Survivor Stories

Ken Billett, Stage IV

To say that my melanoma journey has been full of highs and lows would be an understatement. In 1995, I was first diagnosed with melanoma in situ on my right shoulder. Since then, I have had nine melanomas—and one basal cell carcinoma—removed from my body. As a result, over the past 26 years, I’ve spent a lot of time wearing sunscreen and ball caps, making frequent dermatology appointments, and spreading the news about the dangers of excessive sun exposure.

Unfortunately, my journey reached its first major low in late 2011 when a previously biopsied lesion became a Stage II tumor. I underwent emergency surgery with extensive plastic surgery on my upper back. Afterward, I endured several months of physical therapy to regain my strength.

While the 2011 surgical margins were clear, melanoma found its way into my bloodstream, so a second major low occurred in late July 2013 after a PET scan revealed metastases in both of my lungs. Biomarker testing matched me with an oral chemotherapy drug that—for seven years—kept my tumors small and stable.

Another bump in the road happened in June 2020, when a current PET scan revealed that melanoma had spread to my right adrenal gland. My oncology team decided to put me on an immunotherapy regimen. That regimen began in October 2020, and, so far, my tumors have remained stable. My body has tolerated this new regimen—but it hasn’t been easy.

Over the past four years, I have dedicated myself to helping others with melanoma by immersing myself in the science of melanoma prevention and, someday, eradication. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be an advocate and a voice for those who are no longer here to fight this deadly disease.

I’m most thankful, however, for what I’ve been able to personally experience since 2013. I’ve seen my children graduate both from high school and from college. I’ve been able to extensively travel with my wife, and, before COVID, we went to the beach or the mountains every year. When we’re at home, we enjoy our time together—gardening, reading, or watching a movie.

My melanoma journey continues to have bumps and curves, along with ups and downs, but I now appreciate those small things in life that truly mean the most.

Ken Billett
Stage IV
Age 58
Memphis, TN
Date Diagnosed: 07/24/2013