Single dad takes on head and neck cancer with proton therapy

As a father of two young boys and a modern-day renaissance man, Mark Miller of Bellingham lives an active life that would make most people’s head spin just thinking about it. In between his flights as a commercial airline pilot for a major airline, he also works as a flight instructor, youth hockey coach and referee, STEM education volunteer, and award-winning school bus driver. 

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Mark Miller
Mark Miller

Amidst all of his responsibilities and philanthropic endeavors, Mark gets outdoors as much as possible to do some downhill mountain unicycling—a passion he’s maintained since he received his first unicycle at the age of eight years old.

Mark’s head and neck cancer diagnosis in late 2019 as a 39-year old came as a shock. His care team originally thought the bump in his cheek was a benign tumor. However, when they began the surgery to remove the tumor in December 2019, the surgeon realized it was in fact malignant and had spread further than they’d originally anticipated. After removing as much of the tumor as they could safely do so, they broke the news to Mark.

After undergoing pathology tests to confirm his diagnosis, Mark had to deal with the emotional toll of what the diagnosis could mean for himself and his two sons, Gus and Cam, who at the time were 4 and 6 years old. Immediately, Mark decided to take charge of his care. He researched and travelled the U.S. to get opinions from head and neck cancer experts on his treatment options.

The choices were initially overwhelming. However after careful deliberation with his local care team, Mark decided on proton therapy because it could target the cancer more precisely with the goal of protecting as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.

While Mark had to take some time off from his full time role as a pilot, much to his surprise, he was able to maintain many of his other usual activities during treatment. He felt fortunate to have the time and energy to care for his sons, go on unicycle rides with his friends, drive the school bus – and even give a few flight lessons.

Mark completed his proton therapy treatment for head and neck cancer in March 2020. To celebrate, he ended his treatment the same way he started it: with a unicycle ride. A friend and fellow cyclist joined him for his trip home. After a round-trip total of about 23 hours, 207 miles, and 33 twenty-minute proton therapy treatments later, Mark was welcomed home by his family and friends.

Today, Mark is cancer free and taking advantage of every minute with his children. When he’s not unicycling with them through Bellingham’s trails or spending quality-time at home, he continues to fly commercially, teach, coach and volunteer. He was also recently certified to referee professional hockey. Mark is optimistic about the future and excited to continue leading a fulfilling and healthy life. You may be able to catch him refereeing a professional hockey game in the future!

Benign Not cancer. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.

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