A family gives back after beating cancer
Posted October 2013
WHEN JEFF GALLAHUE was told in 2009 that he had throat cancer, he said “it was the worst feeling in the world … a life-altering experience.” After a grueling treatment regimen of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy, his doctor pronounced him cancer-free on January 3, 2011. “That’s also a very defining moment,” he said.
It certainly was. Gallahue’s cancer experience inspired him to establish the nonprofit Gallahue/Rooney Family Foundation to celebrate his recovery and to help others going through their own cancer journey by providing support for everyday needs such as transportation, parking, meals and child care during treatment. At its first fundraising event—a Valentine’s Day dinner-dance held in 2012—the foundation raised more than $60,000.
Soon after the foundation’s website (WeBeatCancer.org) was up and running, Gallahue was contacted by a social worker from the UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence who told him about a patient undergoing daily radiation therapy who was having difficulty paying for parking. The foundation purchased a supply of parking vouchers and gave them to the nurses at UMass Memorial to give to cancer patients as they deemed appropriate. Later, during a tour of the Cancer Center, Gallahue and his wife, Pat, proposed that they buy what they dubbed “Let’s Make Pat Comfortable” chairs for the chemotherapy infusion suites.
“When I was having chemo, Pat would sit in a hard, straight-backed chair for eight hours while I was in a comfortable recliner,” Gallahue explained. “If we could help other caregivers feel better after being with their loved ones all day, we would feel like we had given back a little bit.”
WeBeatCancer.org initially donated 30 comfortable guest chairs that were placed in the even-numbered infusion rooms in the Cancer Center. Patients soon began seeking out the rooms with the new chairs; some even preferred being treated in the new chairs, offering the reclining treatment chairs to their guests.
“The foundation identified a real need for caregivers and family members that wasn’t on the Cancer Center’s radar,” said Alan Rosmarin, MD, the Gladys Smith Martin Chair in Oncology and professor of medicine at UMass Medical School, chief of hematology/oncology at UMass Memorial and co-deputy director of the Cancer Center. “As a result, these new guest chairs have enhanced the quality of the patient and family experience dramatically.”
This past spring, WeBeatCancer.org donated 30 additional guest chairs so that every infusion room has one. The organization also provided a BOSE sound system for the Remillard Meditation Room, a tranquil healing space for patients and family members located on the sixth floor of the Ambulatory Care Center at UMass Memorial’s University Campus.
Gallahue is just grateful for the opportunity to help others going through what he endured.
“I didn’t beat cancer alone; my family and friends, my doctors and nurses, and the people who prayed for me helped me get through it,” Gallahue said of the genesis of his family’s foundation. “I couldn’t go on in life without giving back.”
This story was published in the Fall 2013 edition of the Your UMass medicine newsletter.