Anyone who has ever raised a puppy might think twice about taking on that challenge during the deepest deep freeze of winter. But Haley Galvin isn’t fazed by that.
“This is a walk in the park compared to what I’ve done over the past year,” said Galvin.
For Galvin, 22, a journalism major who is the editor-in-chief of the Northern Star this semester, the past year has included hearing the crushing news that she had ovarian cancer, undergoing surgery just five days later and then enduring six sessions of chemotherapy and the debilitating side effects that go along with that.
So on Friday, Feb. 5, when a giant golden lamp — looking like something straight from the set of Aladdin — appeared in the parking lot of the Campus Life Building, she was delighted to learn that her wish for a Bedlington Terrier puppy had been granted by the Nik’s Wish Foundation. Women from five generations of her family – from her great grandmother to a niece – were also on hand to celebrate with her.
The foundation, more formally known as the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation, which is based in Rockford, specializes in granting wishes for young adults (between the ages of 18 and 24) who are fighting cancer. The organization was the idea of its namesake who was diagnosed with cancer at age 17. While he had the good fortune of having a wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he found it unfair that those over the age of 18 didn’t qualify for such a gift. When he died, his family created the foundation in his honor.
It was Nik’s mother, Kelly Ritschel, who reached out to Halley after Nik’s grandmother shared with her some of the column’s Galvin wrote for the Northern Star chronicling her battle with cancer.
As she filled out the application, Galvin, thought about asking for a trip, as many recipients do, but she realized that traveling during a pandemic with an immune system compromised by chemotherapy probably wasn’t the best idea. Instead, she asked for a dog.
Specifically, she chose a Bedlington Terrier, an energetic, intelligent breed that comes with the added benefit of being hypoallergenic. One week after learning her wish had been granted, she picked up the eight-week-old puppy from a breeder in Wisconsin and named him Harley.
“He’s great, but he will keep me on my toes,” Galvin said as Harley napped a few feet away. “Because the cancer took my ovaries, I can’t have kids, but I have a strong maternal instinct, so I wanted to have a little fur baby to care for,” Galvin said.
Already she has come to enjoy having Harley’s warm, fuzzy presence around to help keep her occupied while quarantined at home due to the pandemic. Not that she has had a lot of time on her hands. Despite her illness, Galvin managed to maintain a full class load and is on track to graduate this May, thanks in part to understanding faculty who worked with her, providing some flexibility to adjust classwork around her chemotherapy.
Another great source of support was her colleagues at the Northern Star.
“Working at the Star has simultaneously kept me sane and driven me crazy,” she says with a laugh. “It kept me busy, which was good. I would even edit stories while sitting at chemo for five-and-a-half hours. And all of the editors always made sure that I had whatever I needed – whether that was a ride or someone to pick up groceries or just someone to offer me moral support.”
In addition to that workload, she also wrote her series of first-person columns detailing her battle with cancer. She provided an unflinching look at what it is like to learn at age 22 that you have cancer and that your dream of giving birth is gone. She detailed the trials and tribulations of everything from chemotherapy to dating while battling a debilitating condition. The columns resonated strongly with readers, especially those who were dealing with their own battle against cancer or watching a loved one go through that.
“Initially I struggled a bit with sharing my story,” she says. “Sometimes I was embarrassed talking about it. But once I decided to tell it I realized it was the best decision I ever made. I just hope it gave comfort to others going through similar things.”
Shelly Hendricks, who is the advisor to the Northern Star, said it was impressive to see how Galvin rose to the occasion. “Haley is tough. In her roles at the Star, I have seen her handle difficult interviews and personnel situations and she is just tough as nails, and she handled her illness in a similar way. She has been a real inspiration to the staff,” she said.
Galvin completed her final chemotherapy treatment on Dec. 11 (her 22nd birthday) and has been declared cancer-free. She is looking forward to graduating, getting a job and getting on with her life, with Harley by her side.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to Nik’s Wish for all that they do – not just for me, but everyone. They gave me hope on those dark days, and Harley gives me something to smile about as I come out of all of this.”