By Steve Blanchard
Nearly every Thursday, Tim Kilraine and his daughter Madisen can be heard belting out their favorite songs at a local karaoke hot spot in Clearwater. While watching them go for the high notes in “Summer Nights” or a favorite from the hit Broadway Musical Jersey Boys, no one would suspect that the Air Force veteran only recently emerged from the fight of his life.
Just over a year ago, the father of three was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma after doctors discovered it had spread throughout his torso and into his left lung.
"I was floored when I heard the diagnosis and I felt like I couldn’t breathe for nearly 10 minutes," Kilraine remembered. "When I caught my breath, I asked my doctor to send me to Moffitt."
Hearing such a major diagnosis is never expected, but Kilraine thought he was past his cancer scare after he had a mole removed in 2015.
However, in 2016, an inflamed lymph node brought him back to his doctor, who discovered that the melanoma had spread to his torso and a lung.
"Like most people, I didn’t realize that melanoma could be inside your body, I thought it was just on the skin,” Kilraine said, adding that he has always been careful when it came to sun exposure. After the diagnosis, Kilraine asked his doctor to send him to Moffitt, where he learned of his options and began regular infusions of an immunotherapy called Keytruda.
Those appointments saved his life, and changed his perspective.
"It got to the point where I actually looked forward to my appointments because I made friends with so many of the team members at the cancer center,” he said, adding that he now gets scanned every three months just to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. “I will still stop by on occasion just to say hello, even if it’s not time for my follow up scan.”
Since his treatment, Kilraine has found himself as an educator of sorts with regards to melanoma. As a regular volunteer at the Valspar Golf Tournament in Palm Harbor, Kilraine routinely shares his story when he witnesses people getting too much sun.
"To me, melanoma awareness is huge, he said. "Especially here in Florida. I take every opportunity I can to educate people around me by sharing my story in a tactful way. I don’t take anything for granted."
Besides his physical healing, Kilraine has found a unique and entertaining way to move past his diagnosis emotionally. Performing has helped him come to terms with his cancer battle, whether at the karaoke bar or alongside his daughter in musical productions at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.
"I have always considered myself a singer and Madisen is involved with choral groups,” Kilraine said. “But I could never get her to go onto the stage on her own. It started as a bet one night. I told her that if she did it, I would do it. It was my way to help her build her self-esteem and to get past my own fears as I battled melanoma."
Through his performances, Kilraine has built a large support group of friends, who are all well aware of his cancer journey. By sharing his story to a wider audience Kilraine hopes to lift the spirits of other patients who are facing their own cancer battles or supporting those they love who are being treated.
"People who are fighting this fight need to hear positive stories," Kilraine said. "The stories are real and I am walking, breathing, living proof that you can survive this fight for yourself and for your family and friends.”