Exercising after chemotherapy: When a weightlifter gets an unexpected diagnosis

LCFA is saddened by the loss of Dave Miller, who passed away on Tuesday, January 11, 2019, at the age of 50. Dave will always be known for his positive attitude and his great sense of humor. We were fortunate that he shared his story of humor and perseverance during his cancer journey.

Dave Miller was the kind of guy who would make you laugh, stay by your side and do whatever it took 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 was his spirit.

Early spring, 2015, the 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 had never had surgery, a broken bone or even stitches. When his 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 why was unclear.  Following a misdiagnosis of colon cancer, and with the reason for his symptoms still unclear, he had a chest scan that revealed “something in his lower right lung.” And then his shocking diagnosis: Stage 4 lung cancer which had already spread to his liver, kidney, bones, spleen, and brain. His doctors told him that he had three months to live.

Three Months Came and Went

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 regiment 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; “Straight Outta Chemo” among his favorites. Dave brought energy, hope, and much-needed laughter to the oncology unit in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Dave Miller ready to work out

As the chemo began to shrink his tumors, his 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. In so doing, he broke a state record. He was still in treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer. That calls for a “Take That Cancer” t-shirt.

Living with Stage 4 Lung Cancer: Exercising after chemotherapy

His bench pressing abilities notwithstanding, Dave continued to have chemotherapy every 21 days. On his non-treatment days, he spent his time sharing experiences and providing moral support to other cancer patients. He knew how important it is to be in a positive environment and did 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 got  to celebrate his 50th birthday, a day he was certain he’d never see. He “very much lived life” and, true to his excellent sense of humor, got a kick out of his mother still telling him what he should and shouldn’t eaten.  His oncology team was amazed by how responsive he had been to chemo and they were the first in line to wish him a very happy birthday.

Woman meditates by water

LIFE should take your breath away.

NOT lung cancer.

In just the past decade, there are more tools to fight lung cancer than ever before in the history of lung cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survival.

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