Jillian Miller went to bed like any 31 year old woman one night, but she woke up feeling very different. Overnight her breasts had doubled in size, they were red and inflamed and she was in deep pain. At the time, coupled with her other symptoms, she assumed it was pneumonia. It was the holidays, she had a clingy five year old and her husband was beginning a new role at the post office. Her mammogram took a back seat to the chaos of life. It wouldn’t be until January 2019 that Jillian got her mammogram and doctors called her immediately for follow up tests, including a biopsy.
Doctors diagnosed Jillian with breast cancer shortly after. While many would be devastated, Jillian thought, “the world portrays breast cancer as THE cancer to get. Get a t-shirt, a ribbon and you’re good to go. So I was like alright, lets go, let’s do this thing.” The news would get worse when doctors called back a week later to confirm that, after body and bone scans, the cancer had spread to her lung, liver and bones. She was clearly stage four, but Jillian naively thought the chemo and treatment would eliminate it all. Doctors let her know the seriousness of a stage 4 diagnosis and shortly after, she sat down and began googling. The fight ahead became very clear and it was made more complicated when, a year later, the cancer spread to her brain. This time, she knew the news was bad because of how hard it is to treat the brain.
Amongst chemotherapy and other treatments, Jillian began targeted radiation, followed by whole brain radiation: “I was so miserable.” In addition, she had a rotating mixture of medications to address the pain and side affects of all her treatments. The experience obviously affected things like her everyday life, family vacations and relationships with those around her, but on a basic level she began to deal with symptoms like dizziness, migraines, GI issues and even trouble walking. They are symptoms she still deals with today.
The reality of her diagnosis led doctors to send her to Dana Farber to be able to enter various clinical trials. She has entered a few to date, one of which was extremely experimental and given that she has brain METS for three years now, her hope is that the most recent treatment she has entered will work. Despite all of this, she approaches her journey with lightness and humor saying, “I think it’s a defense mechanism. If I didn’t act this way, I would just sit here and cry and I can’t have that.” Indeed her humor is obvious when asked about her daughter. Jillian notes the nine year old has recently developed an early teenage attitude, but “maybe, if I don’t’ make it through this, the universe made sure I didn’t miss this stage.”
She credits her family and friends for being a great support system. Her husband and mother especially have been there for her, but she also notes that her friendships are so important because she can have a different level of honesty with them without worrying them as deeply as it might for immediate family. For Jillian’s part, she continues to live life as best and normal as possible. That means taking in the joys that come her way, including her plan to rock the runway this coming fall for the first time. We have a feeling a standing ovation will most likely be in her future.