Cancer survivor wouldn't change her life experiences
COLUMBIA - Samantha Miller is marking National Cancer Survivors Day Sunday with this thought: Cancer made her who she is.
“If someone gave me the option to go back and redo my childhood without having cancer three times, I absolutely wouldn’t change it, because going through that has made me who I am. It’s such a big part of me. I feel like I’m able to look at life a little differently,” Miller said.
When she was three years old, she fell and hit her tailbone. Like many parents of rambunctious toddlers, Miller’s mom and dad kept an eye on the injury, but didn’t worry too much about it. They chalked it up to a little bruise.
A few days later, Miller was still in pain so her parents took her to the doctor. The doctor said she had probably just bruised her tailbone and it would heal in a week or so. Her parents took her home and had her rest.
When Miller’s uncle, who was a doctor, came to visit two weeks later, she was still in pain. He took a look at her tailbone and concluded that something wasn’t right. She had a bump that shouldn’t have been there. The next morning her uncle took her to the hospital and demanded an MRI. On that MRI, the doctors saw something, but they didn’t know what it was.
The next day, Miller was transferred to a hospital in Texas where they ran more tests. The doctors at that hospital diagnosed her with a cancerous tumor called clear cell carcinoma. It was a very rare cancer that could only be treated by removing the tumor.
“After all of that happened, my parents knew that they wanted to get me in the best place they could possibly get me. My mom had always heard of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis,” Miller said.
She had the surgery done and the cancer seemed to go away.
Miller was in remission for three years.
When she went back for her yearly check up, the doctors saw that her tumor had come back.
“This time when the doctors at St. Jude went in to remove the tumor they said, 'They misdiagnosed you. That’s not the cancer that you had.' They told me I had something called chordoma,” Miller said.
This cancer was also very rare, but not as rare as clear cell carcinoma. Chordoma had also only been treated with surgery in the past, but the doctors at St. Jude decided to try everything they could to treat Miller. They decided to blast it with radiation to try to shrink it and then remove it.
Two years later, it started coming back again so they tried a different technique by putting Miller on chemotherapy. The doctors prescribed her Adriamycin/Doxorubicin, a type of chemotherapy nicknamed the “Red Devil.” She went through a round of that, and it worked. Chemotherapy had never worked on this cancer before, but since it worked on Miller it is now the preferred method to treat chordoma in children.
Miller has been cancer free for almost 12 years. (You can hear more from her story on our Facebook page.)