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Perseverance in Hope: One Woman’s Inspirational Battle With Cancer & Championing Falls Church’s Relay for Life

Hope sustains many people through the hardest ordeals, and in the case of one Falls Church citizen and cancer survivor, it’s appropriate that Hope happens to be her name.RFLSurvivors

Hope sustains many people through the hardest ordeals, and in the case of one Falls Church citizen and cancer survivor, it’s appropriate that Hope happens to be her name.

RFLSurvivors

STANDING WITH A RELAY FOR LIFE PARTICIPANT, left, Hope Galley will be participating in her third Relay for Life this year in Falls Church with her relay teams, Good Humor and Good Humor 2. (Photo: Courtesy Hope Galley)

In many ways, Hope Galley is your typical woman in her mid-30s. She’s the epitome of the proactive  sales manager, frequently on call, needed in Paris one day, New York the next. The Blackberry is a necessity rather than a frill; her bright, beaming personality a natural trait rather than an acquired skill.

It would come as a surprise to some of her clients and onlookers that this vibrant woman on the go walks permanently with a crutch, a vestige of a recent and vicious battle with cancer, one that nearly claimed her life.

“You know, my name is Hope, not Despair,” said Galley, who now spearheads business sponsorships for Falls Church’s Relay for Life, the annual cancer research fundraiser slated for May 30 – 31 at the George Mason High School track and field.

This is her third year involved with the Falls Church relay, part of the American Cancer Society’s nationwide fundraising effort that commemorates survivors and victims of the common disease, as well as raises money for regional hospital and research efforts in the fight to defeat cancer.

When not organizing events, Galley balances her time between work and play, which for many may look like work itself. Accustomed to running several marathons a year, the 38-year-old Galley still competes in four or five marathons yearly, equipped now with a hand bicycle that she propels on road and up hills for the 26.2-mile race.

All of that might have seemed impossible three years ago when, following several incorrect diagnoses, doctors discovered a 13-centimeter tumor between her pelvis and left leg.

“I remember lying down in the operating room preparing for radiation treatment. I had all of the tattoo markings where they were going to treat, and I just spoke up, ‘You know, I don’t feel like dying today,'” Galley told the News-Press in an interview.

Instead, through connections at her workplace, Cisco Systems, Galley headed to Johns Hopkins for treatment. Since then, she has persevered through 90 rounds of radiation, 12 different cycles of chemotherapy, a remission in 2007 and an ensuing operation that resulted in her left leg’s paralysis.

“I’d rather have one leg and be alive than be dead with two nice-looking, good legs,” said Galley, laughing. “I can’t hide my battle with cancer; I live with it every day.”

The future, however, has looked promising. “They say you’re cured of cancer after five years,” she explained, with air quotes reserved for “cured.”

“Of course, you never know. It’s a situation where you have to live in the here and now.”

During her time at Johns Hopkins, bedridden and left weak from the toll of treatments, Galley said she befriended many of the patients around her, some of whom survived, others who, despite apparentl successful treatments, succumbed to relapses. “I met children who never knew or would know life; I knew life before cancer. It’s heartbreaking.”

 

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HOPE GALLEY takes the survivor lap around the race track with other teammates at last year’s relay, which had around 42 teams. This year’s roster boasts 73 teams. (Photo: Courtesy Hope Galley)

Channeling her positive spirit, Galley survived a precipitous drop in weight to 108 pounds from her normal 125. “I closed off the windows not because the light hurt, but because I didn’t want to see myself. I could see my bones. By the third week of treatment, I just wanted to be out of there.”

Today, Galley remains every part the active woman she once was, albeit taking life in a new, less stressful stride. “I eased back into work full throttle,” Galley said, “but I think, as a result, I’m a better leader who can sit back and take a softer approach to work.”

Likewise, she has become once more the Type A party-planner, arranging baby showers, reunions among friends and, most importantly, Relay for Life.

Galley said she came upon Relay for Life through friends she had made during treatment.

When she first came to George Mason High School’s track, there were four teams participating, Galley recalled. “I was expecting tons of people. It was still cool, but I immediately thought, ‘This has to change.'”

While the Falls Church school community still comprises many of the relay teams, Galley said that at the time, in 2006, she sought to broaden the involvement. “Participation is so much larger if we involve the community outside of the school system. My idea was, take a flier, get the businesses involved,” said Galley, adding with a chuckle, “You can tell where I go ’round town.”

Three years later, 73 teams have now signed up so far walk the track at Mason on Saturday, May 30, including Galley’s two teams, Good Humor and Good Humor 2. As of this Wednesday, the relay teams have raised a collective $80,117 toward their goal of $120,000; $21,670 of that is the combined effort of Galley’s teams.

Her heavy involvement in ensuring Relay for Life’s success has in part earned Galley the 2009 Falls Church Chamber of Commerce’s Humanitarian Award. The distinction was “very nice,” she said, but insists, “the focus isn’t on me: it’s on other people. One person can make only so much of a difference. It’s about a community rallying around a cause.”

Galley pointed to her teammates and fellow cancer battlers, one of them, Nancy Mika, is a survivor of five reoccurrences of 3C ovarian cancer, one of the most lethal forms.

Another one of her teammates is preparing to leave Yorktown High and looks forward to her freshman year at the College of William and Mary this fall. “She walks around with a gash along her leg,” said Galley. “It’s not something every 17-year-old faces.”

Galley hopes the weekend of May 30 – 31, with the more than 600 participants on the field beside the track beginning at 6 p.m., will be “really amazing” for newcomers and old faces alike.

For Galley, it will be another family reunion, with her brother heading in from New York and family from across Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

It’s a familial relationship forged even stronger during her own battle with cancer. “My brother quit his job in New York when I was at Johns Hopkins,” said Galley. “And I remember he said, ‘I can have any job, but I only have one sister.”

The road ahead to the end of the month relay is far from over. Galley has planned several fundraising events before May 30, such as one held last Wednesday at Clare and Don’s Beach Shack with Galley taking on the bartending responsibilities.

“I am impressed with her talent and initiative,” said fellow relay organizer Sara Fitzgerald, who started her own team this year after attending last year’s and meeting Galley. “Her work with the community has been inspirational. She does so much work with Cisco, and finds the time to juggle these responsibilities.”

Even so, the mission has stayed simple for Galley: “I just want to be a good friend, a good daughter, a good sister and a good human being.”

Interested persons can visit www.relayforlife.org/fallschurch to get the latest on fundraisers run by Galley and others, in addition to ways to get involved in Falls Church Relay for Life.

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