Jesse Lewis is just a regular guy. The 35-year-old spends his weekdays working hard as a mason, most recently on a project on St. Simons Island’s East Beach.
During his off time, he enjoys riding motorcycles and relishes the hours he spends with his family — wife, Marlena, and their children, Hayle, 11, and “Lil’ Jesse,” 7.
But in November 2019, Jesse’s ordinary life took a devastating turn. After experiencing pain and troubling urological symptoms, he went to see a doctor. Initially, they expected a kidney stone was to blame but after extensive testing, Jesse was told he, in fact, had cancer.
The blow was gut-wrenching. And the difficulties were only compounded by the emergence of the coronavirus around the same time last spring.
Lewis’ sister-in-law, Audrey Lewis, wife of Jesse’s brother, Russell, says that despite the news, the prognosis seemed good.
“Immediately the doctors scheduled surgery to remove his kidney on April 15th. The surgery went well and we thought he was cancer-free,” she recalled.
The family focused on moving forward, though that also proved to be a challenge. Lewis had to take eight weeks off from work to recover from the surgery. In the following months, he had to make frequent trips to his healthcare provider for rechecks, which also meant missing work.
That, coupled with the ongoing national pandemic, was naturally stressful. Exposure to the virus could create life-threatening complications for Jesse. But through it all, the Lewises persevered. As soon as possible, he returned to work to support his family.
“He was constantly in pain but had to work to provide for his family. He is a mason, a job that is physically demanding. Since his surgery, his body could not handle the stresses of his job but there was no fallback,” Audrey said.
Despite his determined spirit, things took a turn for the worse on Dec. 18. That’s when the Lewis Family received the news they were terrified of hearing — the cancer had returned. It had also spread, with scans showing the disease present in his back, neck, lymph nodes and his shoulder bone.
The diagnosis, Audrey says, was stage four metastatic renal cancer.
“They began radiation treatment immediately. This was the first step in the plan, radiation every day of the week for a month then next would be immunotherapy,” Audrey said.
The resurgence of Lewis’ cancer was crushing. But sadly, there were darker days on the horizon. Just two days after Jesse’s second diagnosis and five days before Christmas, the family was hit with another debilitating heartbreak: Lewis’ father, Skip, died suddenly at only 55.
“It hit us all like a ton of bricks. Jesse has four siblings, Russell, April, Amy and Eva. Their father was a diabetic and even though he was not in good health, his passing was still a shock,” Audrey said.
“So as we were all reeling from the news of Jesse’s cancer, the family banded together to say goodbye to their dad. For such horrible tragedies to hit the family all at once, it is almost unbearable.”
In the midst of all of this, Jesse had to put on a brave face for his two small children. He wanted to help shepherd them through the loss of their beloved grandfather, who they called Papa, while also protecting them from discovering his diagnosis.
“His children are aware of his first bout with cancer, but they shielded them from the news until after it was removed. And now — now they are in a constant stage of fear that their kids will find out (about the cancer’s return) and they do not want that stress on them,” Audrey said.
While the Lewis Family is understandably weary and deeply worried, they are doing their best to keep hope alive. Jesse is determined to beat the disease and his family is committed to standing strong behind him.
But the strain of it all has taken a toll, especially financially. With being out of work due to his illness, the family is in dire need of help. Audrey says they have created a Go Fund me account for Jesse in the hopes of easing the burden on the family.
“We know that stress can be detrimental to someone’s health even in the most mildest of situations, and this situation is dire. It is of the utmost importance that we do everything we can to ease Jesse’s anxiety,” Audrey said.
“He is constantly in fear that his family could lose their home, and there’s the mounting hospital bills, and then you think all of the typical stressors that come with everyday life.”
Their plea comes from a place of love. All the Lewises want is to help give Jesse the foundation to fight the disease so he can focus on health and healing.
“Jesse is a big guy, strong and just like his Daddy — kind and compassionate, ‘a heart of gold,’ as they say. But his strong body is now riddled with this disease. It has made him weak and constantly in pain,” Audrey said.
“Through it all he’s determined to beat this cancer for more time to love his family and grow old with them.”
To help the Lewis family, visit their GoFundMe page at www.gofund.me/c68c6442.