Long-Term Follow-Up

Annie Galgano

'I feel like I was meant to survive'

A little more than 20 years ago, nausea, fatigue and a lingering cold sent shivers up Annie Galgano’s spine.

She knew these feelings intimately—indelible marks left a decade earlier from her struggle against leukemia. She feared a relapse was under way.

Annie Galgano

Here she was, 31 years old, feeling sick and scared. But this time, Annie’s symptoms indicated something good—she was pregnant. Her daughter, Kayla, came into the world before Thanksgiving in 1991. Her son, Alex, followed in 1994. There was yet a third, Jonathan, who arrived in 1996.

When she first got pregnant, no one was more surprised—and more grateful—than Annie and her husband, John. During her treatment for leukemia in 1981, she received a great deal of radiation and chemotherapy in addition to her bone marrow transplant—with cells from her brother, Bill—to kill the disease.

But she was also told that the intense therapy would make her unlikely to be a mother.

When she did, she became front-page news. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that at that time she was only the 10th woman in the world to have a baby after intense radiation. She was deeply grateful that she was able to become a mother, and also deeply sympathetic to patients who could not.

Today, when she looks back at her life, Annie can’t help but be philosophical about her experiences.

"Leukemia was the best thing and the worst thing that happened to me. I know it sounds weird, but it made me a better person, a more compassionate person. I feel like I was meant to survive for a reason," she said. "Maybe it was meant for me to be a mother, to take care of others."

The struggles against leukemia made her grow up pretty fast. Even though she was 21 at the time of her bone marrow transplant, she felt she was naïve and a bit selfish. And then, reality sunk in. She was in a hospital, with doctors, nurses and family members hovering over her.

"You feel invincible until you get to the hospital," she said. "I didn’t even connect leukemia and cancer together. It was harder to watch other people worry about me.

"But the struggles make you grow. It made me a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter. Thank God and my family, and God bless all those nurses who took care of me."

Over the years, she has volunteered at the Hutchinson Center and at the American Cancer Society, driven by a desire to help cancer patients and cancer research.

"I always tell people never to give up hope. And there’s so much hope. This is a devastating disease, but we’re getting better at fighting it" — thanks to continuing breakthroughs in cancer research and treatment.

So, fight, she said, always fight. And never give up hope.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.