Kaitlin Gallagher, 21, a senior at San Francisco State University, grew up in Pleasanton, enveloped in the love of her family -- mom Luci, dad Kevin, sister Madison, now 19, and brother Timmy, now 14, plus both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. She attended Pleasanton schools and played softball for 10 years with the Pleasanton Girls Softball League, although she modestly recalled that she spent a lot of time on the bench.
This normalcy came to a crashing halt when, at 15 and a sophomore at Amador Valley High, Gallagher was diagnosed with Stage 4 acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Armed with optimism and determination, she never asked, "Why me?" but instead, "Why not me?" as she endured 80 days in the hospital with rounds of chemotherapy, spinal taps, blood transfusions, biopsies, a frustrating double port, and pills, pills and more pills.
Family and friends helped her fight, she said, visiting her frequently at UCSF children's hospital, as did her parish priest. She was able to return to Pleasanton in the middle of her treatment to be confirmed in the Catholic Church.
Gallagher responded well to treatment, and she was back at Amador that November for her junior year. She credits her family, friends and faith for giving her courage.
"I think it was definitely my upbringing, surrounded by all my extended family being in Pleasanton, the sense of community Pleasanton has," she said. "All of their courage is why I am courageous, the strength they've given me through my times of weakness."
She not only faced her cancer battle courageously, but she inspires others to show courage, with frequent speeches and appearances at fundraisers. A favorite speech was given in the lantern-lit darkness at the 24-hour Relay for Life at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which her longtime boyfriend Cody Shields, a Foothill grad, attends.
Gallagher noted that courage is necessary for small challenges as well as large.
"You don't have to be going through something as dramatic as I did," she said. "Just waking up, having the courage to go to school, day-to-day tasks."
Last spring, after five years, Gallagher was declared a cancer survivor. At that time she launched a campaign to be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's 2016 Woman of the Year in San Francisco, chosen according to the amount of money raised for the cause.
"I won," she reported. "I ended up raising $32,000."
Gallagher is majoring in communications with a minor in marketing. She works at a public relations firm now but says her avocation will always be working with organizations that provide cancer research grants and patient services.
"I think what has changed the most was to live for today because tomorrow is not a given," Gallagher said. "Live in the moment, being present in everything you do -- because you just never know."
Another way Gallagher was typical in her youth was in her fear of public speaking.
"I even almost flunked the freshman year speech proficiency test," she said with a laugh.
Now she relishes the chance to stand in front of an audience and inspire others to give money toward cancer awareness and research.
"I started loving it when I had a story to tell and I could help others with my words," she said.
* Kaitlin Gallagher has been a part-time nanny for twins for three years, beginning when they were 5 months old.
* She rides the bus to school every day and calls it a "reflective time," although she also people-watches and said, "I could write a book about the people on the bus in San Francisco."
* She joined a sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, to meet more friends -- and it worked.
* She does modern calligraphy, using a paint pen to write quotes on canvases to give to family and friends.
* One of her favorite quotes is: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain."