It's payback time for Kaitlin
Kaitlin Gallagher is back on her feet and doing what she can to "give back" to the Pleasanton community and Bay Area organizations that came to her aid during her year-long successful leukemia treatments. Chosen as the Student of the Month by the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, the 17-year-old senior at Amador Valley High School earned loud applause as she recalled her medical battle that kept her out of school for much of 2011 and in the UC San Francisco Medical Center for weeks at a time while undergoing chemotherapy, blood transfusions and visitor-free rest.
It worked and Kaitlin is now back at Amador, where her teachers provided home schooling during her absence, and looking forward to graduating in June and enrolling in college, although she hasn't picked one yet.
Her travails started in March 2011 when she began having back and neck pains so severe that she was unable to attend school. A pitcher just warming up for her team's new season in the Pleasanton Girls Softball League, where her dad Kevin is a coach, she thought it was a strain or pulled muscle.
But an MRI ordered by her doctor told a different story. Two tumors were found to have fractured a vertebra and were growing, with further tests confirming that she had Stage 4 leukemia. Her specialists at UCSF called, telling Kaitlin and her mother Luci to come back to the San Francisco hospital, and this time bring overnight bags. That stay lasted 22 days and she underwent an aggressive chemotherapy treatment program that successfully zapped the tumors, with Kaitlin's health restored by October.
During her treatments, Kaitlin earned the response of the Special Spaces organization, whose volunteers came to her First Street home for a makeover of her bedroom in the colors and style she wanted. The Make-A-Wish Foundation heard of her hope to visit Hawaii, and paid for an all-expense, seven-day trip to Maui for Kaitlin and her family, including her parents, sister Madison and brother Timmy.
Now it's payback time, she told Rotarians last week in accepting their student award. She now volunteers with Special Spaces on makeover projects throughout the area where she feels she also brings a special kind of camaraderie to the children she's helping who have life-threatening illnesses. It's the same with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where she volunteers and helps in its fundraising efforts. Last July, she joined with the Cancer Club at Amador in supporting Relay for Life's annual fundraiser at Pleasanton Middle School, speaking at its opening ceremony about her own battle against cancer and then walking with fellow students for the 24 hours to earn sponsorship contributions.
In the coming weeks, Kaitlin is also volunteering in preparations being made by the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation for its March gala, where it raises funds to help cancer victims. Last fall, she started making blankets, making sure that on Christmas Day every child at the UCSF hospital received one of Kaitlin's blankets as a gift.
After checking out of UCSF's medical center with a clean bill of health, Kaitlin accepted an invitation by the Rev. Padrig Greene to talk about her "Attitude for Gratitude" at a service at St. Augustine Catholic Church, which she and her family attend. Gratitude, she said, unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
In taking note of her experience, she thanks the scientists who tirelessly search for a cure, but in the meantime have developed with precision the ever evolving treatment plans; the doctors with mind and hearts that want to heal; the nurses, who caringly watched over her; and her family and best friends for their many long trips to San Francisco to visit.
Kaitlin also believes that she was one of the fortunate. She tolerated chemotherapy, surgeries and scans. She was able to enjoy life during a time when others might have hibernated and had difficulty seeing the constant bounty of blessings around. Now, she told parishioners, she prays that God will continue to give her the strength and fortitude to repay all the kindness and blessings by helping others in need.
To read more about Kaitlin's experiences and plans, sign on to her blog at www.kaitlinsluckymia.blogspot.com/.