Melanoma Survivor

Trust and Support Fuel His Can-do Attitude

In 2014, Tim Grimes lived the life of a typical 28-year-old. When he wasn’t working, he hung out with friends, watched Kansas City Royals baseball and chilled with his dog. Although a Stage IV melanoma diagnosis changed life as he knew it, Tim has found great strength from his doctor, his friends and his dog. He’s beating the odds and hopes sharing his experience will help someone else going through the same thing

In 2014, I was at a pool when a friend pointed out a mole on my back. I’d had moles removed before and they were always benign, so I didn’t rush to get this one checked. About a year later, a doctor did a biopsy and sent it off for testing. We were both shocked to learn I had advanced-stage melanoma.

Another friend referred me to a surgeon. I asked the surgeon if this would kill me, and she told me that it probably would. I didn’t expect that answer. Thankfully, the oncologist I saw next put me more at ease, even though he discovered the melanoma had spread to my liver, lungs, spine and lymph nodes. It was Stage IV. I asked for a survival time frame, and he told me 12 to 18 months with about a 5 percent chance of beating it.

The diagnosis seemed so farfetched that I didn’t even know how to process it. Aside from feeling more tired than usual, I didn’t feel sick. How could I be dying? Instead of getting caught up in “being diagnosed with cancer,” I decided to do whatever I had to do.

The first treatment was surgery to remove the mole and a four-inch margin on all sides. The surgeon removed other moles on my chest, torso and stomach that turned out to be pre-cancerous, along with a lump about half the size of a golf ball on my shoulder. According to the nurse, it was a “black ball of cancer.”

I hadn’t planned on telling anyone about the melanoma. I just thought I’d have the surgery , deal with it and move on. Once I realized how serious it was, I posted about it on Facebook. Right away, the support was incredible. My friends organized fundraisers and social media campaigns. They’ve helped pay my bills, taken me to treatments and brought over food. Knowing I’m a huge Kansas City Royals fan, they even arranged for me to meet some of the Royals players. The whole experience has been surreal. I didn’t expect this diagnosis, but I also didn’t expect this kind of support. I’d like to think I could handle all of this on my own, but I know now that the people who are in my life are there for a reason. They really stepped up, and they’re able to bring me up when I’m feeling down.

Friends on Facebook also led me to my new oncologist. I met with him about a month after having surgery. I asked him for a survival time frame, hoping his would be better, but it was seven to nine months. My situation was pretty grim. I didn’t know much about cancer, except for the horror stories I’d heard about chemotherapy. My new doctor recommended a clinical trial using two types of immunotherapy. He felt confident about it, and he shared some of the great results people are seeing. He educated me about the treatment and what to expect. I could tell he legitimately wanted to help me. He earned my trust.

I liked the fact that the side effects would be manageable, and being in a clinical trial didn’t scare me. I was more worried about the treatment not working. My goal was to beat the prognosis. And, if what I was doing would help others, I was definitely okay with that, so I began the clinical trial.

The trial was six weeks of pills, then ICU treatment every two weeks after that, with pills in between. I had to be in ICU for part of the treatment because I had to be closely monitored for severe side effects. Four weeks into the trial, my liver enzymes shot up so I had to stop the pills. I finished six rounds of the ICU treatment before the melanoma spread to my brain and we had to change the treatment.

I continued taking one of the immunotherapy drugs, and I had radiation therapy that targeted three spots in my brain. Immediately, the spots in my brain disappeared, and everything else started shrinking. That’s exciting because I’ve hit two milestones I didn’t think I’d make. I celebrated my 30th birthday, and I cruised past that 18-month mark. The plan is to stay on immunotherapy for as long as I can, with scans every two to three months. If the drug stops working, I’ll try something else.

I am dealing with some side effects. I’m fatigued and take medication for the pain in my knees, shoulders and hips. Sometimes I stay in bed all day, just getting up to let out my dog. He is awesome. He knows when I’m not feeling well, and he’ll just chill with me. I took steroids with the radiation therapy and gained 65 pounds in two months. I’m dieting and trying to walk my dog at least five miles a day to get back into shape. That also helps with the fatigue and joint pain. So far, I’ve had one session of physical therapy to see if that helps. Overall, it’s not as bad as it could be.

After my story got out in the media people started telling me that I’d inspired them. That was never my intent, but I like to think I’m going through this so someone else might not have to. I hope my experience educates others, that they will get checked out, and find the hope and comfort they need to keep fighting.