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Donate today to support The Alfred's vital work to advance cancer care and research

Donate today to support The Alfred's vital work to advance cancer care and research

"The Alfred gave me the gift of more time to spend with the people that mean the world to me. I’ve chosen to use some of that precious time to share my story to help save lives."

Gary Denson was recently given a prognosis of 90 days to live after having been diagnosed with Stage 4 mutating metastatic melanoma. Gary, who is a patient of The Alfred’s oncology department, decided with the time he has left he wants to raise money to support cancer research and care at The Alfred, as well as raise awareness about melanoma.

Gary asked if he could share his story in the hope you might support his extraordinary efforts and so below you will find a very personal letter from Gary, in his own words, telling his story and why this appeal is so important to him.

In early December 2019, while living and working in Singapore, I was diagnosed with a stage 4 rare mutating metastatic melanoma. I straight away started on the latest immuno-therapy and after four treatments my wife Keri and I returned home to Melbourne.

After more immune-treatment, I received advice that there was nothing more that could be done to help extend the time I had left, until I had the good fortune to be admitted to The Alfred.

I believe my story could help save lives – perhaps yours or one of your dearest friends or family members.

I may not have long left on this blue and green rock, but my position now gives me the perspective and opportunity to do something bold that I hope will make a significant and wide-reaching difference.

And today I am inviting you to help me in making this difference. 

But first a bit about me. Almost 60 years ago I was born in Cobram, in country Victoria. Like many Aussies of the era, home time was when it started to get dark and the streetlights came on.

I was extremely active, loved my footy in winter and cricket in summer. I wasn’t the best bowler or batsman but spent many summers playing fine leg for the local cricket team. And if I wasn’t playing sport, you would find me hanging out at the local beaches or sandbars around where we lived.

I am fortunate that my life started with a very normal and safe upbringing, and that I was able to go on to lead a life filled with many great opportunities and adventures. Unfortunately, my life went so quickly from normal, being seemingly very fit and healthy one day, to being diagnosed with terminal stage four cancer within just two weeks of a routine skin check.

I have always loved being fit and healthy. However, it seems my sporting and recreational activities under the Australian sun have caught up with me. Despite having regular annual skin check-ups for more than 25 years, I found a small lump on my chest wall in November last year. My Singapore Oncologist said my case is 1 in 1000 as there were no ugly skin lesions nor misshapen or darkened moles.

On top of the important “Slip, Slop, Slap” message, I want to help drive home the importance not only of protection from the sun, but also checking your skin for suspect moles or that sore that won’t heal, and also for lumps under the skin that you can’t see.

Preventative skin care checks and protection are so important in reducing the risk of contracting cancer. Equally important is the research into treatment for cancer patients, which is vital in the fight against the disease. 

I was stretching when I first found the lump, about the size of jellybean, below one of my ribs. I was living in Singapore and went to the GP the next day. The GP wasn’t concerned at the time and said not to worry. I wasn’t so sure and asked for the appropriate scan. That came back with nothing “abnormal” showing up.

I still wasn’t comfortable having a lump there and not really knowing what it was, so I asked to be referred to a general surgeon to have it removed. I met with the surgeon and he did an ultrasound in his office and again nothing sinister showed up. The advice was that there was nothing showing to be worried about. But by that stage I was adamant, I wanted it out and I was confident enough to be my own advocate, and thank goodness I was!

The surgeon said he was suspicious as soon as he saw the lump in surgery. It was actually close to the size of a golf ball and deep ruby red blood colour. He found two additional nodes which he also removed.  Two weeks later, the histopathology report came through and it determined that the lump was the primary site of a cancerous growth caused by melanoma. We were all hoping it was the only presence in my body but at the time I was having attacks of severe abdominal pain. I was throwing up and in a bad way. At first they said it was kidney stones and then gallstones, but we were suspicious that the abdominal attacks were related to the cancer.

Once you are diagnosed with melanoma the next step is to go for a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, which is when they found the large growths on both of my adrenal glands (one close to the size of a tennis ball).  I had initially gone to the GP in mid-November, seemingly fit and healthy, and less than three weeks later I was having my first treatment for stage 4 cancer.

The treatment presented a raft of side effects, I couldn’t walk for four or five days, it seemed to attack all my old football injuries. I lost my voice and couldn’t talk for a week. I had a terrible itchy rash where I wanted to rip shreds off my back. 

I don’t want others to die if it can be prevented. Your donation today can help advance research into preventing deaths from cancer.

"When you’re out in the beautiful Australian sun this Christmas, protect your skin, wear that hat, use the sunscreen, keep the sunnies on and don’t spend too much time in direct sunlight.

