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Menino breaks off cancer treatment, seeks palliative care

Former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino has stopped chemotherapy and other treatment for his inoperable cancer, a decision that reverberated Thursday with sadness and calls for prayer in the city he led for two decades.

The 71-year-old was diagnosed with advanced cancer in February, shortly after leaving office and the round-the-clock pace he kept during five terms as mayor.

Menino began chemotherapy and charged ahead with his post-mayoral plans. He helped launch an initiative on cities at Boston University earlier this year, traveled across the country giving speeches, and co-wrote a memoir published earlier this month.

But as Menino embarked on a book tour last week in New York City, cancer and the treatment regimen had clearly taken their toll. He used a wheelchair, and his voice was often reduced to a rasp because of laryngitis.


Upon returning to Boston, he was hospitalized with dehydration at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is receiving palliative care, and doctors have told the former mayor the next step is hospice care.

“While I continue to fight this terrible disease, I feel it is time for me to spend more time with my family, grandkids, and friends,” Menino said in a statement issued by his former press secretary, Dot Joyce.

Menino suspended a tour promoting his book, “Mayor for a New America,” which included canceling several appearances in Boston. The announcement surprised and concerned scores of public servants, elected officials, and civic leaders who came of age working for what became known as “Team Menino.”

“The news for me is very tough and emotional,’’ said J. Larry Mayes, who was chief of human services in the Menino administration. “He was tough [as a mayor] and is still tough.”

Edward Jesser, a friend and political adviser, has known Menino since long before he answered to the title “Mr. Mayor.” Cancer was an unexpected battle, he said, that Menino has taken on with the same gusto as past fights.


“He’s handling it with the class he handled most things,” Jesser said.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke to Menino on Thursday evening and said the former mayor asked about recovery efforts in the wake of intense rain squalls.

“He was worried about how bad was the flooding and if we were able to clear the trees,” Walsh told reporters outside an event at Faneuil Hall. “Once you’re elected mayor, you’re always mayor of Boston. He’s a fighter. He’s going to continue to fight. I could hear it in his voice on the phone.”

In his statement, Menino thanked doctors, nurses, and other staff members at the Brigham and at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for caring for him and other patients and families who suffer from cancer.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that one day the talented researchers, doctors, and medical professionals in this city will find a cure for this awful disease,” Menino said.

“Angela and I are grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support and kindness shown to our family and ask that everyone keep us in their thoughts and prayers,” he said, referring to his wife of nearly 50 years. Thursday night, Menino sent a similar message from his Twitter account.

While in office, Menino had endured prolonged stretches of poor health, including two earlier bouts of cancer. But physicians have said that his current cancer diagnosis is unrelated to earlier malignancies.


In February, a month after leaving City Hall, Menino was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer that had spread to his liver and lymph nodes.

Like other civic leaders, the Rev. Richard “Doc” Conway said he was disheartened that illness had robbed the former mayor of his strength so soon after leaving office.

“The poor guy just retired, and now he’s dealing with this,’’ Conway said. “He worked all those years and didn’t take much time to himself.”

And even now, Conway said, Menino has promised he will make his annual Christmas Eve visit to Bowdoin Street and at the St. Peter Teen Center.

Former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who preceded Menino at City Hall, said Thursday evening he planned to walk to his church in South Boston to pray.

“I always say a prayer for my parents and for my family members who are sick, and included in that is Tommy Menino,” Flynn said.

Author Jack Beatty, who helped Menino write his memoir, said Thursday night he was particularly struck by a moment the former mayor recounted from last year’s Gay Pride parade. Menino had been far ahead of public opinion on gay rights.

As Menino watched the parade from a wheelchair in the twilight of his mayoralty, a marcher broke away and ran to him with tears in her eyes. Years before, the woman had been rejected by her parents, and she moved to Boston. She thanked Menino for helping her feel accepted in her new home.


“As I battle cancer, her words bring me contentment,” Menino wrote in the book.

The moment was emblematic, Beatty said, of the impact Menino had on Boston, making people’s lives better.

“He knows that it’s been a life well-spent,” Beatty said. “There are lots of people like that young woman in the city. That’s a reason to be in politics.”

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at Andrew.Ryan@Globe.com. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.