'Nothing short of a miracle:' Wake County dad shares his skin cancer survival story

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, June 1, 2019
Wake County dad shares skin cancer survival story
Brian Gilley, a Wake County husband and father of two, has a story everyone should hear before heading out into the summer sun.

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Brian Gilley, a Wake County husband and father of two, has a story everyone should hear before heading out into the summer sun.

Gilley was preparing to die two years ago and wants to share his story of survival in this Skin Cancer Awareness Month to inspire others.

The vast majority of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma, and in October 2017, 43-year old Gilley was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma.

Gilley and his wife Meredith, who've been married sixteen years, both fair-skinned and lovers of the outdoors, were never disciplined about sunscreen. Until two years ago, when Brian was suddenly bothered by abdominal pain.

"I was thinking maybe gall stones or appendicitis," Gilley said. "And I finally made an appointment with my primary care physician."

Gilley's doctor sent him for an MRI. The results were shocking.

It wasn't just melanoma. The cancers were spreading fast. There were at least 25 tumors: Metastasis in his lungs, pancreas, and his brain. The tumor on his abdomen was the size of a grapefruit.

Gilley suddenly found himself preparing to die, "Just get your things in order was my initial thought."

Meredith said, "We honestly were waffling between do we do hospice or do we treat? Because quality of life versus quantity of life is an important thing."

They did decide on treatment. And Gilley's results have been astonishing.

Gilley is undergoing immunotherapy. His cancer doctors at UNC Rex are treating the disease by supercharging his immune system to find the melanoma.

Since starting treatments, Gilley's sandy blonde hair has turned completely white. But more importantly, the tumors are being erased. They're all gone, except for the one that looked like a grapefruit two years ago.

"I'm down to one small tumor. And it was the one the size of a grapefruit. It's now the size of a green pea," Gilley said. "It's shrunken quite a bit."

Two years after the diagnosis, on any given day at the Gilley residence, a bottle of sunscreen is never far from reach.

"For me I'm just more thankful that he's still here," Meredith said. "And I hope out of all this, his story gives some folks out there some hope."

Gilley added, "I still think of where I could be and where I am now -- It's nothing short of a miracle."

Gilley's doctors think the melanoma started with a mole on his chest that popped up about fifteen years ago -- and he never gave much thought to it.

Now he and his family are doing what all of us should be doing now -- scheduling annual exams at the dermatologist for checks.

Plus the everyday things like limiting our time in the sun, wearing protective clothing and using a water-resistant sunscreen SPF 30 or higher.

Gilley expects to resume his immunotherapy next month. His doctors are calling him a poster child for the still relatively new treatment.