Check your skin for unusual spots or moles and check for lumps under the skin that you can’t see. If you find anything consult with a doctor immediately.

And if you can, please make a donation to help me realise my Christmas wish - to raise as much money as I can to support advances in cancer care and research at The Alfred."

From first diagnosis my wife Keri and I promised to approach life as normally as possible with me continuing to work, walk and swim as able however, by March this year that was no longer possible. The initial treatment had arrested growths that I had on my spine, behind the eye, my right buttock, lungs and ribs. However, I’d subsequently learnt what was happening is that the blood supply to those sites had reduced and the cancer had mutated, setting up camp in other areas of the body, in my case the small bowel and gallbladder.

Fast forward to June 2020 and under normal circumstances there may have been a few trial treatments available for me to try but COVID meant many of the trials were shut down for safety reasons. There was one possible trial available but the prerequisites to qualify meant that they had to take a biopsy of the cancer and the location of my cancers meant that was deemed too risky as it could accelerate the spread.

I was also suffering from excruciating pain. Doctors thought the gallbladder was the cause and by this stage pain management was a real challenge. At the worst, I was unable to talk, could barely walk and had lost nearly all cognition. One day I asked Keri to get the cat and dog to stop chasing each other around the apartment…we don’t have a cat or dog… Hallucinations and constant vomiting were the low point.

The pain got worse and my condition quickly declined. I couldn’t even keep a sip of water down. Luckily at this point I was admitted to The Alfred and the incredible team quickly determined there was a cancerous lesion causing a bowel blockage. Dr Melissa Budge explained the options and the risks. I could go home and suck on crushed ice with morphine pumped into my arm, as and when I needed it, until the final curtain came down within 90 days!... Or I could opt for risky surgery which could also spell the end but at best could buy me some more time.

Keri and I had a good chat and I just said, ‘I think we roll the dice on this one. And if I don’t see you tomorrow, it’s been wonderful and if I do it will be even better!’ I remember Keri’s beautiful face and words as I was on the bed being wheeled into surgery, ‘You’re going to fight this. Don’t give up!’ I repeated to myself, ‘come on big fella!’.

Amazingly I made it through the surgery and when I came to, I just kept saying to Keri, ‘You’re so beautiful’.

The Alfred has given me an amazing gift. A gift of more time on this earth with my loved ones. Moments to cherish and say goodbye.

In return I’m calling on you to help. Your donation will support the experts at The Alfred in their lifesaving work.

All the staff at The Alfred were simply brilliant, the nurses, the surgeons and even the young guy who wheeled me to the theatre, they were all so warm, caring and professional. Keri and I really can’t thank them enough. After the surgery Keri spoke with Dr Budge who was so pleased with how it went. Drs. Yeung and Budge had to remove 80cm of my bowel and I’ve since learnt that this is now stored in The Alfred’s donor-funded cancer biobank for future research. It’s incredible to think the range of material saved there could be vital in the fight to cure cancer.

There is no doubt the diagnosis, operation and treatment at The Alfred has extended my time, hopefully an extra 90 days to spend with my gorgeous wife, sons, family and friends.

After my operation I found myself waking up at 2am with thoughts racing through my mind. I was given more time; how can I help give other people that same chance? I knew I’d have no peace if I didn’t try to help.

That's why I’m working closely with The Alfred Foundation to share my story with all money raised going to support The Alfred’s work in cancer research and care. Your help today could give patients like me more time with their loved ones and save lives.

Your donation could make such a difference. Cancer is a hideous disease, please help the team at The Alfred fight it.

My family and friends have been my greatest support. Keri has been by my side the whole time and continues to help me fight. I’m focusing on being as strong as I can and leading as normal a life as possible. I feel good as I write this, I’m swimming and walking regularly. As soon as this 25km COVID restriction is lifted I will head up to Cobram to see my mum and lifelong friends. I’ll visit Echuca to see my sister and her family. I’ll spend as much time as I can with my sons. All things that I’m looking forward to and that I’m so grateful for.

It’s not until you’re in hospital in a situation like mine, that you realise what staff at The Alfred deal with every day. It must be a calling for them. The nurses, the doctors the support staff, they are just so caring and the absolute best at what they do.

But I’d really rather you take my word for that, than have to experience it firsthand.

I was given the gift of more time thanks to The Alfred, time to spend with the people that mean the world to me. I’ve chosen to use some of that precious time to share my story, in the hope that it will help save lives.

This festive season, your donation could be the gift that truly makes a difference by saving others from cancer.

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and festive season.

Gary W. Denson

Please make a donation today and help The Alfred's work in cancer research and care.