Austin Gallant is a sophomore at the University of Maine. This summer he will be traveling with a group of college-aged students on a 70-day, 4000+ mile ride from Baltimore, Maryland to Portland, Oregon raising money and awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. His mom, Cathy Gallant, is a Clinical Research Associate at PRA Health Sciences and has worked in oncology for as long as Austin can remember. Together, they are trying to help.
You can help Austin on his mission to fight cancer. Visit his Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults page today to help out.
What made you decide to participate in this event?
I decided to participate in the 4k For Cancer because it is such a cool and unique program. I felt as though volunteering my summer to support young adults (ages 15-39) with cancer is the least is could do to help these people in a very unfortunate position. Along with supporting these patients, I also thought that it would be a once in a lifetime experience to cycle across the country!
Why is this cause important to you?
I think this cause is important because a lot of people overlook the social and emotional toll that it takes on patients when first being diagnosed with cancer. People often hyper focus on the problem as only biological, when mental and emotional health is so important in the healing process as well. A big part of The Ulman Cancer Fund’s goal is to spread resources and knowledge to recently diagnosed patients, helping them digest all of the information being thrown at them by family, friends and health specialists.
How did your mom’s work interest/influence you?
My mom has worked in oncology as long as I can remember. This is where I was first introduced to cancer at a young age. I often remember my mom coming home upset from one of her patients dying. I noticed that it happened all too often, and that’s where I started to realize how devastating cancer really is. My mom and I have volunteered at a few ‘Relay for Life’ events over the years in Portland, Maine as well. Through these events I started noticing how strong and inspiring the cancer community is.
I just recently ran a table on campus at The University of Maine for a day in which people were able to sign up and volunteer to become listed on the bone marrow registry. I had them swab their mouths for a lab to characterize their tissue type, and hopefully be a match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant! With these volunteers, there are more possible donors to support people with various types of blood cancers!
How has cancer touched your life personally?
I think that cancer has touched everyone in one way or another. I have personally had family members, and friends battle through cancer. I have seen how much of a toll it takes on not only the patient, but their support system as well.
I’m not sure if you’ve met any young people who are battling cancer, but if you have –what do you think is most difficult for them? What do you admire?
I have not met any young people battling cancer. Although, as part of the 4K For Cancer program, I have been reviewing scholarships submitted by young adults who have been through the cancer battle. I have read so many emotional and moving letters in these applications. I have noticed that many of the young adults that are first being diagnosed with cancer are very confused with the diagnosis. Many of them don’t know what to do with all of the information being given to them. They also don’t know if what they are feeling is normal or not. I admire the perseverance that it takes for these people to face the possibility of death head on, stay positive, and in the end come out a stronger person. Many of the stories that I have read from these applications have been very moving and admirable.
What are you most looking forward to about this 70-day journey?
What I’m looking forward to the most on this journey is all of the people that I will meet. I’m excited to meet all kinds of people in the cancer community across the country, and to learn as much as possible. Throughout the summer we will be delivering gifts to patients in different hospitals along of the way, and I’m so excited to see how it brightens their day, even if it’s just the slightest bit. I know this positivity is so important in the healing process, and I would love to be a part of that.
Cathy Gallant RN, BSN, OCN
How long have you been in the oncology field and what do you enjoy about your work?
I went to nursing school in Portland, Maine. While I was in school I worked as a nurse’s aid on the oncology unit at Maine Medical Center. This was my first exposure to cancer. Once I graduated with my nursing degree in 1989 I stayed working in Oncology for the next 24 years. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I Became a CRA in 2013 and have worked on oncology trials since then. Oncology is my passion. I loved working with patients knowing that I was making a difference in their lives. It is a very hard job especially when you build close bonds with patients that you care for over an extended period of time and then you lose them. But knowing I able to support them and bring comfort to them at often the most difficult time in their lives I found very rewarding. I have seen many, many patients beat cancer and continue to carry on their lives.
What motivates you to do this research?
I am motivated to do research to contribute in finding cures for cancer, and in particular more targeted therapies that do not cause the terrible side effects of the conventional Chemotherapeutics.
What are you most encouraged by when it comes to cancer research?
I am most encouraged by the pace at which science is evolving and finding ways to treat these cancers at a more molecular and genetic level. I think that we are looking at a future where we can detect these cancers before they develop and stop the them from forming.
How did you introduce your son to cancer fundraising efforts? And why was this important to you?
I first introduced my son to fundraising when he was in middle school. I was the Captain of our oncology units ‘Relay for Life team’ a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. This was an overnight event and we would tent out around a track at a local high school and someone from our team would be on the track walking at all times. My son was one of these people making endless laps around the track, and he loved being able to give his time in this way. He would see cancer patients there walking as well and it made him feel like he was making a difference. I find fundraising to be very important as there are so many unmet needs for cancer patients. Cancer can be not only be physically, and emotionally devastating, but financially as well. Fundraising can help fill so many gaps, such as funding for transportation to and from appointments, housing when patients have to travel far from home, prescription coverage, medical equipment, the list goes on and on.
Obviously you must be a proud Mom—what do you think about his planned trip?
I am very proud of Austin for taking the initiative to do this all of his own undertaking. He has put a lot of work into this and will continue to do so to until it is over in August. It is a little unnerving as a parent to think of my 20 year old son setting off on a 70 day 4000 mile bike ride, but at the same time I admire his bravery, persistence and the thorough preparation he is undertaking to complete what he starts out to do. I think it will be an amazing experience for him while doing a wonderful thing. This will be an experience he will be able to look back at all his life feel good about. I will be keeping an eye on where he is all along the way… I think there’s and app for that.