A BRIDGWATER dad who had a massive part of his jaw removed due to a rare and aggressive cancer says he is living the dream now.

Andy Gale, a self-confessed motorcycle fan can’t quite believe he took part in a major Moto Cup competition just a year after diagnosis and won – having undergone a major operation to have a steel jaw fitted.

Now the 50-year-old furniture agent is marking his five year all clear of the disease by sharing his story to highlight the importance of research which has made his journey possible.

Having bone taken from his calf along with a titanium brace fitted into his jaw, he got back on his beloved rally bike and took home the Moto Cup trophy – His way of coping with his cancer journey.

He says: “I feel I’ve cheated death a number of times but I’m living the dream now. “Everything I have today feels like a bonus and I want to show there’s life after cancer.”

Even before his cancer diagnosis, in his early 40s, Andy had two heart attacks and subsequently had two stents fitted.

Problems began for Andy when he was originally diagnosed with an infected wisdom tooth at Christmas time in 2013. When the socket didn’t heal after its removal two weeks later, Andy saw a specialist in the January who suggested a biopsy. The following month he was invited back to talk about the results and he knew something was seriously wrong.

“When there are six people in the room, you know you’re in trouble.” I told them not to sugar coat it and they said that cancer had filled the space where the tooth had been removed.”

Andy was diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell skin cancer in his jaw and the following month underwent a 12-hour operation. A huge section of his jaw was removed, and he underwent plastic surgery and had a metal titanium track inserted in his face.

He was unable to eat for six weeks. But his surgeon told him the worst was yet to come.

“Having cancer has had a dramatic effect on my life,” Andy added. "During my last radiotherapy I thought the worst was over, but due to the cumulative effect, mentally I felt it was akin to going to war, but it was a war with cancer.

“I just got my head down and got on with it. But when I came out of it, I felt a bit lost. I had focused so much on the recovery and everything else was put on hold.

“My whole focus was to get back racing. I was at a reasonable level. I’d done the Tuareg Rally across the Sahara a couple of times and took part in the British Rally Championship and won it. But it had all been about the journey rather than the winning.

“It was after that when the wheels came off,” Andy explained.

Having gone through depression he took control and went to see his GP and booked counselling sessions.

“Just offloading and talking to someone and telling them everything helped me. I couldn’t tell my family, because they had gone through enough. Nobody told me how difficult the chemo and radiotherapy would be mentally.

“My wife Ellie and family have been a massive support throughout all of this. It’s not just you that goes through cancer; it affects them too.

“I’ve always said that I would rather be the person lying in the bed than looking at it. At the time of my treatment, Ellie – who works for Combat Stress, looking after ex-servicemen – was having to drive 100 miles from our home in Bridgewater to Exeter where I was having treatment to visit me after work. So, she had a lot tougher time than I did.

“Life’s brilliant now. It’s all a bonus. If it was down to ‘natural selection’, with everything that’s happened, I shouldn’t be here. So, I’ve managed to buck that, and everything is a bonus. So, if I can help anyone along the way, I will. I want to give something back.

Cancer Research UK was a key player in the development of radiotherapy, which now benefits more than 130,000 patients every year in the UK.

Alison Birkett, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the charity, said: “Our ‘Right Now’ campaign aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research and improved treatments can have on a cancer patient’s journey.

Alison added: “There are so many ways for people to show their support here in the South West - from joining a Race for Life event, to volunteering in our shops or simply wearing a Unity Band for World Cancer Day on February 4. We’re calling on people in the region to take action right now and make a real difference in the fight against the disease.”

To help support life-saving research, visit cruk.org.