06 May F*Cancer 2019: “Fighters” – Zach Miller
Welcome to the 2019 F*Cancer Blog – “Fighters”
This is a raw, unedited look in to the lives of those that have been personally affected by cancer. We wanted to be able to use our resources as a platform for individuals to share their take and outlook on a terrible disease. This nine week program will feature a different fighter each Friday leading up to the launch of the 2019 F*Cancer program in June. We stand with all those who have been affected and want to make positive strides to further education, awareness, and support. We are now in the fifth week of the “Fighters” campaign and we are honored to bring you the story of Zach Miller.
Overcoming the Hardships
“I’m a 33-year-old, Hotel Manager with a beautiful GF, a kick-ass mother and amazing friends. I spend my time working, drinking, smoking (it’s legal right?), rock climbing, golfing (just the driving range, I suck at golf) and generally chasing life. This is who I am, who I have always been, and while I enjoy everything I do to the fullest, I haven’t always been able to live life my way.”
Zach’s battle began three years ago. As for many at the beginning of their fight, Zach’s symptoms started small. A few weeks before Thanksgiving he began experiencing Flu-like symptoms. Night Sweats, Fatiguing and a bad cough led to pains in the stomach and more concerning symptoms. It was at this time that he began to realize the diagnosis could be worse than previously thought. Once the pain became chronic and long lasting, he decided it was time to go visit his doctor. After undergoing several tests and waiting on results, the call from his doctor finally came. He remembers the experience with as much clarity as if it happened yesterday.
“This is Zach”
“Mr. Miller, this is doctor X (can’t remember his name, which you would think I should, but damn chemo-brain), I rushed your blood test but am not sure based on the results. I would like you to go to OHSU emergency care for further testing”.
“Um, I guess I don’t understand why, I came to you rather than go to the hospital, isn’t there an antibiotic you can give me?”
“Without a diagnosis, and with the limited test panels I can run, I urge you to go for more tests”.
“Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll think about it and see how I feel in the morning”.
Call ends and stubborn me doesn’t want to go sit in a waiting room. Mesa my girlfriend at the time, being the smarter of the two convinces me to follow doctors’ orders.
About 10 minutes later the phone rings again.
“This is Zach” (Doctor X on the line again)
“I know my recommendation before was mildly put, but I wanted to call again to tell you that I have called a colleague at OHSU ER and we both believe that this could be something more serious, and you should go there now. I have already called the nursing station and they are expecting you, there will be no wait”.”
And so to the doctor’s he went. After seeing, as he put it, “more doctors than a Grey’s Anatomy Episode”, he receives the news that he has T-Cell ALL Leukemia. “It was like being hit by a truck”, Zach stated. “I had asked Mesa (my then girlfriend) to leave the room, so when she came back asking me what was said, through stubbornly fearful tears, tell her I have Leukemia. 20 minutes later, I’m rolling through the hospital to my home for the next month. Ward 14K at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Pavilion.”
Throughout the uncomfortable stages of his stay, Zach always attempted to look at the positive experiences through this journey. From the great hospital window views, the friendly staff, and the 24 hour room service. However, none of this was an easy task. It was another battle of being able to fight off the feelings of depression and despair that undoubtedly come with such a diagnosis. It was the connections and friendships that he made during his stay that kept him positive and in good spirits. “Friends like Mark and Barbara, Jeremiah, Bill, Daisy and so many more. I may have been checking in with everyone to help them and give them a community to rely on during their time there, but truthfully it was as much for me as them.”, Zach stated.
The day finally came when he was able to leave the hospital after over three weeks of living within the hospital. While this was an especially liberating feeling, it did not come without it’s own set of challenges. Attempting to get back to the normal pace of life proved difficult as he always tried to progress faster than his body allowed. The next year was spent undergoing many different treatments and multiple forms of chemotherapy. It was in June he hit yet another milestone. Radiation.
While this was a much more welcomed form of treatment by Zach when compared to chemotherapy, it again has it’s own set of challenges as Zach experienced hair loss for the second time. Through all of these trails Zach stayed confident in his philosophy that you can not experience the sweet without the sour.
Through the journey, Zach has always been grateful for his family and friends. His support group was one of the largest positive influences that he experienced throughout his journey. Here are Zach’s final thoughts on his journey and what he would like to share with the individuals experiencing their own fight.
“This is my story. It’s not everyone’s story, but at its core we are all (hopefully have-been) on this shared journey. I chose to make this an experience within my life, not make it my life. I would not have changed my story or how I handled everything. Good, bad or otherwise, I made my choices and lived. My story doesn’t end here, but this chapter of my life is complete. I am who I am today because I accepted and overcame the hardships.”