When Andrea Gallo was diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer in February 2011, she embraced two sources of support: art and the cancer community.
Turning to art for therapy was a natural for Gallo, who was for many years the art director of the magazine Women’s Day in New York City. But finding other patients with cancer—particularly gastric cancer—was challenging. “There were a lot of breast cancer organizations out there, but who knows what stomach cancer is?” Gallo says. “I didn’t know how to reach out.”
Gallo credits her team of caregivers at Roosevelt Hospital in New York with helping her to find the right support community for her. Gallo’s treatment regimen began with six months of chemotherapy— epirubicin, oxaliplatin, and Xeloda (EOX). During her first visits to Roosevelt, the nurses referred her to Cancer Care, a New York organization that provides free counseling for patients.
One day, Gallo decided to walk into Cancer Care without an appointment. To her surprise, a social worker came right out to talk to her. “She was asking me questions. She let me cry,” Gallo recalls. “They set me up with social work and financial aid.” They also referred her to the Gastric Cancer Foundation.
Cancer Care pointed Gallo to several activities that played off both her love of art and her need to connect with other patients. She joined a cancer writing workshop and a jewelry-making class. Then she met the organizers of Fashion Fights Cancer, a group of fashion-industry professionals who offer design seminars for cancer patients.
Last August, Gallo participated in a Fashion Fights Cancer photo shoot. “I’ve never looked so beautiful in my life,” she says. (And yes, that’s the photo from the shoot, courtesy of Chayo Mata for Fashion Fights Cancer.) As fun as the photo shoot was, however, Gallo says that wasn’t actually the most rewarding part of the day. “I got to sit around and talk with other people who have cancer,” she says. “I got a chance to meet interesting people and hear their stories.”
Gallo also set up a personal blog at mylifeline.org, where she regularly updates about 50 friends and family members on her treatment. Not surprisingly, Gallo’s blog (https://www.mylifeline.org/A9Gallo/default.cfm?) is full of photos of interesting things she sees around New York City. “Lately the blog is more like a travel log,” she says.
After Gallo’s initial chemotherapy regimen, her doctors switched her to irinotecan, which she is given every few weeks. Her tumor, “has shrunk from a hockey puck to a life saver,” she says. She is now working part time for TORCH, an organization that provides career training in the arts for high school students.
Gallo says she doesn’t feel sick and has come to peace with the prospect of living with cancer chronically—a process she says wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the art and cancer communities. “People say it’s my good attitude,” says Gallo, who is now painting a mural for the infusion suite at Roosevelt Hospital. She keeps her spirits up, she says, by leaning on her love of everything visual. “Every day,” she says, “I try to look at something beautiful.”