by Mara Klecker
Lisa Huntley remembers walking out of the hospital without her husband, Grant, in 1994 and thinking to herself that she never again wanted to be within those walls. In those first moments as a 26-year-old widow, she couldn’t imagine returning to the same floor where she’d spent much of the previous three months by Grant’s side as he battled melanoma for the second time. Little did she know then that her career would take shape in that same hospital and she’d one day be the assistant to Dr. John M. Kirkwood, the very doctor who supported Grant in his last few months.
About a year after Grant’s death, Lisa found herself back at that hospital in Pittsburgh (now called the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center) as a volunteer, supporting patients and family members facing the challenges she knew all too well. “I surprised even myself by going back,” she said. “But I found that it was so healing for me to be able to comfort others in that same situation I’d been through.”
Still, the first few visits were hard and she avoided the hallway and the room where Grant had stayed. But over time, it got easier.
That same year, 1995, Lisa and her cousin organized the first of what would be 15 golf outings to raise money for melanoma research. Grant was an avid golfer who was known for his sense of humor and his kindness, which showed in his smile and his bright blue eyes.
Over the years, the annual golf outing raised nearly $150,000.
By the late 1990s, Lisa became the director of the volunteer program at the cancer center. And in 2012, she became Dr. Kirkwood’s administrator in the melanoma program. That’s how she first connected with AIM at Melanoma – Dr. Kirkwood sits on AIM’s board of directors.
In 2015, Lisa helped launch a new tradition to support melanoma research and keep Grant’s memory alive: AIM’s Steps Against Melanoma Walk in Pittsburgh. Since it began, that walk has raised $246,000. And each year, Lisa joins friends and family to form a team called Grant’s Gang, which has raised more than $9,000 over the years.
Lisa is now remarried and the mother of three daughters. She’s grateful that advancements in melanoma research and treatments mean those with a recurrence of the disease likely have a brighter outlook than Grant did when he received his second diagnosis.
“There’s more hope than there’s ever been and I also think there’s a greater awareness of what the sun can do to your skin,” she said. “I’m thankful to have done my small part in that.”
Lisa never expected to devote her career to melanoma research and awareness. But she knows that Grant would be honored by her mission. And she knows that Grant would also be proud to know that Dr. Kirkwood was still a leader in the fight against melanoma.
“He brought so much comfort to Grant and me,” Lisa said. “That meant more than I could ever express. It’s such a full-circle blessing for me to be able to work right beside him now and be a part of his team as he continues to dedicate his time to ending this disease.”
Click here to learn more about this year’s Steps Against Melanoma Walk in Pittsburgh.