GRAD SPEAK: Defying Despair with Kyle Lane

  • Drew Poplin

For Kyle Lane, it all started on a cold Colorado morning. After returning home from work, he was on his way to meet his Uber driver. He had planned to visit his parent’s house, but what he didn’t account for was a patch of ice that would cause him to fall. He experienced an immediate, excruciating pain in his hip. Rather than getting a ride from an Uber driver, he would now be getting a lift to the hospital via an ambulance for what he believed to be a dislocated hip. Of course, as he rode in the back of that ambulance, he was unaware of how this relatively small slip would change his life in a major way.

Finding His Firearms Passion

Growing up a Colorado native, Kyle was first introduced to firearms through his uncle. As Kyle recalls, “I started becoming interested in firearms when I was 12 years old. When my uncle first took me out shooting, he gave me just this little .22, 8-round revolver. I sat there in my own lane for about four hours, just shooting this little revolver, having the time of my life, and it just started a passion for me.”

Over the next few years, those trips with his uncle (as well as his love for the Metal Gear Solid franchise) further entrenched Kyle’s love of firearms. When he was 18, he purchased his first gun, a bolt-action Remington that he would start doing work on. From bedding the barrel to installing a custom stock, Kyle used this .30-06 to hone his gunsmithing skills. Soon, his collection grew as did his love for firearms.

It was this passion and skill that led him to multiple jobs within the industry, including an important stint with Ark Tactical. There, he learned about the nuances of the firearms industry and developed a more complete understanding of firearms laws.

However, Lane desired a change in scenery and would broaden his horizons towards the tech industry. Fast forward to 2020, and Kyle’s life was about to change with an innocuous walk to his parking lot.

The Journey Continues at SDI

Come to find out, his “dislocated” hip was actually shattered. These eight fragmented pieces of ilium left Kyle with immense pain, substantial medical debt, and because of his limited mobility, without a job. The next year would prove to be difficult as he hobbled from job to job, trying to find some stable footing. However, due to his injury and the unstable economy brought on by COVID, many jobs didn’t accommodate his situation.

Stuck at home without a full range of ability, Kyle turned back to one of his first loves: firearms. Desiring to get a more comprehensive understanding of firearms, he found himself drawn to Sonoran Desert Institute. As Kyle recalls, “I just did Google searches on how you can learn gunsmithing and it brought up SDI. I read the testimonials that were on there from other students and I went through the news posts. Then I looked through the Facebook page and I was like, ‘This doesn’t seem too bad. I can do this online. I can do it in my house. I don’t have to leave.’”


Picture of Kyle’s home workspace.


Kyle ended up enrolling in SDI’s Associate of Science in Firearms Technology program. Upon starting, he excelled in his firearms courses as his hip continued to heal. It appeared that things were beginning to look more positive. However, as he approached the final push for his degree, he started to suffer from other health-related issues. As he describes it, “I was actually working on one of the projects…I think it was the one where we had to drill the hole in the piece of aluminum and then blue the screw and all that stuff. And I was halfway through and I was like, ‘I feel like hell.’ I ran and threw up blood.”

The Diagnosis

Knowing he needed to get that checked out, he went back to the hospital. Although an initial series of tests revealed little, his health continued to decline. Finally, after having a high-resolution MRI performed, the doctors came back with the news. They had found a tumor, roughly half an inch wide, inside his pancreas. They since have speculated that a release of bone marrow from his shattered hip caused a blood clot, which became cancerous.

Kyle was diagnosed with Stage I pancreatic cancer. Due to the size of the tumor and the lack of cancer in any other organs, doctors believed that they could deal with the tumor with relative ease – a near miss. Still, oncologists started him on chemotherapy. Unable to get out of bed, his grades started to slip. Every day, Kyle was suffering, but it didn’t end there.

Six weeks later, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to Kyle’s lymph nodes. He was now in Stage II. Kyle, weary enough as it was, became devastated. Having already overcome so much, life continued to deliver cruel blow after cruel blow. His treatment left him weary, and now faced with rapidly declining health and the hell that is a direct result of radiation therapy, he found it impossible to keep up with his studies. After fighting life’s sucker punches for so long, Kyle essentially threw in the towel… but only temporarily.

Kyle Fights Back

One morning, an exhausted Kyle woke up feeling much like he had many mornings since his diagnosis. However, something was different. As he describes it, “And then one morning I just woke up and I was like, ‘This isn’t the end. I’m gonna finish this,’ and I started picking myself up. I started emailing all my teachers right at the beginning of classes and was like, ‘Hey, this is my story. This is what’s going on, but it is my goal to finish this before I finish.’ And then I got to one of the technical courses, again, after going through a couple of practical ones, and Professor Howard gave me a personal call and was like, ‘Hey, I read your email, how can I help you?’ And that’s when I really got reinvigorated and was like, ‘Okay, I can do this. I have people in my corner now.'”


Kyle refuses to give in to despair


Kyle was back and more determined than ever to finish his studies, despite the pain and the sickness he felt. However, the task of finishing his remaining courses was still daunting. While treatment seemed to be working, he still was not expected to make it long-term. Meanwhile, his story started to make its way to each of his teachers, and in March of 2023, eventually landed in the lap of Jarred McNeely, Chief Academic Officer at SDI.

Upon hearing about Kyle’s situation, the two talked about what his goals were. For Kyle, he wanted to be able to finish what he started, but due to the physical and mental toll of his treatment, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to. That’s when McNeely had an idea. Looking over his transcript, he noticed that Kyle was only one elective course away from meeting the requirements for the certificate program. Kyle, who desired to graduate from the school, was eager to make the change. A month later, on April 16th, Kyle Lane would officially graduate from Sonoran Desert Institute.

Kyle’s Determination

Today, Kyle is still undergoing treatment for his pancreatic cancer. His prognosis is slightly better than it was earlier in the year. Doctors initially feared that he wouldn’t see the end of 2023, but there have been some encouraging signs. As of May 2023, the tumor in his pancreas has shrunk 38 percent. The cancer that was present in his lymph nodes has almost cleared completely. If his treatment continues to progress in this manner, he could have half a decade of precious time. Remission, while unlikely, isn’t off the table either. As it stands, however, he is not expected to see 2025.

Despite this, you’d be mistaken to think that this diagnosis is what defines Kyle. Kyle Lane is defined not by his illness but by his strength. He is defined by his determination, not despair—by courage rather than fear. He continues to this day to exhibit why that is the case.

For now, he spends his time continuing to fight and continuing to enjoy his family, his two felines, and his hobbies. He still has much he wants to accomplish. And while l have only spent a short amount of time with him, I can assure you that it would be a mistake to count him out. After all, as he puts it, “It’s not the end of the world. You can still finish your life accomplishments. You just have to get up and go.”

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