Miller will celebrate 'victory' at relay Friday

When Ramsey Miller heads around the track Friday, carrying the inspirational torch in the Relay for Life ceremony, he will be claiming a personal victory.

When Ramsey Miller heads around the track Friday, carrying the inspirational torch in the Relay for Life ceremony, he will be claiming a personal victory.

Four years ago, Ramsey walked off the track as a high school competitor - and a victim. The first symptoms of his cancer were surfacing.

After the first track meet of the 2003 season, Ramsey had complained to his parents, Sherill and Randy, that his arms were numb. They initially dismissed his discomfort; he'd just competed in the triple and long jumps, rousing muscles that hadn't been used in such a fashion for months.

The next day the phone rang. "Mom, I can't walk."

They headed to Bemidji, but were sent home, Ramsey diagnosed with muscle spasms. But when the symptoms continued, he was sent to Fargo.


April Fool's Day 2003, he arrived at MeritCare, a tumor from his spine surgically removed. The next morning, the Millers learned it was malignant. The diagnosis was Ewing's sarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer.

"Three weeks before, Ramsey had placed in the state wrestling tourney," Sherill recalled. "That's how unprepared we were," she said of her 16-year-old son who exemplified "strength and stamina."

The Millers asked for the prognosis. With treatment, 60 percent survive, they were told. But the disease claims 100 percent of its victims without remedial procedures.

Fortunately, the tumor's growth on the upper spine had caused the numbness. The malignant tumor may have otherwise gone undetected.

A second set of bad news

But the news of cancer was devastating.

"We hadn't had any dealings with it," Sherill said. "How do you tell your 16-year-old son, who's just placed at state, that he has cancer?" she asked. Sherill and Randy spent two days dealing with the information, Ramsey recovering from surgery in intensive care.

And they were reeling from Ramsey's twin brother Ryan's nearly fatal gastro intestinal bleeding disorder, diagnosed just months before. Scar tissue had formed from an improperly placed intravenous feeding tube when Ryan was an infant, causing the condition.


Ryan was re-entering sports competition - the world as he'd known it - when his brother was diagnosed.

The reality of Ramsey's condition didn't sink in - initially, she said.

"We'll get through it," the Millers determined. "But at the time, we had no idea what lay ahead."

Treatment begins

Ramsey began a 14-cycle chemotherapy protocol at the Mayo Clinic, the condensed regimen leaving him sick and weak. During the next 10 months, three-quarters of the time were spent in the hospital.

He attempted to return to school, but slept in the nurse's office, running fevers.

The cancer, the treatment, had taken over Ramsey's existence.

But a month later, he escorted girlfriend (now fiancée) Emily Girtz to prom. Her bald (but "eyebrowed") boyfriend had one of his better days.


"After that, the fever and chemo took over," Sherill said.

June 15 he began radiation treatments, most of the summer spent in Rochester, Emily often bedside for support.

Ramsey would head home, but the low blood counts would spike a fever and he'd be back on an IV. Eating caused vomiting, and his feeding tube had caused mouth sores.

"But he faced it," Sherill said. "He never complained."

Sherill recalls a severe case of sticker shock when she headed to the pharmacy to pick up a two-week supply of medications, only to be met with a $10,200 bill.

"Fortunately, they carried us until the insurance reimbursement came through," she said.

Meanwhile, as his condition allowed, he worked to catch up with schoolwork, his aunts and uncles having purchased a laptop, which also came in handy in communicating with Emily and friends.

Ramsey would reign as a hairless Homecoming king, a show of support from his peers.


"We'd wake up and say, 'God gave us another day to figure this out,'" Sherill said. She kept a tally during the treatments, to record the days. Reaching the half-way point gave them a morale boost.

'I slept through it'

"I was the lucky one," Ramsey said. "I slept through it. There's a lot I don't remember."

"We remember it all. And that's not fair," Sherill teased her son.

After eight months of treatment, the cancer was in remission. He continues to make trips to Mayo, but he's beyond the two-year point, when the cancer is most likely to recur.

With the exception of some back discomfort - calling for frequent back rubs from Emily - Ramsey has returned to normalcy. He can no longer wrestle, however. He's limited to non-contact sports due to surgery on ligaments.

Ramsey and Emily plan to marry next summer. He's currently pursuing a degree in education at Bemidji State University, with aspirations to teach science at the high school level.

"We never dwelled on the 'what if,'" Sherill said. "We decided it would be done when the treatment was done," this despite meeting many whose children had lost limbs - or their lives - to cancer.


"We were very, very lucky."

What To Read Next
Get Local