There was a time when Kyle Miller was cancer free and everything was going right along the path he had laid out for himself after he was given a clean bill of health by his doctors. After being diagnosed with Osteo-Sarcoma Cancer while he was at Cornell University, the Orangeville, Ontario native stood his ground, looked cancer right in the face and said, “I’m going to Beat It!” And he did.
For eight years Miller was cancer and symptom free, but now after another two year battle with OS, the lacrosse family has a heavy heart as we mourn the passing of one of the most inspirational and courageous young men to have ever come into our lives.
Miller never let his illness define him; he let it fuel his passion for teaching and educating people on how to live and never to give up. As a motivational speaker, Kyle Miller touched so many people’s lives that he may never have really understood the reach of his story.
You didn’t have to meet Kyle to have empathy and compassion for him but he never wanted you to feel sorry for him; he wanted you to feel good about yourself and make sure you knew you could always accomplish what you set your mind to. His smile was infectious, his heart was massive and his legacy will go on forever.
The following is an article written late last year when Kyle and his fiancé Vanessa were beginning the process of trying to find a new treatment in hopes that he could once again defy the odds and Beat It.
Forever in our hearts, #35 Kyle Miller.
Kyle Miller never met Terry Fox but he knows his story inside and out. Born just one month after Fox lost his battle with cancer, the two are inexplicably linked.
Though he never met the Canadian icon, Miller probably knows his story best. In addition to a love of sport and a drive to succeed, the two both suffered from an aggressive form of cancer, known as Osteogenic Sarcoma. Both were determined to fight it. Their stories are similar; each incredible in its own way.
Fox wouldn’t take his diagnosis sitting down. Not even when the cancer took his leg. He was a fighter who wanted to cross the country raising awareness and funds – or die trying.
Miller was luckier. More than eight years ago the young man from Orangeville, Ontario was given a clean bill of health and the knowledge that he had beaten OS; the same cancer that took Fox’s leg and eventually his life. Since his heroic cross-Canada run — cut short due to his cancer — the advancements in OS treatment had vastly improved. Miller was ready to move on — leave the cancer behind and share the lessons he had learned. But cancer is a mysterious disease, and often progress is clouded.
After one year of intensive treatment and sporting a titanium rod acting as his leg from just above his right knee down to his ankle, Miller defied the odds and intended to pick his life up where he left it. Little did he know, it was only a brief reprieve.
As a junior at Cornell University, Kyle Miller was one of the best up-and-coming goalies in the world of field lacrosse; poised to battle for a national championship with the Big Red: a literal standing target for baseball sized hard rubber balls fired upwards of 100+mph at him, wearing very little padding to protect his body. His team-first attitude pushed him to do whatever it took to keep the ball out of the net, repeatedly wearing shots off the arms, thighs, knees and shins.
That would all be put on hold when he was given the worst possible news. What he thought was an ACL injury turned out to be a hundred times worse; the 22-year-old athlete had cancer.
He immediately dove in head first and set out to win this new battle, eventually — like Fox — giving up most of a leg, determined to keep on playing the game he loved.
His right leg, now a full titanium rod, was a small price to pay to rid his body of the cancer that was so viciously attacking it.
After a full gamut of chemo, drugs, surgery and a roller coaster of emotions, Miller was finally told he was in the clear. Naturally he did what any athlete would do. He got right back in the net and returned to Cornell for his senior year of college and set his sights on the 2006 FIL World Field Lacrosse Championships in London, Ontario.
Alongside boyhood pal, Brodie Merrill and his goaltending idol, Chris Sanderson, Miller was in between he pipes to make the final save as Canada won its first World Title in 28 years. A poetic and some would say heroic finish that was all too suitable for the story that wasn’t quite over yet.
In an interview with CBC TV, Miller summed up his strength and attitude, “Things like this happen. You can get over something; you don’t have to change your plans or what you want to do. Just keep your goals high and you’ll get through it.”
He told that story. To hundreds and hundreds of people around the country as a motivation speaker. He visited countless schools to share his passion and determination to never give up with scores of children. His tales weren’t of sorrow or pity. He spoke to fighting for your dreams, believing in yourself and beating the odds with dignity, pride and a huge smile. He was so inspirational to so many that it was fitting that he take a place as one of the final torch-bearers at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Such a humbling experience was not lost on Miller who soaked in every moment, grateful to those who helped him get there.
