Lung Cancer. Fighting the Unexpected, Winning Through Research.
Jillian Miller was born at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center on April 8th, 1984 – a military brat. She graduated from the University of Miami in Coral Gables where she earned her BSRN degree. Jillian was a vibrant, health conscious, active young professional working as an RN at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s NeuroSurgical Intensive Care Unit. In addition to working full time, she was pursuing her master’s degree in Acute and Adult Care. At the pinnacle of her life, Jillian received an unexpected diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer.
It was April. Jillian had just turned 28. She felt a swollen lymph node in her neck and followed up with her primary care physician. Her initial exam was followed by an ultra sound of the lump and her thyroid which lead to a fine needle aspiration and waiting. Pathology revealed unusual cells that required more tests and a biopsy of the node. Then another test – a PET scan which showed multiple tumors throughout her body. With so much uncertainty as to what type of cancer she had, Jillian discussed options with a reproductive endocrinologist. Jillian hoped for a best case scenario with a cancer diagnosis and wanted to keep her options open that would allow her children in the future. Then the unexpected news, in mid June 2012 she received a diagnosis of Stage IV Lung Cancer. Adenocarcinoma with metastasis everywhere. Almost immediately, Jillian began to experience preliminary pain from the tumors in her hip and ribs and underwent radiation treatments while working and still maintaining her studies. Then lesions were detected in her brain and Jillian underwent 5 cyberknife treatments. To help keep her bones strong during her eventual chemotherapy she started infusions of Zometa. She moved back home in July 2012 and began her only option: standard chemotherapy. Being as healthy as she had been, she met the criteria for participation in a Phase IB clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center. Jillian wanted to help save more lives and make a difference and this was the way she could. Standard chemo and the clinical trial was every 3 weeks for 6 cycles. Within weeks of treatments she began losing her hair in small clumps, then by handfuls. In September she had a hair cut and went wig shopping. At the half way point her test results were promising with significant shrinkage of her tumors. Jillian was bald, beautiful, and thinner. At Thanksgiving she was showered with champagne surrounded by her family. Her 6 cycles complete, she moved to a maintenance regime – standard chemo. By December the tumor in her liver grew ever so slightly but enough to change everything. In February, Hospice intervened and she managed her pain at home. Jillian courageously battled this terrible disease for 10 months before she passed away in May 2013.
The statistics for survival with Stage IV Lung Cancer longer than 8 months is 1%. Lung cancer patients deal not only with the disease but also the stigma and bias associated with it. Lung Cancer is the least funded, most misunderstood and deadliest of all cancers. It’s time to follow Jillian’s lead to change peoples perceptions, raise awareness, fund needed for new discoveries, fast track new drugs, and work towards a cure. That was Jillian’s dream, fighting the unexpected and winning through research.