Gallo-Dunn, who has taught second-grade at Shawsheen Elementary School in Wilmington for over 20 years, underwent surgery and 12 rounds of chemotherapy for the cancer.
While she was on leave from school, Gallo-Dunn would go back to visit her students every few weeks. During one visit in the spring of 2016, she noticed that student Brodie Rawson was absent.
“I asked the substitute teacher, ‘Where’s Brodie?’ and she told me he was diagnosed with cancer,” Gallo-Dunn recalled. “I said, ‘What?’ It was shocking.”
Brodie, now 9, had just been diagnosed with stage 3 Burkitt lymphoma after suffering severe stomach pains, according to his mom, Erica Brodie.
Gallo-Dunn went to visit her student in a Boston hospital the day after she saw he was missing from school.
“I wanted to try to be a support to him and show him that being brave is important,” she said. “And I hoped to be an example of people who came through it, even though I was still nervous.”
She added, “I felt that we shared a common bond with the big ‘C.’”
Like his teacher, Brodie had to undergo surgery followed by multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
“[Gallo-Dunn] told him she had gone through the same surgeries as him and that she was doing well and that the two of them were going to do well together,” Brodie’s mom recalled.
When it was clear that Brodie was going to have to miss the end of the school year, Gallo-Dunn went from his cheerleader to his teacher once again. She came to the hospital and to the family’s home a few times a week to keep Brodie on track with his school work.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and there was no way I was going to give up [teaching],” Gallo-Dunn said. “And he wasn’t a difficult student to tutor because he wanted to do it.”
She added, “Even on days he was tired or not feeling his best, he didn’t kick and scream.”
Though Gallo-Dunn said she didn’t think what she was doing “was a big deal,” others did.
“I don’t even have words for it,” Brodie’s mom said. “She kept him afloat so he didn’t have to repeat any portion of the second-grade and give him the opportunity to not be behind the eight ball going into the third-grade.”
“Certain people find their calling in life and she certainly found hers in being a teacher,” she added of Gallo-Dunn.
“When I interviewed Brodie’s mom, she told me that his teacher who was also in treatment had really stepped up,” Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis said. “I just thought that was a very, very special thing.”
Begonis and about 50 other police officers showed up at Shawsheen Elementary School on their last day of school this month.
They gave Brodie and his mom the $5,000 check and surprised Gallo-Dunn in front of her entire school with a heartfelt thank you.
“I have never been surprised like that in my life,” Gallo-Dunn said. “I will forever remember it. It was just really a highlight of my life.”
Gallo-Dunn and Brodie are both now done with their cancer treatments.
Brodie will enter fourth-grade next year and Gallo-Dunn will be the second-grade teacher for Brodie’s younger brother, Carter.