Triumph through tragedy

By Staff Sgt. Autumn Velez, 153rd Airlift Wing public affairs

Childhood cancer. It is something parents pray they will never face. For Wyoming Air National Guard Maj. Eric Miller, this worst nightmare came to life when his 5-year-old son, Garrett, was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma.

What started off as a seemingly normal day of T-ball, took a turn for the worst when Garrett was having balance problems and was unable to place the ball on the T-ball holder. Knowing something wasn’t right, Garrett and his mother made a trip to the doctor the next day.

 Once at the doctor, Garrett was immediately sent for a CT scan. The bad news followed when Miller, Garrett and Garrett’s mother were placed in a quiet room and were notified the doctor would be meeting them in the emergency department, at the odd time of 6 p.m. on a Friday, raising a red flag that something was indeed wrong.

“The rest is really a blur,” said Miller.

Soon after, Garrett had surgery to remove a golf ball-sized tumor in the back of his head. He was then diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. Garrett was given a 50% chance of surviving five years. 

“A day doesn’t go by that the impact of having a child diagnosed with cancer doesn’t affect me,” said Miller. “I honestly am haunted and think about it all the time. Cancer stole Garrett’s sight and a lot from his future and our family. Our souls were ripped and the initial shock and pain scarred over, but the tenderness of that day and aftermath remain.”

While thankful for his survival, Garrett was no longer the same joyous child. After reading an article about Paralympic tandem cyclist Matt King, who is blind, Miller decided Garrett needed a tandem bicycle. This tandem bicycle was a turning point for the Miller family.

“It was as if a switch had been turned on and old Garrett was back,” Miller said.

As Miller struggled with the aftermath of Garrett’s cancer, he searched for a distraction to cope with the guilt of having a child that was blessed to have survived cancer. 

“I remember sitting in Garrett’s hospital room starring out the window and praying the prayer I attribute to reading Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Somewhere in it he prays, ‘God make me worthy of my suffering,’” Miller said.

Miller’s answer came in the same form as Garrett’s rediscovered happiness – a tandem bike.

While this sinister disease robbed Garrett of his vision, it gave the Miller family a chance to triumph through tragedy by starting a non-profit organization to gift tandem bicycles to blind and low-vision children. This non-profit stemmed from Miller’s desire to give blind and visually impaired children a chance to feel the same joy Garrett experienced when he received his first tandem bicycle.

“My hope is for the Rush-Miller Foundation to somehow make me and our family worthy of the burden of surviving cancer,” he said.

Miller family 2001

Today, Garrett has beaten his 50% odds of survival and is now 24.

“To say Garrett doesn’t suffer would be sugar coating it,” he said. “He struggles, but he is a great young man and I am proud of him.”

To date, the Rush- Miller Foundation has given the joy of riding a bike to approximately 2,300 blind/ visually impaired children through directly gifting bicycles to children and by donating them to schools. 

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