According to expert medical opinion Anne Gateley should be dead by now.
The Aussie mum was given just a year to live by doctors after what began as an examination of back pain from an exercise class showed she had advanced stage four skin cancer.
However, just 97 days later, Anne Gately was effectively cured of melanoma, with a cutting-edge immunotherapy treatment having wiped out all traces of the cancer in just three months.
Now, more than three years since the initial devastating diagnosis, she is still completely cancer-free.
‘I just wasn’t ready to die,’ Ms Gately told Daily Mail Australia. ‘I wasn’t scared to die, I just didn’t want to leave the world behind.’
Ms Gately had been diagnosed with melanoma 10 years earlier and surgery at the time was successful, with subsequent regular check-ups giving her the all-clear.
Death-defying Anne Gately (pictured) was given a year to live after a Pump class revealed she was riddled with cancer… but just 97 days later, she was effectively cured
A devastating bone scan (pictured) revealed the cancer had spread throughout Anne Gately’s body into her ribs, spine and pelvis
But when beach-loving Ms Gately, 56, joined a Pump exercise class with a new tutor, she got her first sign something new was wrong.
She initially thought the increasingly crippling pain in her back was a side-effect of the training session, but weeks of repeated visits to GPs, physios and chiropractors failed to fix it.
Finally she was told to get a bone scan to try to find the source of the problem.
Ms Gately went away for the weekend with friends while awaiting the results of the scan – but the diagnosis could not wait.
Anne Gately was told to get a bone scan (pictured) to try to find the source of constant back pain
‘Early that evening I saw that I had a message from the doctor asking me to call him,’ she revealed. ‘That was the first moment that I became concerned.
‘I rang him back and he just kept saying to me “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” I had to ask him, “What are you telling me?”
‘That’s when he said you’ve got cancer and it’s all over your ribs, spine and pelvis.’
The cancer had been eating away at her spine, which had caused the back pain that had finally alerted Ms Gately.
‘Lucky for me that I did that Pump class – who knows when I would have found out about it otherwise,’ she admitted.
Sydney mum of two Anne Gately (pictured with sons Lachlan, 24, and Oliver, 21,) now has vitiligo as a side effect of her treatment which has covered her body in large white patches
Medics revealed it was unusual for melanoma to go straight into the bones in the way it had with Ms Gately – and gave her just months to live.
‘The next day I had my first appointment at Melanoma Institute Australia and they didn’t mince words,’ she revealed.
‘I sat there with my brother while they told me what I had wasn’t curable and that the historic prognosis of my diagnosis was 12-24 months.
‘I turned to look at my stoic 6’4″ brother and he was in tears.’
Ms Gately immediately started the revolutionary new immunotherapy treatment and within two days, she had already started feeling better.
Anne Gately immediately started the revolutionary new immunotherapy treatment (pictured) and within two days, she had already started feeling better
IMMUNOTHERAPY TREATMENT REVEALED
Unlike conventional cancer treatments which rely on surgery or chemotherapy, immunotherapy aims to stimulate a patient’s own immune system to fight the disease.
Several different methods can be used but all aim to supercharge the immune system in the fight against cancer.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors
These unlock the immune system and free it from the thresholds which normally prevent it from getting too strong, allowing it to attack the cancer cells. This kind of treatment was used on former US President Jimmy Carter and completely killed off his skin cancer within three months after it had spread to his liver.
T-cell transfer therapy
Doctors remove your own immune cells from the tumour itself and grow it in large batches in the lab before re-injecting it into the body.
These are grown in the lab to bind to cancer cells and enable the immune system to attack them.
These are used to boost the immune system to fight the disease, but do not prevent disease like conventional vaccines.
Immune system modulators
The excite specific parts of the immune system into action against cancer.
Ms Gately’s treatment cost just around $2000 in total after Medicare and health insurance, but she warns not everyone may be so lucky in the cost or the outcome.
‘I decided that all the statistics the doctors gave me were just averages,’ she said. ‘The reality is that outcomes are spread along a bell curve.
‘I decided I was going to be on the righthand end of that curve. I was devastated but I wasn’t ready to shuffle off this mortal coil just yet.’
