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)
Miller completed the second round of treatment in time to get home to watch the Hubs defeat Boonsboro on Oct. 26, just barely missing homecoming.
“I wanted to stay out to see the next game, but they wanted me to come back to start the next round of therapy,” Miller said. “The third one is supposed to be the harshest one.”
The push to start the third round of treatment started during North-South rivalry week. This time, it was Miller’s turn to get a surprise.
A friend’s father was able to place a laptop in the cable television truck that was taping the game for broadcast. Miller got a private, live showing of the game on a big-screen television at Johns Hopkins via Skype, allowing him to see the 14-12 victory that secured a playoff berth for the Hubs.
On Dec. 3, Miller began the final round of treatment.
“The first and last one was supposed to be the worst of all,” Miller said. “It was the easiest for me. It was tough for me to sit still.”
Miller left Johns Hopkins after completing his treatment, getting home just after Christmas. He was able to sit on the bench Dec. 27 as the North boys basketball team played in its holiday tournament.
Back to basketball
When basketball began in November, coach Kevin Hartman wanted to make sure his team also was concerned about Miller.
“In the summer, he wouldn’t miss any of the open gym time,” Hartman said. “He played for us in the summer league. There were nights he would play in games and then go lift weights afterwards to get ready for football. If he was going to miss a day, he called to let you know. He’s a responsible and caring kid.”
Hartman came up with a way to let Miller know that everyone was thinking of him.
“Coach called me and asked if it was OK if he had some warmups made for the team with ‘AaronStrong’ written on them,” Miller said. “It felt good that they were being so supportive.”
Hartman borrowed the idea from the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, who coined the term “ChuckStrong” after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I’m not a Colts fan, but I saw how the team rallied around it and I hoped we would, too,” Hartman said. “We wanted him to know that we were part of him and he was part of us.”
Like the football team, the basketball team kept Miller in the front of their minds. They stayed in contact with him by phone, even calling him after one practice to sing “Happy Birthday” to him.
“When I heard about what Aaron was going through, I cried a little,” said Nick Karlen, who was North’s quarterback and a member of the basketball team. “I thought, ‘How could this happen? It’s such a tragedy.’ When it came to basketball, and you wonder why you aren’t playing much, then you think of Aaron.”
Good news, bad news
On Jan. 3, Miller received good news.
“I had a bone marrow biopsy and they found no leukemia cells,” Miller said. “Right then, I took my wristband and tore it off. I didn’t have cancer anymore, but it still sits on our kitchen table.”