For more than a decade, they have relied on those prayers, as well as his impressive oncology skills and special brand of patient-centered care, to help them tackle one of life's toughest health battles.
Now, after nearly 40 years of improving patients’ lives, Dr. Miller is retiring in September. But the prayers, he promises, will continue. And the physicians and staff remaining at the cancer center, which is part of the Wellmont Cancer Institute, are ready and able to pick up the torch.
Naturally, it is hard for Dr. Miller to say goodbye.
“Seeing people alive without cancer 10 years later and knowing I had a part in that has been very rewarding,” said Dr. Miller, who practices with Wellmont Medical Associates Oncology & Hematology. “It’s going to be difficult to let that go. But knowing I'm leaving the center in good hands and that the work will continue makes this goodbye easier.”
He is immensely thankful for the role he was able to play in the development of a center dedicated to bringing progressive cancer care to Southwest Virginia.
“This center, I believe, has made an enormous difference in the lives of those who live in and around Southwest Virginia,” said Dr. Miller, who came on board in 2000 as the center's medical director and first full-time medical oncologist and hematologist. “I believe people are alive today because of the work we do here.”
The son and grandson of ministers, Dr. Miller was no stranger to country living. Having been raised in rural Pennsylvania, he not only learned the value of prayer but also the importance of service.
“At an early age, I made a personal commitment to Christ as my Savior and realized, from my father's and grandfather's examples, that this included serving others,” Miller said.
He also witnessed the ongoing work of his uncle, a Mayo Clinic-trained pediatrician, and heard stories of service from visiting missionary doctors who would stay at the parsonage.
“I wondered if God had called me to be a physician or a minister,” Dr. Miller recalled. “When I got to college, I really didn't know which calling to take. Then I realized that if I became a physician, I could still minister.”
During his fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., Dr. Miller targeted the specialty of medical oncology. It was, he said, the perfect fit, full of exciting new discoveries in treatment and a tremendous opportunity to serve.
Still, it was not until a young girl battling acute leukemia at the National Cancer Institute asked him about prayer that he realized God wanted prayer to be part of his daily clinical care.
“I realized I hadn't been praying for my patients, and I wanted to,” Dr. Miller said. “That moment was pivotal and resulted in my offering to pray with and/or for my patients at the time of each visit from that point forward.”
When Dr. Miller accepted a position in 2000 at the cancer center – at that time a small, brick building in downtown Norton – he brought those prayers with him.
“From the beginning, I think Dr. Miller's commitment to his patients is what made him so special to everyone,” said Karla Lane, the cancer center’s director. “He has always treated the patient holistically, helping meet their spiritual as well as physical needs. The community trusts him, and he epitomizes the healing environment that is always present in our center.”
Patients have also grown to see his name, as well as the cancer center, as synonymous with the best care.
Clinical trials at the center, led by Dr. Miller, reinforced that high-quality care was available in a region far from large, metropolitan hospitals and big city lights. He also enjoyed teaching opportunities that allowed him to share his training, leading to more expert physicians becoming available and aware of how to meet cancer patients' needs.
Meanwhile, Dr. Miller saw that small brick building grow into an 11,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that delivers superior cancer treatment options in a convenient location.
He also observed the smaller staff blossom to now include such dedicated caregivers as Dr. Daryl Pierce and Dr. Hayan Moualla, who are medical oncologists and hematologists; Dr. Byron May and Dr. Scott Coen, who are radiation oncologists; and oncology nurse practitioner Kelley Mayden. All five physicians are medical doctors, while Mayden has special training in oncology. Working together, these medical experts will continue the tradition of outstanding care close to home for Southwest Virginia residents.
“I have been fortunate to have a wonderful opportunity to play an important part in developing this outpatient cancer program here at the Southwest Virginia Cancer Center,” Dr. Miller said. “This is a magnificent center, and it's here to stay.”