Betty Gallo: The Making of a Prostate Cancer Advocate

Published on September 10, 2010

Updated on February 13, 2018

I met my husband, the late Congressman Dean A. Gallo (NJ-11) on August 26, 1986. I had my doubts about politicians, but Dean restored my faith in them.

The first 6 years were great, but in February 1992 everything changed. Dean was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Dean’s PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) level was 883; the traditional PSA level of 4.0 is considered a reasonable threshold for further evaluation. The cancer had already spread to his bones. As Dean put it, “I lit up like a Christmas tree.” His life expectancy was 3-6 months.

Dean went to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, a decision that proved to be a good one. He needed a more aggressive form of treatment, and he was put on a phase I clinical trial. Dean’s PSA level dropped from 883 in February 1992 to 3.5 in March 1993. Dean said “Honey, I don’t even feel like I have cancer.” He felt this way because he had no pain.

Dean’s PSA levels went up and down over the next year and a half. He tried different medications, but in October 1994 he fell and broke his shoulder.  Dean went into the hospital but the cancer had become more aggressive and he died on November 6, 1994, two days before the 1994 elections.

In spring 1995, a voice in my head called to me which said I needed to do something to support prostate cancer research.  I started doing my research and like many and looked up the single word “cancer.”  I started a softball tournament with the American Cancer Society shortly thereafter in Dean’s memory, which was my first step toward becoming an advocate. In 1997, I founded the Dean and Betty Gallo Prostate Cancer Center at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

With the help of Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Dean’s successor, and the New Jersey congressional delegation, we received our first $1million for the Gallo Center in the 2000 federal budget. This money has been used to increase funding to researchers, post docs, programs and creation of the cancer center with its own clinic, labs and administrative offices.

Since 2000 we have received 18.5 million for the Gallo Center, which has helped provide seed money to new and upcoming researchers in prostate cancer.It also has helped to bring clinical trials from the lab to the patient.

This has become my calling and I know I could save a life with every person and family I educate about prostate cancer. I said this to a person who was afraid to go get the digital exam done. “My husband died from this disease and I am here to make sure you don’t.” He got the DRE done and was glad he did.

Become an advocate. Everyone can make a difference. You can let your legislators know that we need continued funding for cancer research. And you can talk to your health care provider about steps that you can take to reduce your cancer risk. Visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation or The Dean and Betty Gallo Prostate Cancer Center at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey  for more information.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health

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