North Hagerstown High athlete beats the odds and overcomes cancer
Aaron Miller is a North Hagerstown High School student athlete recovering from leukemia. He cites his varsity letter and a wristband made with initials and jersey number among his cherished possessions. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / March 6, 2013)
And, he had a game plan.
“My goal was to be home for homecoming, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “I just missed. I had a lot of prayers and good wishes ... and I wanted to play football next year.”
Lineman from afar
Back in Hagerstown, the Hubs continued working for the best possible season with their missing lineman on their minds. A teammate created the orange plastic bracelets — symbols that began to show up schoolwide.
Players did everything they could to stay in contact with Miller by phone, text messages, occasional visits and Skype video links.
Cunningham stayed in contact with him, too.
“He told me the day he found out he had cancer that he would be back,” Cunningham said. “He said he still had all his football stuff sitting next to his door, ready to go. Even on his worst days, he was worried about practice and how the kids were doing.”
Early in September, when the Hubs prepared to play Reginald Lewis in the season opener, Cunningham admitted he didn’t know what to expect.
“Before every break and after every drill, the team got together and yelled ‘Aaron,’” Cunningham said. “Then, before the first game, coaches were sitting in the office going over strategy, and it was weird.
“Usually, the players are out in the locker room acting like idiots and yelling, but it was quiet. We walked out to see what was going on and, there they were, every one of them around an iPhone, talking to Aaron.”
Before every game, a call was placed to Miller, who would give the Hubs a pep talk to go out and win.
“We had him on the phone and we told him we missed him,” Keyes said. “Cancer had him down, but he was still there working for us. He really pushed me as a person.”
During the last week of September, the Hubs had a crucial date against Fort Hill. Miller made some calls to the team and told them that his father was going to bring them a big surprise at practice.
“We didn’t know what it could be,” Cunningham said. “We had been talking to him all along and just thought he was going to send us something from Hopkins.”
As the Hubs hit the practice field, they saw the Miller family car pull up. They looked up as the passenger door opened. Miller was out of the hospital after completing the first round of therapy and had come to see them.
“You would have thought the president had come to the field,” Cunningham said. “They all went charging over to see him.”
Miller was on the sidelines for the Fort Hill game. In fact, he went to midfield for the coin toss as an honorary captain.
“That was the most memorable moment in football for me,” Cunningham said. “Aaron walked out there and showed us what it meant to overcome adversity and smack it in the face. He opened so many eyes.”
After the game, Miller had a setback. He immediately went back to Johns Hopkins because he had developed a blood clot in his arm. Doctors installed a new port near his heart and administered drugs to dissolve the clot, while starting Miller’s second round of therapy.