Autumn Hope Gallagher

Here’s to Being Human.

I wrote a thing. I submitted the thing to three blogs I follow. One of them accepted it. 


Sixth grade. I don’t remember the exact reason, but I was being emotional about something, and Dad was cradling me in his arms, sitting in a chair, telling me that it was okay. Eventually, the conversation turned to him telling me that I can do whatever I want. If I can read, I can learn. Because of Dad, I learned to read beginner-level chapter books by the age of 4. Therefore, I can do whatever I want/dream. I told him I wanted to be a writer. “Good! So DO it!” he half-shouted at me. 


Nothing came of that dream until I was thirty-ish. 


Something started scraping away all the crap. Everything that had been covering what/who I felt I was meant to be. Maybe parenthood. Maybe that. Maybe having my body shredded and raw, bleeding and stitched and barely able to walk, feeling like I was dying but still being able to sustain another life outside my own… Maybe that helped me. 


Recently, Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer. It sucks. He’s going to be dead way sooner than any of us EVER expected, even in our worst nightmares. I cry a lot. I’m angry a lot. But I’ve also been changing. A lot. 


This Spring was when I submitted my piece to Jennifer Pastiloff’s blog. I didn’t expect it to get published. She’s a HUGE deal. Have you read her book On Being Human? If not, go now. Go buy it. Also buy 6 boxes of Kleenex, because you’ll need it.  I expected my amateur article to be rejected by 500 blogs and publications, likely never being accepted. I know that writing (and having the opportunity for others to read your writing) is a long haul. But honestly? Who gives a shit? Writing makes me feel good. It’s my therapy. I do well with written word, not so much with speech. My thoughts run amok and I can’t keep them aligned well enough to hold an intelligible conversation. Because of that, I’ve learned to become the listener and people watcher. 


Anyway, parenting, marriage, being partner to a surgeon-in-training are all wild journeys in their own rights. I chose to write about all of it in my first official rambling, and am beyond grateful for those who have reached out to me. Some near, some far, all with words of solidarity, support, and wisdom. I’m sharing this now, months after publishing on the blog, because I’m sad today. Hell, I’ve been sad since July. Deeply sad. Depressed, I guess. Because I don’t want my dad to die so soon, and there’s nothing I can do about it. But I CAN focus on things that bring me happiness. Like reliving the feelings of reading the email from Jen and her team saying they were thrilled to let me know they’d be publishing my two cents. It was like someone standing next to me with a megaphone pointed at my ear, shouting “YOURE ENOUGH! YOURE ENOUGH! YOURE ENOUGH!” 


I’m grateful. For all of it. All of you. 


That’s all for today. 


Oh. And Dad? Thank you for teaching me to read. ;)


Dear Amy



Dear Amy, 

I love you. 


I met you three hours ago, and I donʼt even remember if I gave you my name, but I love you. You and your beautiful daughter are loved more than I can ever say. 

You saved my babyʼs life. 


Thank you weakens… Thank you cheapens the incredible amount of gratitude I feel for you now. Regardless of how dramatic this all sounds, and as creeped out as you may be by my declaration of love, Iʼm looking forward to getting to know you and your family, since I now know you only live a couple of houses away. And Iʼm about to give you a play-by-play of how my world fell apart in the space of ten minutes, only for you to swoop in, saving the day. 

You see, at 4:25 tonight, I was slicing tomatoes in my kitchen. Just as I scooped them up to set them onto a round of homemade pizza crust, I heard a car honk. My husband had been getting ready to go for a run before he left for his overnight shift at the hospital. I donʼt remember an “Iʼll be back in a minute”, or a “Henry is in the yard, see you in bit.” I assumed he was still in the immediate vicinity, eyes somewhat watching Henry while he played. 


4:25pm is when that car honked on the busy street in the front of my home. In that second, something in my gut immediately felt different. I looked up/out through the kitchen windows, not expecting to see an empty yard. I remember when the panicked confusion set in. I was running back into the house after I discovered my sweet Henry, just two years old this August, was not in the back yard. Sprinting through the yard back toward the kitchen door, I checked the front gate - locked. Padlock intact. My mind screamed “WHERE IS HE?!” I donʼt remember using the basement stairs, but I remember yelling to my oldest son James, who was watching a show. “WHEREʼS HENRY?!” 


