Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Richard Ottalagano said he is running for a ninth term on the Board of Supervisors in November after making a complete recovery from lung cancer last year.
Ottalagano said years of smoking and breathing in asbestos while he worked for General Electric Co. in Schenectady probably contributed to the formation of a large tumor that doctors discovered in one of his lungs. In August, surgeons removed one third of the lung. He said after of a course of chemotherapy last autumn he’s become completely cancer free.
According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, only 15 percent of people with lung cancer survive five years after diagnosis.
Ottalagano, 66, said he was lucky doctors saw his cancer during a chest X-ray and lucky he’s been able to recover as quickly as he has from the surgery.
“I’ve been blessed with lungs that are larger than a normal person’s, so what happened, by removing a third of my lung it really doesn’t slow me down. I don’t need oxygen, my blood oxygen level is higher than it was prior to the surgery, because I used to smoke,” he said.
Ottalagano is a Democrat and so far is running unopposed. Fellow Democrat Rick Bedell, the former Gloversville 1st Ward Supervisor, said when he first got onto the board he was the only Democrat until he persuaded Ottalagano to run for office after being impressed by a letter to the editor Ottalagano wrote to a newspaper. Bedell said he’s been even more impressed by the physical and mental stamina Ottalagano displayed serving on the board while battling cancer.
“He’s not a quitter. Even through all his trials and tribulations he still maintained his attendance,” Bedell said.
Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Anthony “Chart” Buanno said for the most part Ottalagano maintained his attendance on the environmental resources committee, which Buanno chairs, despite the cancer treatments.
“He’s a good supervisor. He’s on top of things most of the time. He’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican but we get along,” Buanno said.
Being a Democrat on the board virtually guarantees minority status in heavily Republican-dominated Fulton County, so Ottalagano has never served as a committee chairman. He said he’s learned to influence the process in different ways, like organizing not-for-profit entities to help support getting the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, known as VITA, active in Fulton County. VITA trains volunteers to be certified tax return preparers for low-income and elderly people and helps return federal tax dollars to local economies.
“Over the years that it’s been in place it’s brought millions of dollars into low-income families’ hands who wouldn’t have even filed their taxes,” he said.
Something else he said he’s proud of is the Douglas A3D Skywarrior, a 1956 twin-engine bomber that’s on permanent display at Fulton County airport, a project he helped support. Ottalagano is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
He said his brush with death last year has motivated him to get more out of every day.
“After it’s over it’s a life-enriching experience because you appreciate living a lot more. I’ve been so busy. My physical energy is still coming back, but my mental energy, it’s like I’m trying to make up for lost time and I’ve been more involved in things than I ever have before,” he said.
He said he serves on the Fulton County Youth Bureau board of directors and has been taking his story of cancer survival to the Hamilton Fulton Montgomery Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Partners meetings. He said his best advice is for smokers to get an occasional chest X-ray, because that’s what saved his life.