Kevin Galasso pitched a perfect inning of relief for the Tufts baseball team on March 18 in Newport News, Virginia, helping clinch a 22-0 Jumbos victory over St. Vincent College. The next day, Galasso’s effort appeared in the box score as a small part of the runaway win. It was much bigger than that.
Galasso’s outing marked his collegiate debut—and a triumph in his fight of more than two years against cancer. As a sophomore, Galasso had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He spent seven months in treatment and more than a year working diligently to return to his life as a student athlete. Having finally made it back to the mound on that day last spring, the junior struck out the first two batters looking, and then got the third on a pop fly to center field. “A short five minutes that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Galasso said at the time.
Galasso went to Tufts Health Service in early November 2014 because of a cough that wouldn’t go away. He told the doctors that he had to leave soon for an exam, but they told him that he wouldn’t be taking it. After X-rays and blood tests both in Massachusetts and at home in New Jersey, Galasso was diagnosed with stage 4B Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A cancer of the lymphatic system, Hodgkin’s is regarded as generally treatable. However, stage 4B is the most serious. Galasso had it from his groin all the way up to his neck. “They showed me the CAT scan and I was like a Christmas tree,” he said.
Then again, at just twenty years old, Galasso was already very familiar with cancer. His older sister, Katie Galasso, A13, had been diagnosed with leukemia in high school. Kevin never imagined that it would also happen to him. Once it did, he wanted to move on with the treatment as quickly as possible.
He and his family decided on an aggressive approach, including six cycles of chemotherapy for three weeks each, followed by eight weeks of radiation. The third week of each cycle was the worst. His blood counts dropped, and the medication needed to get them back up caused his joints to swell. Twice he had to be hospitalized due to the unbearable pain this caused. “It felt like someone was sticking knives in my joints,” he said. “Those times were the lowest of the low, when I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’”
But with the support of his parents, Lisa and R.J., and sister, he kept going. Meanwhile, his Tufts family, made up of members of the baseball team and the Delta Upsilon fraternity (DU), checked in on him regularly. His teammates visited New Jersey, and DU sponsored a basketball tournament that raised $5,000 in his name for a charity at his hospital. “I think the biggest thing about Kev and his fight was his consistent positive attitude,” said Speros Varinos, A17, a senior tri-captain for the Jumbos. “Despite his tough circumstances, he never showed any negative attitude.”
By the end of March 2015, there were indications that the treatment was working even better than expected. Doctors told Galasso they hadn’t seen someone react to the chemo as quickly as he did. It was eventually determined that he would not need radiation, and he was declared cancer-free in May 2015. Still, a long road lay ahead, particularly for someone who wanted to pitch again. Some of his doctors didn’t think that was a good idea, because the chemotherapy had weakened his joints and bones.
But Galasso was determined. He returned to Tufts in September 2015, and his involvement with the team was limited to doing light workouts and helping with social media and video work. It wasn’t until June 2016 that he felt strong enough to begin his comeback.
“Getting back to playing baseball and back to school motivated me throughout the entire process,” Galasso said. “I wanted to get back as quickly as possible, because you don’t want to have your life on hold. You want to just keep going.”
He’s made great progress. After his debut against St. Vincent College, he went on to post an impressive 1.93 ERA, striking out seventeen batters in 23.1 innings last spring for a Jumbos team that finished the season with a 30-10-1 record, winning the New England Small Athletic Conference and earning an NCAA Tournament berth.
In some ways, though, Galasso is just getting started. Now a senior, he’s been cancer-free for more than two years. He’s majoring in quantitative economics and on track to graduate in 2018. And come baseball season, he’ll be back in the Jumbos bullpen.
“When this happened, we all just wanted him to be OK,” his coach, John Casey, said. “The baseball stuff is gravy. I’m pumped because he’s feeling good about himself. He’s feeling like all this hard work paid off. Two years ago, this is what we thought he could do. So he just got right back on track.”
Sports information director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.