Stand Up To Cancer

By Renee Comer Miller

I wasn’t going to watch it. My sister actually worked the phone lines. I, on the other hand, was pretty uninterested. Maybe I just didn’t want to hear. Maybe I’m done with it. Maybe I hate it so much I want to turn it off.

But cancer won’t turn off. Instead it just keeps killing more than half a million people a year. I didn’t know that before tonight. I should have.

I am a two-time cancer survivor.

I was 26 years old and pregnant with my daughter, Laura, when my doctor called me, lost his voice and whispered, “We‘ve found cancer cells. I want you to come in for more tests.”

I hung up the phone that night, looked at my husband, Stan, and broke the news.

At the doctor’s office he tried to be reassuring. He something about mild dysplasia probability. He told me that he was sure the tests would show minimal invasion. Besides, the most he ever had to send to Birmingham for more testing were two women a year, and rarely that many.

He performed the tests.

He told me to get dressed.

He sent Stan back into the room.

He left to do whatever it is doctors do when tests turn out badly.

He knocked on the door, sat down at the desk in my room, his back to me. Finally he turned around and said softly, “You’re going to Birmingham.”

As my husband and I drove home, we were quiet.

Finally I spoke. “I won’t let them hurt the baby, Stan. I can’t.”

Tears trickled down Stan’s cheeks.

“It’s going to be okay, Stan.”

“I want you to be okay, Renee.”

When we got to Birmingham for more testing, the doctor smiled and told me I would be fine for the remainder of the pregnancy. They would monitor me then treat it after I gave birth.

My water broke when I was five months and three weeks pregnant. Laura was born 3 weeks later.

I never had to have chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The doctors had discussed a hysterectomy, but after a successful LEEP procedure and a cone biopsy, the cervical cancer was gone. It seemed I was fine, which is another story for another time.

Three years later, I was pregnant with my son, Cameron. I was in college majoring in Communications at Auburn in Montgomery, in the studios, recording my demos and happily raising my family. After giving birth to Cameron, I received another call from my doctor.

This time he didn’t lose his voice. “We made a mistake, Renee. The cancer has spread. I’m scheduling you for a hysterectomy next week.”

The brevity of his words didn’t penetrate. I had been here before.

“I have exams in two weeks. Can we reschedule that?”

He was perturbed. “You have cancer. Cancel your classes.”

On May 14, 1999, I had a hysterectomy. Both times I was lucky. Neither time did I have to have extensive treatment. But to have a baby and a hysterectomy the year I turned 30 was hard to take. I lived through it. So many more whom I love did not.

My stepdad died of a heart attack on June 6, 2003. He was only 57 and it was so bewildering for my mother, who finally had someone in her life who truly loved her. At his funeral, I could only think of how blessed I was to have both my parents while my step- brother and step-sisters grieved the loss of their father, just six years after the loss of one of their mothers to cancer. And for the rest of the summer, my mom sat in her doctor’s office waiting room complaining of stomach pain. Every time she visited, he just patted her on the head and told her it was a need for attention after the death of my stepdad.

In August I was awakened from my sleep by a voice saying, “Isaiah 41:10.” I opened my eyes. Stan was sleeping beside me. There was no one else in the room. I repeated the passage reference and promised myself I’d look it up in the morning. It was two a.m., and I was sleepy.

“Isaiah 41:10.”

The Voice was not going to let me alone. Begrudgingly, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled to the living room. I flipped through my Bible, and read Isaiah 41:10, as follows:

“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I lay in bed for a long time wondering what was going to happen next.

A week later, my sister called to tell me Mother was in the hospital. The doctors suspected cancer. She would call me to let me know more when the test results were in.

The next day I came home from running errands. Stan asked me to come into our bedroom. He stood leaning against a dresser and said all he could manage. “Your mom has three months to live. They caught it too late.”

I doubled over. Stan caught me and held me while I whispered, “No.“ Less than a year earlier I had lost my close aunt to ovarian cancer. Before her, I lost another aunt to pancreatic cancer. Now I was being told I was going to lose my mom, a health food nut and avid exerciser to colon cancer? This couldn’t be happening.

But it did happen. I lost my 53-years-young mom to cancer on December 20, 2003. My story is not unique. I am not alone. I am not the only one with a story.

I’m kind of pissed. We give so much tax money to our government, who throw dollars at weapons development. We fight male pattern baldness, for crying out loud. Yet we don’t have a cure, patients don’t have the funds, and we don’t have an answer for cancer. I don’t know why this is. I, myself, have no plan, just questions and anger and loss. There are the doctors who misdiagnosed me and my mother, who I would love to meet in a dark alley. There are politicians who inhibit the progress of cancer research and funding who’d I’d like to tell to screw off. But, none of that will help.

So I try to maintain my faith in a loving God who tells me He will be with me while I watch my mom die a cruel death, and pretend not to question, although I scream at Him in the secret places of my soul and demand that He give her back. Again, I am not alone. There are millions of Americans, Canadians, Africans, Latinos, Czechs, Slavs, and probably even Martians, who all want their loved ones back.

Because I don’t have any answers, because I don’t have much hope in a cure right now I will let this end without a conclusion.


Renee Comer Miller

Renee is happy to be the mother of four, way too young (albeit still grateful) to be the grandmother of two, and happily married to a man who has managed to remain sane in spite of her ADD. A church brat who dares to question the very theology she embraces, she hopes that people will one day stop funneling people into church and start reaching out to the forgotten ones in the margins without any other agenda than to love. You can read her blogs at, or learn the secrets to making good jail house wine under the name Renee Miller at

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