Dave Miller is the kind of guy who will make you laugh, stay by your side and do whatever it takes to make for a better day. An imposing figure at 6’2” and a strapping 275 pounds of pure muscle, the only thing stronger than his body is his spirit— especially in how he came back to exercising after undergoing chemotherapy for a lung cancer diagnosis.
Early spring, 2015, Miller, a Pennsylvania Train Master — essentially the police chief for the railroad — assumed his fatigue and weight loss were due to the stresses of work. The self described “healthiest guy around,” he’d never had surgery, broken a bone, or even needed stitches. When Dave’s fatigue persisted and it became difficult to breathe, he made an appointment with his primary care doctor. A blood test showed that he was anemic, but the reason why was unclear.
Following a misdiagnosis of colon cancer, and with the reason for his symptoms still unclear, Dave had a chest scan that revealed “something in his lower right lung.” And then came his shocking diagnosis: Stage 4 lung cancer which had already spread to his liver, kidney, bones, spleen, and brain. Dave’s doctors told him that he had 3 months to live.
Dave’s oncologist explained that cancer is like a jigsaw puzzle; all the pieces need to be together to establish a plan. It seemed that the pieces were all in place, so Dave began traditional chemotherapy. When the results were only moderately effective, his medical team recommended genomic testing, the results of which were that his cancer was ALK+. Thanks to cutting edge research, Dave then began a regimen of targeted oral therapies.
Dave made the best of treatment days not only for himself but for the other patients as well. With his signature sense of humor and unbreakable spirit he would do what he could to lighten the mood. Over time he began to share his love of magic by doing tricks for the nurses and patients. He would arrive to each chemo appointment wearing an irreverent t-shirt; the one reading “Straight Outta Chemo” among his favorites. Dave brought energy, hope, and much needed laughter to the oncology unit in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
As the chemo began to shrink his tumors, Dave’s strength began to come back. He decided to return to his longtime passion: weightlifting. It wasn’t long before he entered a competition and bench-pressed an impressive 410 pounds — breaking a state record. At the time, Dave was still in chemotherapy treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer. That calls for a “Take That Cancer” t-shirt.
His bench-pressing abilities notwithstanding, Dave continues to have chemotherapy every 21 days. On his non-treatment days, he spends his time sharing experiences and providing moral support to other cancer patients. He knows how important it is to be in a positive environment and does his part in making that happen.
“My life is so much better. In fact, the last three years have been the best three years of my life. I am so thankful to have the strength to not worry about this. It is what it is. Live your life. Have fun.”
Dave just celebrated his 50th birthday, a day he was certain he’d never see. He is “very much living life” and, true to his excellent sense of humor, gets a kick out of his mother still telling him what he should and shouldn’t eat. His oncology team continues to be amazed by how responsive he has been to chemo and will be first in line to wish him a very happy birthday, with many more to come.
Diane Mulligan, APR