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From Stage 4 Skin Cancer Diagnosis to Melanoma Survivor

Skin cancer patient Tim Grimes.

August 29, 2019

It was just a routine mole removal for Tim Grimes, like he’d had before. The physician didn’t see anything overly threatening with the mole he was removing from his patient’s back. Still, the doctor sent it off for testing.

However in August 2014, Tim, 30, said his whole world changed when he received a diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma. Scans revealed he had cancer in his liver, lungs, spine and lymph nodes.

“I was told I had between 12 and 18 months to live,” Tim says. “I had only a 5% chance to live longer than that.”

Surgeons operated to remove malignant margins around the area of the diseased mole. But further treatment would be necessary to fight the remaining cancer.

Gearing up for the fight

Tim reached out to friends, family and friends of friends and family to figure out his next steps. Repeatedly, the top recommendation was The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

“When I first met with Dr. [Gary] Doolittle, I felt very confident in him. I told him I wanted to fight this thing head on, and he told me that was his style, too,” Tim says. Gary Doolittle, MD, is a medical oncologist who specializes in melanoma.

An avid Royals baseball fan, Tim told Dr. Doolittle that he wanted to delay treatment for just 1 week. “I had plans to meet friends out of town and go to the last Royals game of the season. I needed that week to enjoy myself so I could gear up for my fight,” says Tim. “Dr. Doolittle agreed it was a good choice. From then on, I knew he was my guy.”

Treatment has been tough. Tim enrolled in a clinical trial testing the effectiveness of a combined treatment for metastatic melanoma that kick-starts the immune system to attack cancer cells. He had an adverse reaction to one of the medications, which sometimes happens. Still, he was able to continue with the other medication, which could only be administered in the hospital. He received 54 doses of that drug over 5 months.

“I was totally wiped out,” he says.

Even with the intensive therapy, the cancer spread to his brain. It was time for a new plan of attack. The next round of treatment, which did not involve a clinical trial, kept his cancer from advancing, but didn’t shrink his tumors.

In late 2015, Tim received a new combination of immunotherapy drugs, Opdivo® and Yervoy®. The FDA accelerated approval of the immunotherapy drug combination in October 2015 based on dramatic survival results from a clinical trial. Still, the tumors in his brain continued to grow. He then received radiation therapy.

Good news at last

In March, Tim had positive news – the first since his diagnosis. Scans showed that his tumors had shrunk by half. “It was nice to get good news on that last scan,” he says. “After all of this fighting, it was a relief to know it was finally working.”

Tim will have scans again in June, but he and Dr. Doolittle have agreed not to discuss any kind of a timeline for his life. “I’ve worked to get past the initial mark of 18 months, and I did it! That milestone was in February. Now, I’m looking toward the future and beating this thing,” he says.

Throughout the ups and downs of treatment, Tim says The University of Kansas Cancer Center has been great. He has received most of his treatment at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Care Pavilion in Westwood, and praises the doctors and nurses there for their skill and compassion. “I’ve been impressed with them from the start. They are the best!” he marvels. “Plus, they put up with all of my joking around and being silly.”

A community of support

Throughout his ordeal, Tim’s friends have actively promoted a social media campaign offering support.

“People came out of nowhere for me. They donated to a GoFundMe account, sent groceries and reached out in ways that mean so much. It was hard to be negative or scared with so many people having my back,” he says.

As a result, Tim says he tries to volunteer at and support as many charities and fundraisers as he can.

“Kansas City took care of me, I want to give back,” he says.

The Kansas City resident said that he’s gained a renewed sense of community from his experience, some great new celebrity friends (including Royals players who got behind his campaign) and a better perspective on his life.

“Cancer doesn’t care who you are. In a weird way, it’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t judge us, so why should we judge others?” Tim confides. “My problems are small in comparison to others who are suffering.”

Tim doesn’t know what the future holds. He hopes it’s positive. But he refuses to waste whatever time he has left. “I’ve tried to keep things light and fun. I’m a jokester, and that hasn’t changed,” he says. In between treatments, he catches Royals games as often as he can, hangs out with friends and spends time with his dog, Dexter.

“I’m still here," he says. "And, I plan to fight to keep it that way.”

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This individual participated in a clinical trial of an investigational treatment. Clinical trials are different from standard medical care. As with all research studies, clinical trial participant outcomes vary. Before participating in a clinical trial, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.

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