Cancer changes everything: your priorities, your family, your finances. So Suzanne and Dean Miller discovered in July of 1995 when their bubbly six-year-old daughter, Brittany, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Suzanne had to quit her nursing job to care for her and transport Brittany back and forth to the nearest hospital (an hour each way) for treatment. Dean worked half days at his new business to maintain income for the family while taking care of their 2-year-old, Nicholas. The only program to offer hope was an experimental one at a Houston hospital. The hospital had no residential center, so the whole family relocated to hotels nearby during the five weeks of Brittany's treatment. While living at these hotels, the Millers met other families in the same predicament who were struggling to pay for their families' travel and lodging expenses not covered by insurance. These brutal financial realities were causing great difficulty at an already-heart-wrenching juncture in people's lives.
Back home in Orange County, New York, the local newspaper got word of Brittany's situation and printed the story. The community responded graciously. A Family Fun Day was organized in Brittany's honor, complete with a dance, bake sale, and clowns. Hundreds attended, and thousands of dollars came in. Perhaps best of all, Brittany, though very weak, had a wonderful time and even danced with her father. Enchanted with the youngster's spirit, the community continued its support up until Brittany lost her battle on her 7th birthday, July 31, 1996.
Many families, after such a struggle and loss, feel they've had enough of dealing with cancer and illness, but the Millers felt differently. They immediately knew they had to start a Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
"The community was so supportive in our time of need, we knew we had to give back," explains Dean Miller. The Brittany Miller Foundation provides financial assistance for lodging and travel expenses incurred by families who have kids with cancer in the Orange County area. They wrote their first check in March 1996, and in three years it has provided over $40,000 in aid to 31 families. The Millers also make themselves personally available to offer emotional and spiritual support.
"My wife and I talk weekly to families in need of support while their child is in the treatment phase of cancer. I just recently received an invitation for the First Communion from a family we helped whose daughter is in her second year of remission. It is these relationships that grow with the families that make me happy. The Brittany Miller Foundation brings added dignity to our daughter's death. But there isn'ta day that goes by that I don't take strength from Brittany's incredible spirit and courage. Through this legacy, she's here with us, every day."
The Brittany Miller Foundation is currently assisting 20 families whose children are in the treatment stages of cancer. The Foundation holds four big events during the year (easily replicable in your area): a dinner dance, golf tournament, Christmas toy drive, and the original Family Fun Day. For more information on these events and the children helped by the Brittany Miller Foundation, visit http://www.brittanymiller.org. Or you can reach the Foundation at: P.O. Box 3047, Middletown, NY 10940; phone 914-344-3496; fax 914-342-5820.