Newly married at the age of 28 and immediately relocating to northern California, Phuong Ly Gallagher had a lot of big plans, including starting a family with her new husband (Ed) and their daughter (Taylor). A diagnosis of Stage 3C cancer 6 months later (and progress to Stage IV after another year) changed her path but did not change her outlook on life. This new path was one of determination and perseverance which eventually led her to advocacy and support.
Phuong’s cancer was entirely unexpected. There was no known history of the disease in her family, she was young, and healthy. Like many other early onset cancer survivors (diagnosed under 50), she was misdiagnosed as her doctor did not suspect that cancer could be the cause of the severe stomach pains, bleeding, and dramatic weight loss.
The fever from what Phuong thought was a summer bug prompted her husband to insist on a doctor’s visit. They were shocked to find that she had dropped to a paltry 85 lbs. This forced a series of other doctor’s visits, including a colonoscopy, which revealed the tumor in her rectum.
Phuong has endured countless doctors’ visits in the last almost decade and has thrived despite the endless treatments of chemo, radiation, and surgeries due to not one, but five recurrences. She credits her devoted husband, Ed, and their daughter, Taylor, with getting her through the hardest times. She has an extensive support system including coworkers, friends, and family.
While many would call a diagnosis of advanced cancer their “worst day” Phuong has never lost her hope that she would beat her situation, or her faith in the excellent team of doctors shepherding her through. She has maintained her sense of humor and her determination with whatever cancer threw at her, telling her friends and family “I’m going to be okay,” and backing it up with her beaming smile. Eventually one of her doctors told her “You make giving bad news very easy.” Shortly after, her doctors would refer some new patients to her for support and information. Her cell phone would ring on a Saturday afternoon and she would be talking to a newly diagnosed person or their spouse who were right in the middle of “their worst day.” The conversations would sometimes last hours but would begin and end with the similar refrain “it’s going to be okay.”
Phuong used her daughter’s activities to make sure she never fell into a trap of self-pity. In her words “If I missed just one soccer game, or play, or teacher’s conference it would be far too easy to miss the next one.” According to her husband, Ed, “She has only shown worry when a fellow patient wasn’t doing well. She has only shown remorse when a fellow warrior earned their wings. Always for others and never for herself and it has always made her more determined.”
There are two non-profit organizations that have had significant impact on Phuong’s life of advocacy: The Colon Club and The WunderGlo Foundation. Phuong was even more determined to raise awareness and provide support to fellow survivors when she was selected to be one of twelve featured survivors in the Colondar 2.0, an annual resource magazine published by the Colon Club. While she always had a passion for helping others, this became her voice and platform for advocacy and awareness. The WunderGlo Foundation is dedicated to funding research for a cure, granting 100% of funds raised through their capital campaign (The WunderGlo Project) to world-renown doctors for their continued research. Their #LoveLife philosophy truly resonated with Phuong. She realized that this was how she had faced cancer, put into beautiful concise words.
The spirit of the other warriors continue to inspire Phuong and her family, constantly reminding her and others that “It’s going to be okay.”