Heather Miller said of her breast cancer diagnosis, “I gave cancer my tears for one night, but after that I decided that cancer was not taking any more from me or from my family.” She adopted the slogan “Fightin’ Feisty” as she prepared to do battle with the disease.
Her husband, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Miller, stationed out of Camp Lejeune, NC, was serving on board the USS Bataan. He was on his ship, serving as a Battalion Landing Team Commanding Officer of 1,300 marines and sailors living across three ships. Lt. Col. Miller has served with the Marine Corps since 1994.
Heather saw her husband off in March for his 10-month tour of duty. She and their son, seven-year-old Ryan, were visited in their home on the Marine base in Camp Lejeune, often by Heather’s parents, Penny and Ron Boykin. Her father Ron is a retired Colonel in the Army.
A month later, while taking a shower, Heather found a lump. Her parents happened to be visiting at the time and she asked her mom to check it as well. Her mom said, “You had better get this checked.” Within a week Heather had a mammogram after which, a core biopsy was performed, and Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.
Immediately Heather had asked to be referred to UNC for her care. “I had done research while we were waiting for the biopsy results,” Heather explains. “I knew I had one chance to beat this cancer, and without a doubt I knew that the team approach at UNC would give me that very best chance.” And next she had to tell Gordon.
Gordon says, “As battalion commander, I see Red Cross messages come across my desk all the time. I never expected it would happen to me and that it would be Heather. As a Marine, I know the kind of military power that can be brought to bear, but in this situation, I was powerless to do anything.”
Heather says, “Making the call to Gordon was the hardest thing to do. I could protect my son somewhat from the reality of the cancer, but with Gordon, I knew that the timing of this cancer could not be any worse. He was in command and had worked so hard to reach this milestone in his career. I was insistent that the cancer would not take that from him. I told him that his medical battle team was assembled, the battle plan was drawn and that together we would take down the cancer. And that is just what happened.”