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Mt. Pleasant native’s birthday party proceeds to aid desmoid tumor research | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Mt. Pleasant native’s birthday party proceeds to aid desmoid tumor research

Kari Andren
| Sunday, May 15, 2016 11:00 p.m
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Shelly Gallagher is tired.

The Mt. Pleasant native and mother of two, who has been on some form of chemotherapy since 2005, takes a chemo pill every day to keep a rare type of tumor at bay.

She’s had a half-dozen surgeries to remove desmoid tumors since her first was discovered when she was 23. And she has regular doctors’ appointments to monitor the tumors’ size and growth.

There’s no cure for the tumors — rock-hard buildups of scar tissue — in her abdomen and near her spine.

“We call it a win if they don’t grow,” said Gallagher, who lives in Northampton County with her husband and children, who are 17 and 19.

“For the rest of my life, (I’ll be on) different chemo treatments unless there’s a cure maybe one day,” she said.

To that end, Gallagher’s mother, Denise Cohen, has organized a daylong event Saturday at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds to raise money for the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation and to celebrate her daughter’s 40th birthday.

“If we can help people find out about (the disease) and give them some kind of a hope that there are people working on it, people who care, then our mission’s accomplished,” said Cohen, a former longtime resident of Mt. Pleasant Township. “The good thing is — and why we’re celebrating (Gallagher’s) life and fortitude and spirit — is she makes everybody smile. She’s so positive.”

For Cohen, the event is doubly meaningful. She lost her husband, Gary, to a 47-pound desmoid tumor in 1993. Despite having a tumor removed when he was 2 years old, Gary wasn’t diagnosed with desmoid tumors until he was 38, she said. He died at 43.

“Nobody connected the dots for him,” Cohen said.

Desmoid tumors can occur virtually anywhere in the body at any time for anyone. For some people who have a specific genetic mutation, like Gallagher, the tumors are worse, said Dr. Richard McGough, chief of UPMC’s Division of Musculoskeletal Oncology and an associate professor of orthopedic surgery and surgical oncology.

The disease isn’t technically cancer — it doesn’t metastasize, or spread — but the tumors still can cause pain or even death, he said.

“A desmoid works like a scar that is out of control,” McGough said.

Scars naturally suck in tissues to heal a wound, but desmoids go beyond that and can start to suck in parts of an organ or totally surround nerves, he said.

“The real problem with this disease is it loves to come back,” McGough said, because the tumors send out “fingers” into surrounding tissues that often aren’t completely removed through surgery.

McGough said funding for research is crucial for the development of medications that could become part of the treatment regimen for desmoid tumors.

“We need the medications, because my ability to control this surgically … is dubious at best,” he said.

Cohen said the event Saturday will feature four bands playing on the fairground’s small stage, plus food and craft vendors, including a kids’ craft area. The festival will include a wellness area, book sale and a garden center with plants for sale and a presentation by a Penn State Master Gardener, she said.

Gallagher said she hopes the take-away for attendees is that it’s important not to minimize the disease.

“Yeah, you cut it out, but it can come back. I don’t think people understand that,” she said. “It’s very dangerous, it really is, (depending on) where they’re at, what they’re compromising.”

Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

Categories: Westmoreland
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