It’s been 22 months since Cpl. Phil Lewis last put on his Merriam Police Department uniform.
“Being healthy enough to return to work is the one last step that made me feel like my life was officially back to normal,” Lewis said.
In January 2019, doctors diagnosed the 17-year police veteran with colon cancer. He suffered numerous setbacks throughout the months.
“Unfortunately, nothing went as planned, and I experienced a lot of complications from the numerous surgeries and treatments I had,” Lewis said. “Although my recovery was anything but routine, it was successful, and I am now cancer-free.”
Cancer-free – and back on staff at the Merriam Police Department.
“In some ways, being at the station again with my coworkers seems so natural that I feel as if I never left,” Lewis said. “Being gone for so long has renewed my excitement to put my uniform back on.”
As Lewis puts on his uniform once again, he sees new faces in the department and misses others who have since left. He said he used to take so much for granted. Now, he knows better.
“I used to envy seeing someone simply get up from a chair, walk across the room, and get something to eat,” Lewis said. “I just wanted to see the day when, from the time I woke up, that every single thing wasn’t a struggle. Life as I knew it was gone, and I didn’t like it. That is what motivated me to keep going and get healthy.”
Lewis said organizations such as Answering the Call and Guns N’ Hoses as well support from his coworkers, Merriam residents, and other law enforcement agencies across Kansas and the metro region also motivated him to get back on his feet.
“From the moment I first got diagnosed with cancer, both the City of Merriam and the Merriam Police Department have gone out of their way to support me and my family,” Lewis said. “While I was in the hospital (several times), they fed my family, helped my wife around the house, and volunteered their time at her business. They have attended and held numerous fundraisers donating their own time and money.”
Merriam Police Chief Darren McLaughlin said he’s very happy Lewis overcame his cancer and welcomes him back to the police department.
“He was gone for nearly two years, and there were times it appeared he wasn’t going to be able to come back to work,” McLaughlin said. “We’re very thankful he was able to recover and return to work. We missed him and having him back is certainly a benefit to the police department and the citizens we serve.”
Lewis knows people may wonder why he wanted to come back after all this time – when there’s now COVID-19 and social unrest across the country. Lewis said it’s a simple reason.
“I love being a police officer, and I’m not done yet,” Lewis said. “I have a debt to repay to the law enforcement community, the Merriam Police Department, and the citizens of Merriam for all they have done for me. I can’t just walk away from that.”