2016-03-17 / News

Cancer survivor launches foundation for brain tumors

By Ryan Gibb s

From left, Amy Gallagher with her daughter Ava, husband Rob and daughter Greta. The family dog is named Dublin. From left, Amy Gallagher with her daughter Ava, husband Rob and daughter Greta. The family dog is named Dublin. Lyme disease is no stranger to Jamestown residents, so when Amy Gallagher began suffering extreme fatigue in the spring of 2014, she thought a tick may have been responsible.

Gallagher, who lives in town with her husband and two young daughters, visited specialists across the state. All tests for Lyme were negative. Her symptoms worsened as her face began to droop and the right side of her body started trembling. There were signs of Bell’s palsy and she lost depth perception in her vision. Finally, an infectious disease specialist referred her to a neurologist.

An MRI in July 2014 revealed Gallagher had a glioblastoma tumor on the left side of her head. It was worse than imagined.

“Any one of us is at risk for a brain tumor,” said Gallagher, who has since started a foundation to help combat adult brain cancer. “There’s no hereditary factors or lifestyle risk. It doesn’t matter.”

Following her diagnosis and four months of treatment, Gallagher was hospitalized to undergo immunotherapy. Her doctor used a drug that reduced the blood supply to the tumor. Since then, her health has improved, but her right arm is paralyzed and she walks with a cane.

“It’s amazing how she’s handled it,” said Linda Silveria, a board member at the foundation. “She’s a very amazing strong woman. She has some physical limitations and because of treatment she does get tired, but she’s unwavered in her passion for this.”

Despite the tumor’s impact, Gallagher’s outlook has remained positive. Today, much of her attention is geared toward her charity, the Amy Gallagher Foundation, which was founded in November. It provides resources for adults with brain cancer, the only such organization in Rhode Island, she said. The foundation provides financial aid for prescription co-pays and support to patients suffering from brain tumors. Gallagher hopes her firsthand experience with cancer gives the foundation credibility.

“I’ve gone through it and I’m still living,” she said. “A lot of people have historically not lived from brain tumors. We want to change that.”

Gallagher’s foundation also raises money for immunotherapy, similar to the treatments that saved her life.

“We want to get people in clinical trials and raise awareness about the research that’s being done,” she said. “I’m really excited about that. It’s been such a dark subject for so long.”

The foundation’s inaugural fundraiser is scheduled for April 28 at the Providence Biltmore. The master of ceremonies will be television reporter Mario Hilario. Gallagher’s doctor, Jorg Dietrich of Massachusetts General Hospital, will deliver the keynote speech. There will be dinner, dancing and a silent auction. A wall in memory of Rhode Islanders who have died of brain cancer will be unveiled. Tickets are available at the charity’s website.

“I can’t be surprised at Amy’s successes, but I’m astounded at what she’s achieved in this short period of time,” said Silveria.

Gallagher and her foundation are planning other fundraisers to raise awareness and money, including a night of stand-up comedy this summer at the Jamestown Recreation Center.

The foundation’s tagline, “A bright light for brain cancer,” is what Gallagher hopes to achieve as the foundation contemplates its expansion into Massachusetts.

“We want to be that bright light,” she said.

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