Three years ago our lives changed. At age 28, our daughter heard the words “lung cancer.” And nothing has been the same since. It’s been 2 years since Jillian has been gone and we’re still in a limbo of sorts.
Jillian was the youngest, had 2 older brothers, she was a military brat and an amazing nurse. One day in June 2012, we all sat in a doctor’s office and heard that she had cancer. In the aftermath of hearing those words we all retreated: quiet, scared, angry, confused, hopeful and in denial. Jill somehow found strength and acceptance in the blink of an eye. She stopped working shortly after her diagnosis and moved up to Tampa, leaving her life, her career and friends behind. Ahead of her were grueling tests and treatment. She knew participating in a clinical trial would only prolong her life, not save it. Jillian had Stage IV lung cancer and there was no cure. We were faced with how to make the most of our time with our baby in the months she had left.
Being her mom was something I took for granted. Changing her diaper, feeding her, wiping away her tears when she was hurt, and cheering her up when she was sad. I never imagined one day she wouldn’t be here. With her diagnosis, she became our baby again. We held her hand, fixed her lunch, carried her stuff to and from the Clinical Research Unit (CRU) when she had treatment and pampered her when she got home. We tried to make her as comfortable as possible, treated her as an adult and let her make the decisions she had to regarding her disease and course of treatment.
It’s so hard when your child is diagnosed with a terminal disease. We’re helpless in fighting something that went so wrong inside her. We talked about bucket list trips. It’s so hard not to cry when your daughter is talking about what her bridal gown would be like and she knows that day will never come. Jillian was probably the best patient they ever had at Moffitt. From the outset, Jillian considered Moffitt as “her hospital”. She talked about how this experience gave her a different perspective on patient care. Jillian was going to be a different, better nurse because of cancer. We took small trips to Miami for football games and brain scans. Jillian got a whole new wardrobe when her clothes no longer fit her. She never complained about the things she knew would never change. We held in our fears of loosing her and Jill held in the fact that she knew her time here was short.
She fought hard and did well for the first 6 cycles of chemo and clinical trial drug. Shortly after the trial ended, things started to take a turn for the worse. She went into hospice care for pain management. Things started to improve but for only a short time. The tumors in her liver grew just a fraction and would no longer process the chemotherapy drugs. Shortly after her 29th birthday Jillian started getting weaker as the disease ravaged her body. I was staying up all night with her, watching TV, watching when she dozed, helping her to the bathroom, making her comfortable and hoping that she would last one more night.
It happened so suddenly. She couldn’t get comfortable. It’s called “active dying.” We took her to Hospice House to help her. They put her on a medication that would help lower her ammonia level, clear out her body and help her stay alert. At the same time we had to have her sign a DNR – so that when the time came, she could let go. And it happened very quickly.
Shortly after loosing Jillian, I founded Jillian’s Dream, an organization that works to raise awareness and research funds for this insidious disease. I needed an outlet for my grief and tremendous loss. So I decided to be the voice that was Jillian’s. I wanted to speak out about our loss and that we needed to change people’s perception. I felt that what we went through was unheard of. Jillian was so young, a never smoker and displayed no symptoms. I wanted to tell her story and do something about lung cancer. I thought the way to get people’s attention and raise awareness was to provide a event that was as exceptional as Jillian was. Jillian and I had a few conversations before she passed and she wanted me to think outside the box. In 2014 we launched our website and social media presence. We created an event: Rappel for lung cancer research. Each person who signed up met a fundraising minimum, got the once in a lifetime opportunity to rappel down 13 stories. On December 13th, 60 people: participants, volunteers, on-air personalities, VIP’s and wounded warriors rappelled down the Island Center building on Rocky Point Drive raising over $136,000! It was overwhelming.
In January 2015, I was honored as a Lightning Foundation Community Hero. We decided to give the award funds to Moffitt’s Lung Cancer and Adolescent & Young Adult Centers of Excellence. Planning for this year’s 2nd Annual Rappel for lung cancer research that will be on December 12, 2015 is already in progress.
Because of Jillian, I have become an advocate for the unseen, under represented population who are between 18 & 40, healthy, never smokers. They don’t qualify for early screening. By the time they are diagnosed, it’s late stage, the options are limited and the prognosis is poor. For the most part they don’t participate in clinical trials. And they are dying. In Jillian’s memory, I’m committed to change that as the President of Jillian’s Dream and as a partner with Uniting Against Lung Cancer. I believe that one day, we will find the answer and a cure. Together, we are stronger than lung cancer.
– Ros Miller
Jillian’ Mother and founder of Jillian’s Dream.