Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Given six months to live, Jane Gibson fought cancer and won

DUNEDIN — Jane Gibson was 37 years old in 1984 when doctors told her she had six months to live.

Mrs. Gibson, then a feisty mother of three, spent nearly 30 years proving that prediction wrong. Her willingness to participate in experimental research allowed scientists to make discoveries that improved cancer treatment.

Mrs. Gibson spent long stretches of years free of her colon cancer. She volunteered for the Junior League, the Dunedin Fine Art Center and her sons' Little League games.

Mrs. Gibson died Nov. 21 under hospice care for her emphysema — though she was free of cancer. She was 65.

One of her physicians, Dr. Michael Lotze of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, credits work done with her for advancing cancer therapies using the body's immune system.

"Jane Gibson is a rock star here in Pittsburgh," said Lotze, a professor of surgery and bioengineering at the university. "She knew something deep about how to combat her own cancer."

Mrs. Gibson underwent at least 13 procedures, one of them involving the use of her own T cells — white blood cells that attack disease-causing agents like viruses or cancer. While the idea was not new, work with Mrs. Gibson convinced Lotze's group that T cells could be used to treat other types of cancer.

Despite flying to Pittsburgh for experimental surgeries and periods of chemotherapy and radiation at home, Mrs. Gibson remained chipper.

"She had a wonderful sense of humor," said Robert Gibson, 64, her husband. "Sarcastic? That's probably putting it nicely."

Jane Query was born in Philadelphia in 1947. She met Robert Gibson at what is now Southern Virginia University. She later worked as a loan officer.

They married in 1976 and lived in Pittsburgh. She gave birth to three sons before a string of life-changing events. Doctors discovered colorectal cancer and performed surgery in 1984. "They weren't even guaranteeing six months at that time," her husband said.

His job transfer took the family to Florida. In 1985, their infant son, Griffin, drowned in the pool.

"Her attitude was, 'I am not going to bother you with my darn problems,' " said Dallas Frey, a longtime friend in Pittsburgh.

She kept going. She underwent experimental cancer treatment at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., where she first met Lotze. By 1988, hundreds of tumors had spread through her abdomen. Doctors took T cells from her tumor tissue, expanded them, combined them with the hormone interleukin-2 and pumped them back into her veins.

"The T cells can recognize the tumor and distinguish it from normal cells," Lotze said. "It either kills the tumor or causes it to kill itself, and they will not usually kill normal cells."

Mrs. Gibson returned to Dunedin. In 1990, she got a call from Lotze, who by that time had moved to the University of Pittsburgh.

Would she return to the lab at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, where his team could take another look at her?

"I took her to the operating room and found only three tumors, instead of the hundreds or thousands that had been there before," Lotze said. Cautiously, they surmised that perhaps the T cells had eradicated the rest.

"That gave us the courage to work in immunotherapy for the next 22 years," Lotze said, "in part because of people like Jane Gibson. It is now an established form of cancer therapy, in part because of her courage."

Lotze removed the three tumors and part of her liver. Apart from two further tumors treated locally by conventional methods, she had been free of cancer ever since.

Mrs. Gibson had been weakening for the past several months due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "Her will to fight was still there, but her physical ability to fight just wasn't going to happen," her husband said.

But participation in research had extended her life by more than 20 years, and contributed to the treatment of countless others.

"Twenty-four years after Jane's experiment, we now know that T cells are now part of an emerging therapy for patients with melanoma and lymphoma," Lotze said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


Jane Query Gibson

Born: Jan. 14, 1947

Died: Nov. 21, 2012

Survivors: husband, Robert Gibson; sons, William and Kenneth Gibson; brother, James Query; and one grandson.

Given six months to live, Jane Gibson fought cancer and won 11/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 10:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title


    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  2. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  3. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]
  4. Florida softball returns to World Series; FSU baseball in ACC title game


    GAINESVILLE — Florida defeated Alabama 2-1 Saturday to win the deciding Game 3 of their softball Super Region, putting the Gators in the Women's College World Series for the eighth time in program history.

    ’NOLE POWER: FSU’s Dylan Busby, right, is congratulated by teammate Taylor Walls after Busby’s homer against Duke.
  5. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title


    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.