How tricky is Katie Gallardo's world these days?
She answers the door of her Syosset home sporting a T-shirt that says, "CANCER SUCKS." Her wish to shout from the mountaintops the battle her family has faced since her daughter, Gina, was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2009, is unrelenting.
"I thought she was going to D-I-E," Gallardo says.
For just a moment she's censored, spelling out "die" instead of saying it because 3 1/2-year-old Gina–even when rolling around on the floor in a princess dress and complaining that her dog, Misty, is a "pain in the butt"–picks up on everything.
But that's the world Gallardo was thrust in more than a year ago, hoping to keep one child alive while pregnant with another.
And she considers herself one of the lucky ones. Gina is responding well to treatments, her hair is growing back–after dad Rob shaved his head in a show of support–and her own struggles aside, she relishes putting a protective arm over 9-month-old sister Allison. Extra helpings of Purell, carefully choosing when to go to the movies and Adventureland to avoid too many kids that may affect Gina's challenged immune system...it's all a small price to pay for a mom.
Katie Gallardo, who also found solace and support at Plainview's Morgan Center–the only preschool in the country for kids with cancer–wants to give back, and now. She can't wait after she goes on Facebook. There she's regularly reminded about the anguish of another mom she got to know, one whose child was also treated at Winthrop Children's Medical Center in Mineola.
Gallardo was already planning a July 24 bone marrow and blood drive at Plainview Reformed Church. For every flyer she handed out she hoped to find a blood marrow match for this child, who wasn't responding to treatment. When that happens a marrow donor is the only hope.
It turned out to be too late, but that tragedy just has Gallardo working harder. If a family member isn't a potential bone marrow match the chance of finding a match from a stranger is 1-in-20,000.
"If I hand out 20,000 flyers and get 600 people registered and two people turn out to be a match, it's well worth it," Gallardo says.
Unfortunately, often people have to be impacted personally before they'll get involved.
"I had a friend who said that [donating] is painful; I would only do it for Gina," Gallardo says. "I'm like, you don't know in five years if somebody if your family is going to need it. If I got a call from across the country saying that I was a match for someone else, I think it would be the greatest opportunity in the world to do something for someone."
For now she'll just focus on making the most out of July 24 in Plainview.
Gallardo says simply, " As long as she's OK, I'll do anything."
The bone marrow and blood drive in honor of Gina Gallardo will be held on July 24 at Plainview Reformed Church, 560 Old Bethpage Rd., Plainview. For more information on donating or volunteering, contact Katie Gallardo at 516-677-0183.