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Kansas City man who never smoked pushes for lung cancer awareness after diagnosis

By Joe Chiodo

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    KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV) — November is lung cancer awareness month. As the month ends, a local man is working to raise awareness and change perceptions here in Kansas City.

Don Gallagher is fighting stage 3b lung cancer which has slowly metastisized. He’s also a loving grandpa and husband, grew up on a farm, and lives a healthy and active lifestyle. In fact, you may call him the epitome of health. He eats plant-based and even runs a vegan Instagram account called “Grandpa Cooks Vegan.”

“It was just a huge surprise because I was a pretty healthy guy until then,” Gallagher explained when talking about his diagnosis.

When he got sick in 2019 it came as a complete shock. What he thought was a prolonged cough due to infection, turned out to be cancer. “I never ever connected it to lung cancer, because my belief was lung cancer is something you get after you smoke, and I had never smoked.:

Dr. Ran Subramanian is Gallagher’s doctor at Saint Luke’s Hospital. He explained to KCTV5, “Lung Cancer is the biggest killer when it comes to cancer for both men and women. There is a stigma attached to it that comes in automatically…that they must be a smoker and that is not always true.:

In fact, 10-15% of patients in the US, like Gallagher, never smoked a cigarette in their life. That comes out to 20,000 to 30,000 patients each hear. Most lung cancer patients who have smoked quit 10-20 years ago.

Gallagher said it’s a reminder that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. He attributes his cancer to radon exposure growing up on a farm in Iowa. “Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked,” he told KCTV5.

Since his diagnosis he’s started another Instagram account. He calls this one “Grandpa slams lung cancer.”

He’s using the platform to raise awareness with the white ribbon project. A national movement to inform others about Lung cancer. He stresses the importance of being your own advocate.

After his diagnosis, Gallagher and his wife Linda quickly worked to find clinical trials.

Together with Saint Luke’s Hospital, Gallagher got the go ahead to use a new drug 6 months before it was approved by the FDA. “Honestly my wife and I agree it saved my life,” He said.

Gallagher’s doctor echoed that thought, “We likely didn’t have 6 months to wait.”

Dr. Subramanian explained that determination is saving others in the metro too. “Don’s effort to make this happen, from his end, helped others as well. There was a patient able to receive this agent even before don could get it. It had a significant impact for many patients,” Dr. Subramanian said.

Gallagher credits Dr. Subramanian, his radiation oncologist, Dr. Rakhra, as well as his family and community helping him fight this horrible disease.

Dr. Subramanian added that early detection is key. If you have persistent cough, if you’re coughing up blood, have chest pain, or unexplained weight loss talk to your doctor.

Don also tells everyone to get their home tested for radon.

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