she is gone, MBS will keep moving forward. We are her legacy. Maggie had very clear plans for us, and they do not include giving up.”
In early 2019 the Board opened a search for the first Maggie’s Brightside staff. In April Jane Bensimhon joined as part-time Executive Director. At the end of 2019, Maggie’s Brightside currently had 71 business partners throughout Chittenden and Washington Counties and 158 Maggie Cardholders.
The Cancer Club is not a club anyone wants to be part of, but thanks to Maggie, Maggie’s Brightside brought a little sunshine on the cloudiest day possible.