Di Miller, 48, of Creston was at the 2012 Iowa State Fair when she learned she had cancer.
Weeks prior to the fair, Miller was told by her primary physician it was time to have a mammogram.
“Seriously?” Miller asked.
Feeling in good health, but acting on the side of caution under her doctor’s orders, Miller had a mammogram performed at Greater Regional Medical Center.
“When I got the call, they told me I had cancer, but it was very small,” Miller said.
Not long after she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, Miller’s tumor was removed by Dr. Chris Downing.
“At that point, it was so small, he thought he got it all and said I wouldn’t have to have treatment,” Miller said.
Before her diagnosis, Miller was already in the process of pursuing weight-loss surgery, which she thought would have to be put on hold because of the cancer. But, upon learning no treatment would be involved, she went forward with it.
Less than a year later, Miller had her weight-loss surgery. It was then that Miller’s oncologist discussed her case further with doctors in Iowa and Missouri — all who felt radiation was necessary. Still recovering from her weightloss surgery, Miller began 33 radiation treatments as a precaution.
After seven weeks of radiation, Monday through Friday, Miller finished treatment the week of spring break in 2013.
A check up this past January, however, revealed a tumor on Miller’s opposite breast and a stereotactic biopsy was performed.
During a stereotactic biopsy, the breast is cleaned and injected with numbing medication before it is clamped down. Using a special machine, a needle is guided to the exact location of the abnormal area identified in the mammogram and several samples of breast tissue are removed.
“The only thing I can tell you is it sounds like an air compressor,” Miller said.
Miller said the hour long procedure is painful and the patient has to remain very still during the hour-long process.
The benefit of a stereotactic biopsy over a surgical biopsy for Miller was it is less invasive and she didn’t experience much scaring.
This tumor, which is slightly smaller than her previous tumor, has not been removed and doctors will continue to monitor it. As for now, no treatments are necessary and Miller will continue monthly checkups.
Getting through it
As she thinks about those who have supported her, she begins to cry. She explains the loss of her parents years back is painful.
However, Miller’s heart is full with the support of her husband Doug Miller, 11-year-old son Britain and the family she has chosen for herself.
She said two young women in Creston, who lost their mothers, have “kind of adopted” her as a friend and maternal figure.
“We kind of have a family,” Miller said. “They are very supportive. It’s nice to have them.”
Miller said, despite the fatigue, skin irritation from the radiation treatments and monitoring the treatment site for infection, the most difficult of the process was staying positive.
“The surgeon who did my surgery was very positive and having that positivity from him put it in perspective for me,” Miller said. “Having the girls who were doing my treatments were friends, acquaintances and people that I knew. That was always a bonus because, I walk into that office and there was people I knew behind the desk. You are never alone.”
Miller has been an advocate for cancer awareness before she was ever diagnosed in 2012. She has been an active volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program in Creston since 2008.
This year, Miller will lead the walk with fellow survivor Emily Edwards of Creston, who Miller has known since she was a young girl.
At this year’s Relay for Life event, Miller hopes to inspire young women and men to be proactive with their health and to always stay positive.
“You can’t let yourself get down. Because, if you do, that’s when it gets really rough,” Miller said. “You got to keep going. You have got to keep thriving.”