Every single person is affected by cancer, says survivor Kaitlin Gallagher, 20.
"When I give speeches, I always say, 'Raise your hand if you know someone who has or has had cancer,'" Gallagher said. "Every single person in the room will raise their hand."
She currently is raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to be chosen as its 2016 Woman of the Year in San Francisco. Every dollar donated to fight cancer counts, she pointed out, as does every minute volunteered for the cause.
Donations might go to research or to redo hospital rooms for children, she noted. It all counts.
Gallagher was 15, in the middle of her sophomore year at Amador Valley High, when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 acute lymphoblastic leukemia after having chronic back and leg pains and a lump at the base of her throat. She headed into battle at the children's hospital at UCSF, armed with optimism, an extended family and many friends in Pleasanton.
"I have a really, really strong community behind me -- both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are all in Pleasanton," Gallagher said. "My grandparents are still in the same house they bought 50 years ago."
Throughout her fight, she posted a blog written with a light touch. She told of "Living in Luxury" in her hospital suite with wall murals and feeling like a patient on "Grey's Anatomy" as medical students at the teaching hospital gathered around to discuss her case.
Gallagher said she never asked, "Why me?" but instead, "Why not me?"
"I feel I was chosen because I was healthy enough to respond to chemo treatments -- I responded 100%, with no side effects," she said. "Some people -- and kids -- don't respond at all."
After many months of medical procedures, Gallagher returned to Amador Valley High and, thanks to homeschooling, was able to graduate with her class.
"I finished treatment in October and went back to school in November," she recalled.
Now, after five years, Gallagher has been declared officially cured.
"I will continue regular frequent checkups to make sure I'm comfortable with it," she said. "And I am part of a survivors' clinic at UCSF."
Gallagher is finishing her junior year at San Francisco State University, majoring in communications with a minor in marketing. This summer, she is an intern at NBC in San Jose for the second year, taking the ACE train. She is unsure what her career will be but knows her avocation will continue to be helping others who have cancer.
"I've taken on so many organizations and nonprofits," she said. "I am passionate about working with organizations that provide cancer research grants and patient services."
She said she enjoys public speaking and frequently makes pleas for money, assuring her audience that anything -- $1 or $1,000 -- will make a difference. One speech in particular stands out in her mind, when she visited Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, which her longtime boyfriend attends.
"They were hosting a Relay for Life there," Gallagher recalled. "At the end of the night, there is a lap of silence and right before that, they have a speaker for all the college students. It was cool to sit in the dark with lanterns, and it was quiet so there were no distractions."
"I love speaking to peers about my story and relating to them," she continued. "I also love getting in front of hundreds and hundreds of people and asking them to give money."
Gallagher is getting lots of opportunities to request donations since she was nominated for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Woman of the Year.
"I have 10 weeks to raise as much money as possible," she said, adding that she's been holding fundraising events in Pleasanton and in San Francisco. The deadline for donations is June 4.
"I'm asking for everyone and anyone to donate," Gallagher said.
Donations can be made at www.mwoy.org/pages/gba/bayarea16/kgallagher. Those who don't want to give online can write a check in her name and mail it to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"Or they can call me (202-1907), and I will drive over and pick it up," she added with a laugh.
80 days in the hospital
12 chemo medicines
10 spinal taps
9 rounds of chemo
7 blood transfusions
4 PICC lines
3 bone marrow biopsies
3 ambulance rides to UCSF
1 frustrating double port