Within 10 days, test results were showing a clear improvement in her condition and after 97 days and just two infusions of the Ipilimumab/Nivolumab treatment, her cancer had gone.
Doctors had planned to give her four doses but the cocktails of drugs overstimulated her nervous system, affecting her eyesight and hearing as well as giving her colitis – inflammation of the colon.
The treatment was halted after just two doses but six weeks after her final dose, doctors told her they had found NED – No Evidence of Disease.
‘Miraculously there was no active cancer,’ Ms Gately said. ‘They told me I had a full metabolic response treatment. I have not had treatment since.
‘I’ll never say cured. That’s the thing about melanoma – it really is a b***ard. It can just keep coming back – but it’s pretty amazing.’
As a goal during the treatment, Ms Gately aimed to take part in a swimming race 103 days after her terminal cancer diagnosis and trained in a pool through her treatment.
‘Some days I had to be lowered in and out of the water as I was in too much pain to climb the ladder, and other days I had to walk in the water, not swim,’ she said.
But just days after she was told the cancer had gone, Ms Gately took part in the annual Coogee Island Swim race – and came third in her age group.
Ironically she had joined an online support group for melanoma victims just 24 hours before getting the all clear.
‘To be honest I felt really bad that I had joined and told my story one day and then was coming back the next day to say that I had no active cancer,’ she revealed.
‘I felt guilty. Nonetheless, I posted my results on the page and got the most wonderfully warm and supportive responses.
‘That was when I realised that my story can provide hope for others.’
Within 10 days, test results were showing a clear improvement in her condition and after 97 days and just two infusions of the treatment, Anne Gately’s cancer had gone
She is now a passionate activist for making people more skin cancer-aware, and even performs rap-style slam poetry to get her message across.
Ms Gately was a surf-loving grommet as a youngster growing up on Coogee Beach in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
‘The ocean feeds my soul,’ she said. ‘I’ve always been a water baby and spent a lot of my life in, on or by the water.
‘When I was a teen, we’d all just hang on the beach and cover ourselves in sun tan oil – the only protection would be a stripe of zinc cream over your nose.’
Despite the early exposure to the harsh Australian sun almost being a death sentence for her, Ms Gately has now returned to live by the beach again at Coogee.
But this time, she never leaves home without protection – and encourages others to do likewise to avoid the same fate she only just managed to dodge.
She’s actively campaigning for more government action on skin cancer prevention and also want to see advertising restrictions brought in similar to the guidelines on smoking.
Just days after she was told the cancer had gone, Anne Gately (pictured) took part in the annual Coogee Island Swim race – and came third in her age group
Despite the early exposure to the harsh Australian sun almost being a death sentence for her, Anne Gately (pictured) has now returned to live by the beach again at Coogee.
‘The nation is defined by images of the beach,’ she said. ‘We need cultural change.
‘Road safety and cigarettes are strictly governed by advertising guidelines but not images of people lying in the sun which are still seen as something healthy and aspirational.
‘More people die from skin cancer than on the roads. It needs to be addressed.’
As a side effect of the treatment, Ms Gately now has vitiligo – a condition in which the skin takes on a mottled appearance of dark and light patches – all over her body and she must have sun protection at all times.
‘Apparently it is a good sign and it is continuing to spread across my body,’ she revealed.
‘It means the immune system is still attacking the cells where melanoma can start.
‘They say that women in their 50’s become invisible – not when you have vitiligo…I’m getting all the stares!’
ROADMAP TO ZERO MELANOMA
The Melanoma Institute Australia has published a new five point strategy to eliminating skin cancer.
The institute has commissioned a new study – State of the Nation: A Report into Melanoma, A National Health Priority – after skin cancer deaths overtook road accident deaths in 2020, with 1,384 vs 1,113.
Melanoma Patients Association CEO Victoria Beedle said: ‘The report provides a blueprint for how we can save lives and reduce this impact.
‘We are calling on Governments to urgently provide long-term action and funding to support the critical recommendations outlined.’
It calls on the government to:-
- Implement a national melanoma prevention and awareness campaign
- Invest in Australia’s high impact research
- Improve early detection and targeted screening programme
- Reduce variation in diagnosis and treatment
- Establish a model for melanoma supportive care and survivorship
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