Even when he was too sick to play, Francesco Galvano was the loudest student on the Pearl River boys soccer bench.
Four years of battling leukemia took its toll and temporarily prevented the now-senior from playing the game that he loves, but it never deterred him. Galvano remained vocal and encouraging, even when he felt physically drained from his cancer treatment, and his never-ending optimism helped both him and his teammates.
“He’s an inspiration to me,” Pearl River senior Craig MacDonald said. “We all said, if it was going to happen to someone we knew, he would be the one to beat it. He always has been the most positive person, even before all of this.”
Declared cancer-free last year, Galvano was able to play junior season and is now one of the Pirates’ captains. When coach Damon O’Keefe approached him with the idea of dedicating the fourth annual Westchester vs. Rockland Challenge to the battle that he won, Galvano had a better idea.
Two Pearl River students – senior Sara McGrath and junior Liam Greeley – are currently fighting their own battles with cancer — McGrath with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Greeley with leukemia — and Galvano requested that Monday’s proceeds go to their families to help offset medical bills.
“You always want to use your experience to benefit others, and that’s what I’m trying to do here,” Galvano said. “We have to really make that evident to Sara and Liam — they just have to stay positive to get through it. … It’s going to bring new experiences into your life, and you just have to make the best of it.”
Prior to Monday night’s game against Lakeland — the main event of this year’s Challenge— the Pirates lined up and walked across the field for the national anthem. A couple hundred people from the Pearl River community were on hand to show their support, and the team saluted them during the pregame ceremony.
At the front of the line, with their hands interlocked, were Galvano and McGrath — one having beaten cancer, the other more than halfway through a 15-week cycle of chemotherapy.
“On the first day of school in seventh grade, we wore shirts for him,” McGrath said, noting how surreal it was to now be the one the community was rallying around. “It’s so nice that they’re all supportive. It helps a lot.”
“This community is the best,” O’Keefe said. “We take a lot of pride in taking care of our own. There have been multiple situations over the years that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve seen people be so generous here because they want to and their heart is in the right place. The reason why I love Pearl River is because of what they do for each other.”
It’s been a long and grueling process for Galvano to regain the strength that his cancer treatment zapped from him, but he was out there in Pearl River’s starting lineup on Monday, looking fit and ready to play a full game. And when the Pirates’ bench got too quiet, he was the first to shout from the field and insist that they speak up in support of their teammates.
He hopes to send the message to McGrath, Greeley and others that cancer can be overcome, and that remaining upbeat throughout the ups and downs can have healing powers of its own.
“I’m a goal-scorer,” he said with a wide smile. “And one of my goals was to get back on the field and score.”