Last fight for Larbert martial arts man

Gary Nellies
Gary Nellies

The widow of a martial arts expert who bravely took part in pioneering cancer research has paid tribute to her husband.

Gary Nellies died on September 16 at the age of 48, having been given just 18 months to live – seven years ago.

The ju jitsu expert and keep-fit fanatic from Larbert fought his illness to the very end – knowing the groundbreaking treatments he agreed to were not only giving him a sliver of hope, but would benefit future patients facing the same battle.

“I’m just immensely proud of him,” said wife Esther. “Words can’t describe how I feel. He was an inspiration - one of life’s finest.”

“As far as he was concerned there was nothing wrong with him. The treatment made him feel unwell, but for the majority of the time he kept remarkably well – his attitude played a massive role in that. He could have given up, but he never did.”

Gary, a fourth Dan instructor, also had tremendous physical fitness on his side, thanks to his love of martial arts.

He began to study the sport at the age of eight and went on to compete at the highest level – coming fourth in the world Ju Jitsu championships one year.

Despite his illness he continued to attend his club, Sei Ryoku Senyo, as an advisor and in 2009 he was inducted into the Martial Arts International Hall of Fame.

Gary was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2004 but medics quickly realised the disease was also in his liver.

He had two major operations in the space of three months, then started intensive chemotherapy but soon felt fit enough to go back to work as a prison officer.

However, despite being a non-smoker and almost tee-total, another scan showed cancer in both lungs and he was given a maximum of two years to live.

“No chemotherapy could help him,” Esther recalls. “The only thing they could offer were trial drugs and Gary felt he had nothing to lose and that he might be able to help someone in the future.

Every day was precious to Gary and Esther as their son Jake, now 16, was only nine when his dad first discovered he had the disease.

“I am grateful to the Clinical Research Unit in the Beatson for offering these trials because they kept him with us longer than we thought he was going to get.”

Despite unpleasant side-effects, Gary did see benefits from the treatment.

“One trial shrank the tumours on one lung to almost nothing. He lost the feeling in his fingers and toes because of it, but he never complained,” says Esther.

Finally, however, the disease attacked his brain and Gary died in Strathcarron Hospice, with his family by his side.

“The last few weeks were like hitting a brick wall,” said Esther, who married Gary in 1984.

“I keep thinking he’s in the hospital and he’s going to come through the door any minute.”

Esther would like to thank the 800-plus mourners who attended Gary’s funeral last Friday. “It was too upsetting for me to speak to everyone but it meant a lot to me.”

She was also touched by the guard of honour given by his colleagues in the prison service, which she says has been a fantastic support.

As he wished, Gary was buried in his karate suit and the boys, now grown up, who attended his club when he started carried his coffin into the packed church.

Esther says Gary would encourage anyone to visit their doctor if there is anything worrying them.. “Things can be caught if it’s early enough - don’t wait until it’s too late,” she says.