“I donʼt know, mama.” 


Garage. Back upstairs. Bedrooms. Bathrooms. Closets. Checking windows (all locked). Shouting his name, over and over. Stop. Think. Where would he be. Garage again. Check cars. Trunks. Nothing. Back to James. Breathe. Calm down so you donʼt scare him. Practically dragging him while moving through the house, “Please, honey, help me look for your brother. Everywhere you can look, please go now, baby GO”. Seconds later, checking upstairs again, both of our voices calling loudly enough that I know even the traffic passing by could hear through the open windows. Still nothing. Trying not to vomit. I opened a bedroom window and screamed as loudly as I could with my face pressed into the mesh of the screen in hopes he (or anyone) could hear me. My mouth yelled his name but my mind was sobbing and screaming, “Someone help me please. Please. Please donʼt let him be dead. Please.” My breath failed me then. I was breathing faster than I ever remember, but nothing was getting to my lungs. 


Screaming for him scared James. He started crying, so I had to stop to breathe with him and wipe both our tears away and calmly explain that I could not find Henry anywhere “…so please stay in the house while I look in the yard again and call papa. Okay, baby? Please promise 

you will stay safe here in the house?” Outside again, I called my husband. Voice call failed. FaceTime worked. “I canʼt find Henry. Iʼve looked everywhere.”


“He was in the back yard when I left for my run.” 


“I canʼt find him ANYWHERE!” 


“Iʼm heading back.” Call ends. 


My brain was screaming “Please. Please. PLEEEEEASE! Someone find my baby! Pleeeeeease!” I started hyperventilating again. Crying. Screaming his name on the street. Stopped to lean forward with my hands on my knees and cried for a moment, convincing myself as best I could that I needed to breathe or Iʼd die. But the feeling of losing one of my babies was getting stronger by the second, and I couldnʼt make it or my racing, terrified thoughts go away… “Heʼs going to be carried to me, dead. Or I will find him on this street somewhere, cars passing by like his life never mattered, and I will die of heartbreak. My heart will stop because I canʼt handle this… NO! Stop. Youʼre not that mama! Heʼs okay. I think. Think it into existence. Please! Please be okay!” 


I ran around our house, up and down the sidewalks. 

4:35pm- Called my husband again: “I STILL CANʼT FIND HIM!!!”


No longer able to hold it together, I collapsed to my knees on our street - hyperventilating again. I was crying too hard to see straight and holding back bile in my throat. I can honestly still taste it. I could hear James screaming in the back yard for Henry. That sound forced me to get up. “Keep going. Mamas around the world endure far worse than this. I can do this.” I looked to the front of the house, my husband finally sprinting through the yard. Headed to James. In that same moment, I remember feeling myself stumble sideways, maybe in relief knowing I wasnʼt alone in this pain, or from the insanity of feeling like my baby was gone… 


I turned down the road, readying myself to scream for Henry again until I found him, pausing just for a second to catch my breath and clear my eyes… Then I looked up and there you were. 


Amy. 

The best name ever. 


You were holding Henryʼs hand. Your sweet, brave daughter was on the other side of him. You told me I could breathe, that it was all okay. I fell apart in a way I hope I never do again. I didnʼt know what to say then, other than thank you. I still donʼt. Those words will never be enough. It feels like something a preschooler would say after theyʼre given a piece of candy. I know that Henry found his way to your yard, not far from our home. I know how he got out of our fenced-in-yard. I know that some day, I might have to feel this way again… 


But for now? 

I need you to know how grateful I am to you and your little girl. Thank you for seeing him, and for bringing him home. Thank you isnʼt enough, and it never will be. 


But thank you. And I love you. 





Fast Changes

Brain tumors suck, but my dad is rad and refuses to wear hospital gowns.

My dad and step mom Melissa filling some quiet moments with prayer. Huge thanks to the chaplains at University of Minnesota Fairview for their love.

Eye patch artwork courtesy of my 10 year old niece.

This. The photos above… this is what waiting looks like. Somber. Impatient. Anxious. Trying to force residents and attendings and nurses to laugh with us at the situation, then giving up on them and laughing on our own because they just don’t get why we laugh in the face of death. 


