“I wanted time to take it all in and to make sure this is what it was. I wanted to take him home and see if he would sleep it off. I’m the type that I wanted to read everything carefully before I signed anything and find out about the chemotherapy and the side effects. (The doctors) told me there wasn’t any time. Each minute we waited, his body was deteriorating more.”
Breaking the news
“When Aaron called me to tell me he had cancer, he didn’t want the team to know,” Cunningham said. “Still, I had to call all the coaches and tell them what was happening. Before I did, though, I cried.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I was scared. It made me think about my family, my kids, and gave me a new perspective on life.”
Cunningham began contacting his coaching staff to figure out how they were going to break the news to the team. One of the first calls was to Stains, who recently had lost a daughter to cancer.
“I got a call from Danny on Sunday,” Stains said. “He said, ‘Something is wrong with Aaron and I’m not sure how to tell you.’ He said that Aaron wanted to talk to me, but didn’t know what to say. So I called Aaron. He said to me, ‘Coach, I’m sorry that I’m not going to be able to play. You saved my life.’”
On Monday, the coaches broke the news to the team. There was shock in the room, but the reaction wasn’t what Cunningham expected.
“We brought the kids into a room 45 minutes before practice to tell them,” Cunningham said. “It was tough standing there with all those kids staring back at me. Aaron said things happen for a reason and maybe this was all it.
“When we told the kids, everything stopped. After a couple of minutes, some of the kids started raising their hands and asking questions. They wanted to know what it was and if he was going to be all right. Some went home after practice and started looking up what it was on the Internet.”
The Hubs made Miller’s plight their cause.
“We dedicated all our work to Aaron,” Hubs running back Isaiah Keyes said. “You just start thinking about how lucky you are. He’s staying strong, so we should, too.”
Miller still was a very big part of the team, even though he wasn’t present.
“Telling them it wasn’t bad, but it was reality,” Cunningham said. “We told the kids that you have a chance to go out there and play a game you love and here’s Aaron still over there trying to work hard to get out there with you. You have to take advantage of the time you have because your days in high school are numbered.
“The reality of it all, it took a lot of the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ away from us. We told the kids that Aaron was working with a team of people to beat cancer. You guys need to work like a team.”
One of the gestures in support of Miller came in the form of a “74” sticker that was placed near the earhole of each player’s helmet.
“It was hard to forget him because he was always there whispering in our ears,” Cunningham said.
A battle in Baltimore
Meanwhile, Miller was in Baltimore starting his battle to take down a foe he never planned to tackle. He had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy, scheduled in 40-day sessions, with time off in between.
He responded to his treatment quickly and his white cell count improved steadily. His first round of chemo lasted 28 days, and he got through the last three in 25 days each.