Marlene Miller is a cancer survivor with a positive attitude that has enabled her to experience joy in her journey through cancer diagnosis, surgery, treatment and rehabilitation. Yes, that's right, "joy" is the word she used in describing her experience.
"Nobody would wish to get cancer," says Miller, a two-time cancer survivor, "but I appreciate all the things that happened on my journey. I focused on the 'joy of the journey' - all the people I met and the activities I became involved in that I wouldn't have otherwise."
Miller's journey began in May 2005 with a diagnosis of Stage 3 endometrial cancer. Following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, a PET scan in December 2006 revealed cancerous lymph nodes although a recent mammogram had revealed nothing of concern.
Thus began her treatment for breast cancer February 2007, which included a bilateral mastectomy, followed by more chemo and radiation. And in between the two bouts with cancer, Miller's husband passed away.
Yet, despite her personal ordeals, Miller stayed focused on the positives. "I've been blessed with excellent medical care," she said. "I also am thankful for all of the people who went before me and participated in clinical trials. Because of them, there are such great advancements in cancer treatment today."
"As a result of my breast cancer treatment, I had lymphedema and other side effects," said Miller, "but I didn't get cancer rehab right away. I sure wish I had - and I advise others to do so!"
Miller sees physiatrist Nancy Hutchison, MD several times a year and gets lymphedema treatment as needed at Courage Kenny Sports & Physical Therapy - Minneapolis. Her physical therapist has provided home exercises that really help. And Miller exercises regularly at Lifetime Fitness.
Her therapy also helps with balance issues and dealing with side effects of medication, including joint aches and fatigue. "I now have a quality of life I would not have had without Sister Kenny," Miller added.
Miller had only positive things to say about her physicians at Minnesota Oncology, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® of Abbott Northwestern Hospital, and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. However, she said that it is "critical to be your own advocate. Doctors sometimes focus only on the body part(s) of their specialty, but it is essential to look at the whole person."
Miller also believes in "paying it forward" by becoming involved and making a difference in the lives of others. She currently serves on an advisory panel for a Courage Kenny Research Center project on the effects of outpatient cancer rehabilitation. She has also participated in clinical studies on fatigue and weight control.
In May 2012, Miller traveled to Washington, DC with the Minnesota contingency of the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), where they lobbied Minnesota legislators to support 2013 funding of key NBCC initiatives; specifically, The Breast Cancer Deadline 2020, which aims to have a vaccine to prevent breast cancer by the year 2020.
Miller is also active in the Minnesota chapter of the Breast Cancer Awareness Association, which hosts an annual educational conference for breast cancer survivors and the medical community and raises funds for other events to educate and enhance the quality of life for cancer survivors.
And Miller does all of this while continuing to work at her human resources job three days a week.
Miller strongly advises cancer survivors to learn as much as they can. She herself has attended the University of Minnesota Mini Medical School, where she gained valuable knowledge about breast cancer research. She also recommends joining a support group.
She urges survivors to "rejoice each day in being able to flip over the date on a daily calendar. There is so much in life to be grateful for," she added. She's grateful to be alive to enjoy her family, which includes her daughter, son-in-law, 2-year-old grandson and infant granddaughter.
Asked if she had any further advice for cancer survivors, she was quick to reply, "Pay attention to your inner spirit; be honest with yourself; serve as your own advocate; find a doctor who is willing to let you be a 'partner' in your own care; eat well; exercise; learn new things; get involved and make a difference. Be grateful for the present and have an attitude of gratitude."
Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute
Lori Froehling, PT, MS, Cert MDT, director of therapies, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute