Sam Mellinger

Royals fan knows positive attitude helps keep cancer at bay

Tim Grimes has seen some dark times since being diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, but he’s much more focused on the happier times — including following the Royals.
Tim Grimes has seen some dark times since being diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, but he’s much more focused on the happier times — including following the Royals. Courtesy of Tim Grimes

The coolest moment, if he had to pick just one, is watching the Royals clinch a spot in the World Series next to George Brett. But this is not a simple question to answer for Tim Grimes:

What’s your favorite moment since being diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma?

A lot of Grimes’ friends heard about the cancer through Facebook. He wrote that “despite receiving a death sentence yesterday, the past 24 hours have actually been pretty great.” This is how Grimes reacted to hearing the worst news of his life. With a resilient, stubborn, unbreakable optimism. With a refusal to see anything but the best.

A year later, when Grimes talks about cancer, it’s almost always about the positives. He reconnected with old friends, made lifelong memories with new friends, and pruned all B.S. from his life. The way this happened is a reminder of the power of sports and spirit.

Some buddies got on TV during a Royals game by holding up a sign that said, “Tim drives the bus against cancer.” Word spread. Friends and strangers raised money to help with the medical costs.

The Royals reached out to their longtime fan, invited him to a game, and if you meet Grimes you are going to be his friend. So the next thing you know, Eric Hosmer is handing Grimes a bottle of champagne at a party after the Royals clinched the Division Series and telling him, “You’re as much a part of this as we are.”

So many incredible moments. But, yeah. To pick just one? Sitting next to Brett as the Royals got back to the World Series for the first time in 29 years is hard to beat. The hug was so joyously and unapologetically awkward. Still makes Grimes laugh.

“If I had to rate the last year on a scale of one to 17,” he said, “it would definitely be a 38.”

I first met Grimes almost exactly a year ago. A friend of his had pointed me to that Facebook page, and I had to know more. Grimes is now a friend. That’s how it usually goes with people who meet Grimes, and that’s why I knew that a few weeks after we met, a doctor who specializes in treating melanoma told him he had seven to nine months to live.

“Don’t say that (stuff) to me, (expletive),” Grimes said.

That was a year ago. Grimes still sees that doctor and reminds him of that diagnosis dang near every time. Grimes says the diagnosis was so bad he thought the doctors were “just going through the motions” in the beginning. Some combination of his spirit and test results has changed the math, and now he’s a favorite at the hospital.

Fighting cancer is bound to change a person. Life does not go on like normal, even if some people like to tell themselves that. But, at least in Grimes’ case, he’s found a wonderful control in exactly how the fight has changed him.

This optimism is a natural part of Grimes. He’s always had this in him. But it’s never been more valuable, more important.

There have been tests. This last year has been wild. He went in to have a mole checked and came out hearing he had cancer in his liver, lungs and spine. The first doctor told him he might live 18 months. The second said he might be dead in seven. The cancer shrunk, it spread to his brain, he spent six weeks in the ICU. Then the cancer shrunk again, and now, in scan results he got this week, it is holding steady.

That could mean anything. Once cancer is in your brain, in Grimes’ words, “it’s normally game over.” But then again, there’s a woman who’s been on his same medication for five or six years. She runs marathons. Maybe this is something the doctors can manage. Something he can live with.

But Grimes went to the doctor’s office expecting to hear the cancer had shrunk. It didn’t. He wanted the home run and instead got a double. The future is as unknown as ever. My gosh, the back and forth, it could be awful if you let it.

“If I sat around and worried about that stuff, I’d drive myself crazy,” Grimes said. “I’d be dead right now because I probably would’ve killed myself. I don’t think like that. It’s, ‘Alright, what’s the next step?’”

The next step has usually been to laugh. To call a friend. He has said over and over again that he’s not afraid of dying, but he is afraid of not living. So many people have helped, too. Not just the Royals. But so many around Kansas City. Friends. Strangers.

Grimes and his best friend went to spring training this year. They stayed with Billy Butler. Grimes went to the Wild Card game and then to the playoffs in Anaheim, Baltimore and San Francisco last year. He’s been to Oakland, Minneapolis, Chicago and Boston this year.

He’s been busy, and carefree, to the point that he’s heard some wonder why he doesn’t stop drinking or why he doesn’t eat better. He understands the sentiment, but doctors have told him to do what makes him happy, and besides, what’s the point of beating cancer if you can’t enjoy life?

“This last year has been amazing,” Grimes said. “You would think battling cancer is a negative, but it’s been awesome. I definitely walk a little taller. I’ve been able to live my life, meet great people, have amazing experiences. Overall, I’ve felt great. It never slowed me down, and I feel great about that.

“That’s what I have to remind myself. I’m still winning. Maybe it’s not going away as quickly as I thought, or going away at all, but I’m still winning.”

Cancer has given Grimes pain and fear and some dark times, but it’s also given him joy. He says he’s less selfish now. Cancer helped clarify what’s important. He’s on Facebook a lot and sometimes sees the same complaints he used to have. No more.

He befriended Noah Wilson, an Olathe boy who died of Ewing’s sarcoma this summer at age 7. Grimes remains friends with Noah’s parents and is helping them with Noah’s Bandage Project. He’s worked with the Eric Berry Foundation, too.

Grimes is at the point in his fight where he’s ready for a job again, which is great. But cancer has him in a place where he wants to make sure the job matters to him, which is even better.

Grimes believes strongly in the idea that you beat cancer in how you live, not whether you die, and like he says, what’s the point in beating cancer if you’re not going to be happy?

There is a moment last fall he sometimes thinks back on. This was after the Royals lost Game 7 of the World Series. He was at a party at a downtown hotel with some Royals players and fans. Grimes remembers feeling sad, of course. He had felt so much joy through that ride, and now it was over, without the result he and his friends had been dreaming of.

Then he saw Hosmer. They went in for a bro hug. Grimes didn’t know what to say.

“Hey,” Hosmer said, “you ready for next year, baby?”

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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