When you have cancer, you and your family are suddenly thrown into a seriously stupid cycle of waiting. Waiting for labs, waiting for rounds, waiting for more tests/exams. Waiting for results. Waiting for timelines. Waiting for diagnoses (stage 4 lung adenocarcinoma with metastases to the brain, in this case). Waiting to begin Gamma Knife radiation treatment. But mostly… Waiting to get out of the hospital and back to living. 


The following photos? This is what living looks like. Loving. Laughing. Blurry photos because sometimes those are the best ones. Tickle torture. Two-armed hugs. 


Changes. Big ones. Like no longer taking life for granted. Going for a 5 mile run so you can feel your lungs burn and scream in pain because you’re healthy…  and learning in the time it takes to answer the phone, how precious each second is. 


This dude. My dad. Raddest Grandpa of all grandpas in the history of the universe. He’s not going to be around for a helluva lot longer, and heck yes that guts me. But it also makes me grateful for the fire in my belly being relit. The fire that flips the bird (with both hands) to meticulous plans. The fire that says yes to embracing living. That’s what our time here is really about. Truly living. 


Here’s to more of that. 


Oh… and Dad? I know you’re reading this, so I love you. Bigtime.


A Cold Glass Of Water



“Inoperable brain tumor…” 


Sick. Bile rose in my throat while tears welled up and battled to be let out. My hand wanted to reach out to my brother who was standing beside me, crying… our dad had requested an ASAP FaceTime so he could tell us the findings of that morning’s MRI. 


But I knew. I still know. 


Holding a hand, hugging someone, sitting in silence for more than a few minutes with my thoughts… It will open the gates to the kind of crying that I’m afraid I won’t be able to come back from for a long time. 


Some time in my teens, I learned a trick to keep myself from crying - a glass of cold water. Holding it in your hand helps give your skin something else to focus on, and when the tears threaten to be let loose, take a few swallows of the water. If it’s cold enough, it’ll do the trick. At least it has for me, without fail, for years. I’m sure there’s some kind of science behind it, but I’m too tired to read about it. 


Tomorrow, we leave for the Twin Cities for care that may be dad’s only chance… I’m leaving my two boys in the care of my husband’s parents. We don’t know what to expect, so I’m preparing my mind to see my dad in a hospital gown, looking helpless. I’m preparing to be surrounded by attendings and specialists and residents who wear the same uniform and expressions that my husband has been trained to wear… they’ll all likely use that same tone: kind, informative, disconnected. 


I’m scared that I won’t have enough of whatever it takes to experience this without breaking.




…I’m scared that this will be the first time a cold glass of water won’t help me. 


A Letter To Myself, A Journey.

Typically, I have a lot to say with my posts. This time, all I have is an introduction to Cait…  A woman. A mama. A wife. A beautiful human who has spent years in the shadows of herself (literally and figuratively). Cait is over 160 pounds lighter than she used to be, and dammit if I’m not stoked out of my mind to have been the one to collaborate with her on this epic milestone. 


I’ll let Cait’s images and and words (I asked her to write a love letter to herself) do the rest of the talking…



“I see you, when I look at past pictures - the woman who didn’t know how to love herself.  The woman who didn’t know how truly fucking beautiful she was.

It’s a shame, to look back at those memories and think of all the time that we wasted. The time when we could have been friends and one with each other. But I understand now that this time was needed. That this was part of the plan and that you needed to go through your journey in order to find yourself.

It was so beautiful to watch you spin your cocoon - all that hard work you put forth, all those times when you thought you would never make it; that this was a waste of your time. But still, something inside of you kept you moving forward. There was hope.

And damn, look at you now.

I hope you know that I think you’re brave as fuck and strong as hell.  The way you give love, the way you feel love. 

I hope you know that true beauty is not in the way your body stares back at you in the mirror but that it’s when you face a challenge head on and don’t back down or when you’re sitting there with your friend, talking about life, love, stress and setbacks. 

I hope you know that your greatest gift is in the way you laugh, cry and spread gratitude.  And that you are worthy to live and design your life as you choose.

I hope you know that you’re loved as much as you love.

I know that you know.”



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