Exercising after chemotherapy: When a weightlifter gets an unexpected diagnosis

Dave Miller is the kind of guy who will make you laugh, stay by your side and do whatever it takes 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 is 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.

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.

Dave Miller ready to work out

Living with Stage 4 Lung Cancer: Exercising after chemotherapy

His bench pressing abilities notwithstanding, Dave continues to have chemotherapy every 21 days. On his non-treatment days, he spends his time sharing experiences and providing moral support to other cancer patients. He knows how important it is to be in a positive environment and does 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 is about to celebrate his 50th birthday, a day he was certain he’d never see. He is “very much living life” and, true to his excellent sense of humor, gets a kick out of his mother still telling him what he should and shouldn’t eat.  His oncology team continues to be amazed by how responsive he has been to chemo and will be first in line to wish him a very happy birthday, with many more to come.


Living With
Lung Cancer

Meet Juanita and read her story of living with lung cancer—from diagnosis to CrossFit.


What treatments are available besides chemotherapy and radiation?

Learn more about targeted therapy and immunotherapy.


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