When Jaime Miller finished her last day of radiation, she got to do whatever she wanted with her radiotherapy mask.
Some breast cancer patients make them into art. Some take them home. Others leave them at the hospital.
Miller did none of that. She took a 30-minute lesson from the truckers she worked with at Atlantic and Pacific Freightways in Vancouver, a company her father, Dan Wyatt, built. Then she drove over her mask with a tractor-trailer as people watched and cheered.
If there’s one constant about Miller’s life, it’s that it was almost always a party, and she was generally at the center of it, until complications from triple-negative breast cancer killed her at age 42 on May 29.
Miller threw a party when she shaved her head because of the cancer treatment. At that one, her mother Janis Wyatt was crying. Miller’s daughter Jillian comforted her by saying: “Grandma, it’s not the cancer that’s making her hair fall out, it’s the cure,” Miller’s husband Andy recalled.
• Miller Mile & Wyatt Walk: 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 13 at WareHouse ’23, 100 Columbia St., 102, Vancouver. Funds raised will support Vancouver Public Schools. Register and donate: https://bit.ly/2ORBmzZ
• Girlfriends Run for a Cure: 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 14 at WareHouse ’23, 100 Columbia St., 102, Vancouver. Register for the race at www.active.com/vancouver-wa/running/distance-running-races/girlfriends-run-for-a-cure-2018 or donate to Miller’s page benefitting the Pink Lemonade project: www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/AndyMiller9
“I’m crying and she’s having a party,” Janis Wyatt added.
Wyatt considered her daughter to be “queen of the insta-party,” where she could bring 20 people together in 45 minutes for a shindig. Trips to Hawaii. Birthdays and significant dates for others. No matter the occasion or location, the party always followed her.
Jaime Wyatt and Andy Miller met at Columbia River High School in November 1992. Andy was a senior, she was junior. He asked her out in the school’s courtyard. They married six years later.
“She had this way about her,” Andy Miller said. “She would walk around, and people would gravitate to her.”
The couple went on to have two kids: Alex, a junior at Columbia River High School, and Jillian, a freshman at Jefferson High School in Portland. Andy characterizes Jillian as a “50-year-old grief counselor masquerading as a teenager” — remembering how she consoled her grandmother. Alex turns out for tennis, basketball and track; Jillian dances with the Jefferson Dancers.
Jaime Miller’s diagnosis came almost exactly a year before she died. Miller had a mammogram in January. Everything was fine. Then she felt a lump in March, and then, as Andy Miller said, “it takes three weeks to be seen, then another three weeks before a biopsy.” Then, eventually, you land on May 23, 2017, and a doctor is telling you, “We’ll have some work to do.'”
“Then your heart sinks,” Andy Miller said. “You don’t know at the time — you’re hopeful. You think it’s a death sentence and then you find out later that it kind of is. You’re devastated in the moment, and then right away she was like, ‘OK, what do we do to beat this?’ We were hopeful that she was going to beat it until two hours before she passed away.”
That’s when Miller’s breathing started to go downhill. She was planning to start immunization therapy in Seattle. She was hopeful it would be effective.
Miller fought hard against her cancer. She underwent radiation, where “The drive from our house in Felida to Compass Oncology on Mill Plain is like a lifetime,” Andy Miller said.
Miller underwent a double mastectomy. Surgeons removed 20 cancerous lymph nodes from under her arm. She tried strong cancer treatment drugs, and she and Andy visited a cancer treatment center in Houston, because even though they had been told they had the best doctors and surgeons in Vancouver they still wanted to know that what those doctors were saying was right.
One time Jaime even joked to Andy that they had “to go home and get on Google and cure cancer because nothing was working.”
Grief and purpose
Now the Miller family is navigating through its grief.
“When people are alive, you call your parents or siblings or whatever and say, ‘Hi how’s everything going? Is everything good?’ ” Janis Wyatt said. “And then you hang up and you go about your day. But when somebody passes away you constantly think about them. They’re always on your mind.”
First times are tough, such as the family’s recent visit to their vacation house on Anderson Island. Jaime Miller would host annual “moms trips” there.
The Millers’ 20th wedding anniversary was in August. The new school year has altered familiar routines, and Janis Wyatt said she almost wants to skip the upcoming holidays.
The family has found support in the community. They’ve been inundated with texts, emails and notes. Friends have watched the kids’ dance recitals and sporting events. Andy Miller rarely cooked during his wife’s cancer treatment.
“People were just dropping off food. I gained like 15 pounds. Jaime is losing weight, I’m gaining weight,” Andy joked.
Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer, including thousands of women in Washington. In honor of their fight — and as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — The Columbian published this collection of stories about the women who have received breast cancer diagnoses, the science and technological advances for treating them and the community that supports them.
They will always have memories of Jaime Miller. And they hope her death will bring about a larger good.
There is a bill that would assist breast cancer patients being introduced at the next legislative session in Miller’s honor. Andy will run the Pink Brigade breast cancer fundraising race this year. And after Miller’s death, the family asked for donations in lieu of flowers. They raised more than $50,000 for the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research.
“She didn’t want to be known as Jaime the cancer girl, but she’s doing good,” Andy said. “In her passing she’s raising money for people going through it.”