Where do you go from here?
"On Friday, 5/30/14, I found out I had a Stage 4 lung cancer. People in my condition have about a year to live on average, and treatment is now limited to making the next year more bearable. There are other options that may be discussed later, including experimental treatments, and I'm staying optimistic, but frankly, I think I know where I stand."
If you're Oren Miller, the author of the paragraph above, you go on to answer every comment and email that came streaming in, steadily and somberly, for the next few days and weeks.
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Baltimore, MD, USA
South Elgin, IL, USA
Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University, 615 North Wolfe Street e2525, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA
"I felt they deserved a reply," Miller, 41, told me this week from his home near Baltimore.
Miller is the voice behind A Blogger and A Father, a blog he launched in 2007, shortly after the birth of his first child. He's also the founder and curator of a 788-member "Dad Bloggers" group on Facebook and a member of the National At-Home Dad Network, where he connects with other fathers and supports them in their writing and parenting.
"He's the guy who said, 'We need this community,' and then stepped up to the plate and made it happen," says National At-Home Dad Network president Al Watts, who lives in South Elgin. "He brought a bunch of guys together to make really wonderful things happen."
Like the money they're now raising for Miller and his family. His two children are 6 and 4 years old.
Brent Almond, Miller's friend and fellow blogger, had been updating the Facebook group about Miller in the days after his original diagnosis.
"I saw him on June 3 and the next day he was going to have a blood clot removed from his heart," Almond said. "His original idea was to go home after that and take a vacation with his family before he started whatever treatment he needed. I relayed that to the group and said, 'Why don't we raise some money to pay for their vacation?'"
Within a few hours, the group had raised $5,000 on giveforward.com. A few days later, the pot had reached $20,000. Today it stands at just over $24,000.
"It's something I never expected," Miller said. "I was hoping what anyone hopes in a situation like that, which is that his group of friends and family will be in his corner."
The vacation plans were delayed because Miller says doctors found a tumor in his brain. Almond says the money is, of course, intended for any way Miller and his wife, Beth, 38, decide to use it.
It's worth noting, as my Tribune colleague and "Dad Bloggers" member Robert Duffer did, that Miller's pals aren't drawing from deep pockets. "They don't have much money," Duffer told me. "Most dad bloggers don't have much money."
"He deserves every bit of it," said Watts. "I think people don't expect men to act this way in this culture — or maybe they don't expect humans to act this way. But when these things happen to people you care about, this is what you do."
"It can be harder for men and fathers to connect emotionally," Almond said. "I think that's why people are so eager to help him, partly because he started this (Facebook) group, but partly because he's such a supportive person."
The post in which Miller announced his diagnosis is one of the loveliest pieces of writing I've encountered. It's stark and honest and brave and it pulls no emotional punches, particularly when he contemplates the shrinking window of time with his family.
"I've raised happy kids," he writes. "They're my masterpiece: two loving, smart, intelligent, funny, happy kids. And I can't let that end. I can't allow them to grow up sad. I can't allow them to grow up with a hole in their hearts in the shape of the dad they barely remember. I want them to be happy. I want to be around to make them happy.
"And I want my wife to be happy. She deserves to be happy. I wish I could make her happy right now."
Many of the comments on Miller's blog offer treatment alternatives and stories of cancer patients who've beaten the odds. Miller answers each one graciously and honestly.
"I'm getting good treatment at a good place right now," he told me. He's at Johns Hopkins.
From his blog:
"So acceptance, and sadness — well, I believe they can coexist. Sadness is inevitable — I'm only human, and trying too hard to rise above it only hurts more. But I do accept. I accept that life is finite, and I accept that my time will come soon. I accept that my life had been and still is a gift, and I accept the likely possibility that I won't see my kids grow older."
That he's creating a beautiful legacy is a certainty.