Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



Kevin Lankes’s Immunotherapy Story

Melanoma |  Diagnosed 2011

If it weren’t for all the bad parts of cancer, everybody would really benefit from it.

Kevin’s Story

Kevin Lankes has been writing stories for as long as he can remember. His first story, written at age 5, was about giant mutant pizzas terrorizing the city. In 2011, at age 25, Kevin found himself at the center of an even scarier drama: stage 3 melanoma. The lesion started on his leg and had already spread to his lymph nodes by the time it was discovered.
Kevin was treated at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Cancer by John Kirkwood, MD, who recommended that Kevin have surgery followed by an immunotherapy called interferon. Interferon boosts the body’s natural defense mechanism against cancer and has been shown to delay recurrence. During his treatment and recovery, Kevin decided to write his personal memoir, which he recently had published.

Kevin Lankes is a writer living in New York City. His memoir, entitled Metastatic Memories, was published in 2014. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinLankes and read his blog at

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

I had this really funky mole on my leg that was elevated. It was hard as a rock and itchy. I thought it was a mosquito bite, but when I looked at it, I was like, “Oh God.” It definitely looked out of the ordinary.

I got my diagnosis over the phone in August 2011. It was a surreal moment. Right away, I went into business mode and started scheduling doctor appointments. Some people fall apart right away. I don’t; I fall apart later. I avoided telling my family for a while, but we eventually talked about it, and my mother kind of hijacked things and got it all taken care of for me. She was like, “No, we’re going here. These are the best people.” That’s how we found Dr. Kirkwood and my surgeon, Dr. Edington.

What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?

Obviously, immunotherapy is a wonderful alternative to chemo. There are no long‑term side effects that are shown in the research. The only thing I was told I would experience is basically a year of feeling crappy. I went ahead and I did it, and I definitely felt crappy for an entire year.

So, in December of 2011, I started treatment. It was a very hard month. I went to the hospital Monday through Friday to get hooked up to the machine, start the IV, and sit in the chair with everybody in the treatment ward. I was staying with my great aunt in Pittsburgh, and I would come home to her place and sit at this desk in the guest bedroom and write despite having chills and fever. I’d stop for dinner, around 6:30 to 7:00. When I couldn’t stay up any longer, I took anxiety meds and passed out. Then I woke up in the morning and I did it all again.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

If it weren’t for all the bad parts of cancer, everybody would really benefit from it. I hope I can use that perspective in the future— like not getting angry about things, letting things go, being able to realize what’s important. Sometimes I find myself going back to my normal mode of operation, getting frustrated about commuting, etc., but then I remember, “Wait, you almost died once. What are you worried about?”

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