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An Eye-Opening Experience Through a Metastatic Melanoma Journey

Guest blog from Kyle Lewis, a stage IV metastatic melanoma survivor: 

KyleClank. Clank. Clank thud. Whoosh. Dang – my range is off. Clank. Whoosh. Whoosh. Ouch. I better get out of here before somebody sees me. 

It was November 2019 and I was out shooting baskets at a local park. Youth basketball season was fast-approaching and I coached my 7-year-old daughter, Reagan’s, team. I typically impressed these kids with my three-point shooting, since my dunking days were…um…non-existent. I just did not have the range this year, so I decided I should hit the gym and work my arms, shoulders and chest. During a set of bench presses a couple weeks later, I felt a twinge in my chest. I thought it was a minor tear. That was the first time I felt my cancer. 

I grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley. It was a pretty rural area, and whenever I could, I’d escape to the central coast. Avila Beach and Cayucos were our favorite spots, though I learned to boogieboard/bodyboard a little further north in Santa Cruz. I loved the beach. It was my happy place from a young age. I don’t recall sunscreen or rash guards in my younger years, but the cold waters of the Pacific definitely necessitated a wetsuit in my teens. In addition to the beach, we would often spend summers exploring the National Parks in the western U.S. 

imageA short stint in college – where I spent more time working and at the beach than studying – necessitated a change, so in February 1999 I headed off to Navy bootcamp in frigid Great Lakes, Illinois. I figured I’d always be near water and a beach in the Navy. I was mostly right. It turns out the Navy has something called a cryptologist, who spends hours or sometimes days in windowless, well-protected rooms staring at screens with headphones wrapped around their noggin. Guess who became one? This guy. I loved the work, but we’d escape outside any time we got a chance. I recall many an afternoon spent on the fantail (back) of the USS Elliot under the blazing hot Persian Gulf sun. I decided to get a tattoo of a black sun on my forearm, which was this California boy’s way of ensuring he saw the sun every day. Still, the Navy took me to Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks and San Diego. 

After the Navy, I spent the next 17 years working for or with every three-letter intelligence agency in the U.S. government. It was great work and allowed my wife and I to grow our household with a whopping four little beach-loving children! My daughter Reagan is the only one who listens to my basketball coaching, which brings us back to late 2019. 

My first thought was a minor muscle tear in my chest. The area started to swell and continued to hurt; my primary care doctor thought maybe it was inflamed. When that didn’t work, I got both an X-ray and MRI – which confirmed it was not a muscle tear. I still remember the physician assistant’s face, as he hinted, but would not say, “the big C” and recommended I see the thoracic surgeon. A PET scan and biopsy confirmed – stage IV metastatic melanoma. The diagnosis came as a shock. I was one of those people – and I’ve encountered many more – who did not know melanoma could spread beyond your skin. Mine did – liver, spleen, chest, spine, pelvis and others. 

Over one year later, I am still undergoing regular treatment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD.  A few rounds of immunotherapy helped with some of the larger tumors, and I’m now undergoing targeted chemotherapy for some of the more persistent lesions. This entire process has been eye-opening. The data on survival rates are not good, but as my hero Han Solo would say, “Never tell me the odds.” I’ve tried to make the most of my time left. I’m not a religious person and I don’t think this happened for any particular reason. I don’t think anything or anyone is to blame. Still, I can’t help but think this was preventable. Maybe being better informed about the potential deadly outcome of melanoma would have encouraged me to remember my sunscreen or sun-blocking shirt. Maybe reading this will remind someone else.   

If you see me clanking threes at a local park this autumn, maybe cut me some slack. I’ve got a bunch of 8-year-olds I need to impress. 


Learn more about Kyle’s story from an interview he did with Chicago’s WGN9! Life-saving advances in melanoma research are made possible by the generosity of supporters like YOU. Please consider a tax-deductible donation today: