March 18, 2019

Cancer-free professor takes it ‘a day at a time’

Cancer-free professor Marilyn Miller

Six years ago Marilyn Miller, adjunct professor, was deemed breast cancer-free.

May 10 is a special day Miller, as it acts as both a day of celebration and remembering – celebrating where she is now and remembering how she got there.

“It felt great but I still had an apprehension,” Miller, a 10-year education adjunct, said. “I wasn’t totally confident it was gone.”

Miller said she had doubts because her form of cancer usually reoccurs within a year and a half.

During a self-exam she discovered a lump in her breast. A mammogram showed the tumor was an aggressive form of stage one cancer. Luckily, it had not yet spread to her lymph nodes.

Miller received the mammogram results over the phone while she was alone.

“I cried and I was scared. Cancer is a big word,” Miller said. “I’ve had a couple of friends pass away from cancer.”

Jimmy Miller, Marilyn’s husband, shared his wife’s fear, but as a couple, they wanted to know the facts. They wanted to fight it together.

“The main thing I wanted to know was how it happened and what it was and what were the chances of getting through this thing,” Jimmy Miller said.

Miller started reading all the information about breast cancer that her doctors recommended. For Miller, knowledge was comfort.

“I feel better when I’m educated,” the 64 year-old professor said. “It helped me know what to expect—the good and the bad.”

Miller’s doctors at St. Luke’s Hospital and the couple laid out a plan of action, including radiation and chemotherapy to ensure the cancer would not spread. Her treatment began in December 2004 and lasted for eight months.

“I was really confident,” Miller said.

In August 2004, after her treatment finished, Miller was diagnosed yet again—but this time with peripheral neuropathy caused by the chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy also caused lymphedema, contributing to her chronic swelling in her arms and legs.The peripheral neuropathy and lymphedema made walking difficult. Although Miller can walk, she has used a wheelchair for long distances since August 2004.

Despite the side effects, Miller stresses chemotherapy was the best option for her. If she had the choice, Miller says she would use chemotherapy again.

“I don’t want to blame it on the chemo because it saved my life. I don’t want people to be scared of it,” she said. “It would really bother me if I made someone fearful. It was just something that happened. It was just one of those things where there is no blame to be placed.”

Because she cannot push herself in her wheelchair, Jimmy Miller, who is retired, drops her off at room 326 in Webster Hall for her “Education of Students with Exceptionalities” class on Mondays and Wednesdays. He picks her up when class is over.

At home, Miller can walk and cook dinner. When standing over a stove for too long becomes painful, Jimmy Miller will finish preparing their meal.

“He is my feet when they don’t want to work,” Miller said.

Support from her husband, two daughters, son-in-law and good friends kept Miller optimistic through her struggles with health.

“If I didn’t have a support system it would be an entirely different story I would be telling you,” Miller said. “If I didn’t have them I might have a different attitude.”

Meri Davis, a sophomore education major, attends Miller’s “Education of Students with Exceptionalities” class, which shows students how to teach children with learning disabilities and mental handicaps. Miller worked in the Special School District for 15 years. Davis says she enjoys learning from Miller because it’s a good first-hand experience.

Miller misses walking around the classroom to engage her students, but said she still loves what she’s doing.

Davis also said she appreciates Miller’s openness about her condition and how she remains upbeat.

“She’s just positive about everything and she’s not shy about it at all,” Davis said. “She’s just not ashamed to tell her story over and over again to all her classes.”

Miller said her dream to travel is less realistic than it was before she had cancer, but it doesn’t hinder her from living a normal life.

“I look more to each day rather than long term. I take it a day at a time,” she said. “It’s kind of life changing. I’ve always had a good outlook on life but it makes you value everything a lot more.”

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