Coaching with Cancer

Content Courtesy of Joy Shrum,

Field hockey is a tough sport. It requires endurance, stamina and focus. The game is exhausting and it takes dedication and a lot of practice. 
For Cathy Miller, 40 of Lusby, field hockey is what keeps her going. She's entering her seventh year coaching the junior varsity team at St. Mary's Ryken High School and her fourth year battling cancer-- with no end in sight. "I have stage four papillary thyroid cancer," Miller explained.
It's the most common type of thyroid cancer. About 80 percent of all thyroid cancers are papillary thyroid cancer, also known as papillary thyroid carcinoma. It has a high cure rate, if it doesn't spread. Unfortunately, if the papillary carcinoma does spread, the prognosis is much worse. By the time Miller was diagnosed it had already spread to her lungs. "Without a cure, doctors give me one to two years to live," Miller shared.
Miller learned she was sick because she was having a hard time breathing. After she opted for an exploratory surgery at John Hopkins, they discovered her cancer. "If I had not chosen to have that surgery, I would be dead. I wouldn't be here today." Miller said she had no other symptoms. In fact, she has no thyroid issues and her thyroid levels are perfect.
Despite the grim prognosis, Miller refuses to give up. "I've been on several clinical trials. I just did a chemo treatment for 30 days and we found out I can't continue because it's causing my kidneys to fail." She's now counting on a new clinical trial out of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, a world-class cancer care center. "It's an IV chemo trial that's been used on some aggressive breast cancers."
Twice a week, Miller travels to John Hopkins in Baltimore to meet with her doctors. Three times a week she receives magnesium and potassium infusions at Calvert Memorial Hospital. Six days a week, you'll find her at Ryken High School with her field hockey team.
"This is my release; this is my savior," Miller said. She said her doctors know they can't stop her from being out here. "They can't take it away. I feel like I have super powers when I'm out here. I can arrive not feeling well and then as soon as I get on the field, I feel nothing."
Tara Everly, head coach for the Ryken field hockey team, told, "It's a testament of her spirit and who she is. She loves field hockey and she loves the girls. I think they help her push through." Everly acknowledges what an inspiration Miller is for the entire team, "They may have a bad day, but she had a worse day. I don't think anyone realizes what she goes through but they're really inspired by her and they enjoy seeing her smiling face."
St. Mary's Ryken High School competes in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC)—which requires the team to travel to Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Bethesda. "We travel quite a bit and it makes for a very long day," Miller noted. "I get up early and make my doctor's appointments for the first thing in the morning so I can make it on game days."
Miller shares her battle with her players. "I'm pretty upfront with it and I tell them I'm battling it the best I can."
Kellyn Murphy will be entering her junior year. She has been the JV captain the past two years. "It's amazing how Coach Miller shows up every day. She's always here, she never sits out. It's really amazing to watch."
Murphy said her coach motivates her to push herself, "She's always positive. She's a great coach and she's the one who has pushed me to do my best and she inspires me every day to work harder."
Miller hopes her battle encourages her players to always do their best, "I preach to these girls about believing in yourself. If I don't show them that, I'm a hypocrite. This is the next generation here and I want to lead by example."