But the high of an Olympic appearance would come crashing to an unexpected and very nearly unbelievable low.
Miller is once again fighting for his life. The cancer has returned, this time more aggressive than last; it is attacking his lungs and closing in on other vital organs in his body.
The motivational speaker now with a tumour on his throat, paralyzing his left vocal chord making communication difficult.
But as he has always done, since he was first diagnosed nearly 10 years ago, Kyle stared the doctors in the face and said, ‘Ok, what do we do now?! How do I ‘beat it’ again?’
Beat It has become his mantra for round two and he’s tackling it head on. He’s currently on “Plan E”, as he continues to look for a treatment and an oncologist that can administer the drugs. “My new treatment is a targeted therapy without too many side effects, so I’ve been feeling good lately. Let’s just hope it works.”
One in a million.
A very cliché statistic but when you become the ‘one’, you begin to listen. After being told there was a one in a million chance the cancer would come back, 8 years and 34 days later, it did.
Miller started experiencing chest pains but stubbornness superseded what ended up being tell-tale signs. If not for his girlfriend Vanessa, he may have never gone into the doctor’s office to get looked at.
Once again, the worst news possible and a process starting all over again. X-rays, CT scans, blood work, needles, ultrasounds and a heavy rotation of doctor visits have put Miller right back where he never thought he would be.
‘I don’t know if I was just too stupid to realize it or not, but I never thought about dying.’ Miller figured he beat it once, he’d probably beat it again.
‘But when the doctor told me about palliative care and after Vanessa told me what it was, I think about it often. ‘
The odds to beat it the first time were slim. Getting Osteogenic Sarcoma a second time was more than a long shot. Going toe to toe again is going to be the hardest-fought battle of his life and he’s only 31.
The big issue now though is that Miller isn’t allowed to be administered the same medication and chemotherapy treatment he received in round one because the first round of chemotherapy has taken such a toll on his body; going through the same treatment could kill him. Finding a process, drugs and medication that will fight the disease a second time has proven to be more difficult; even more mentally and physically draining too.
They’ve explored every avenue, read every scientific journal, looked up and researched every new drug on the market, even travelled to Pittsburgh to be an outpatient with an oncologist there who could administer a drug unavailable in Canada.
Miller has literally become a guinea pig of sorts in hopes of finding anything that will rid him of this beast.
From his blog, written with the help of Vanessa, ‘We made the final decision today for Kyle to discontinue treatment with Doxil, as Dr. Blackstein recommended. Tomorrow he will start on the new ‘targeted therapy’, called Votrient, which I mentioned yesterday. This new drug isn’t really classified as chemotherapy, but as a medication called a protein kinase inhibitor.’
Hit and miss. Trial and error. It was never supposed to be this way. He had beaten it and he was on his way out to the West Coast for a British Columbia speaking tour.
His friends, family and extended lacrosse family continue to help raise money for his treatments and hospital bills. A new experimental treatment in Germany will cost more than any family can bear.
His ‘Beat It’ apparel can be seen from lacrosse games, YouTube videos and Tragically Hip concerts. Donations are made daily from people he has never met before but just want to help.
A quote from author Stephen Bachelor reads, ‘Regardless of what we believe, our actions will reverberate beyond our deaths. The legacy of our thoughts, words and deeds will continue through the impression we leave behind in the lives of those we have influenced or touched in any way.’
Kyle Miller may have never met Terry Fox but he was touched by him. Just as many who have never met Kyle Miller will be touched by his life and his story. But much like his idol, Miller continues to leave an indelible impact on those around him as a true fighter, warrior and inspiration.
For more information on fundraising opportunities or to connect with Miller and help him Beat It visit his blog http://www.kylemiller35.com/Teddy Jenner is one the leading sources for lacrosse information. He comes by his love of lax honestly with a lifetime of experience, two Mann Cup championships and six years of play in the NLL. Email him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @OffTheCrosseBar or catch him on Team 1410 radio in Vancouver, B.C., as the host and producer of the Off the Crosse-Bar Radio Show In 2012, he was awarded the BCLA's Norm Wright Merit Award- handed out to a member of the media deemed to have have contributed to the promotion of lacrosse.
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