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A Fortunate Accident

Read Time: 4 minutes

Bruce and Jeanie Miller
Bruce and Jeanie Miller

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when Bruce Miller hopped on his motorcycle. 

“I was going to my daughter’s house to return my grandson’s glasses,” Bruce says. “My wife Jeanie had been reminding me to wear my helmet and I’m glad she did that.”

On the way to make his delivery, Bruce slammed on his brakes as a pickup truck pulled out in front of him.

“I don’t remember much more after that.”

Bruce had to have a steel rod inserted in his arm, pins in his hand and wrist, and a steel brace in his pelvis. On top of all that, he suffered severe cognitive damage that took almost a year to recover from.

Bruce Miller's motorcycle after his accident

“For three weeks, Bruce really didn’t know where he was. Since he worked with computers, he would say ‘I have a bug in me,’” Jeanie recalls. “When they were giving me the damage report, the doctor said ‘oh, by the way, do you know about his tumor?’ His abdomen was looking extended and he wasn’t eating much dinner. I thought maybe he was sneaking in big lunches.”

Christopher Dechet, MD, FACS, had found a tumor the size of a football on Bruce’s kidney.

“I was shocked when he told me,” Bruce says. “The accident was a blessing in disguise. No one had said anything about a tumor prior to then, not even during my routine checkups. Dr. Dechet saved my life.”

“Bruce thought Dr. Dechet wasn’t old enough at first glance,” Jeanie says. “So, he said he needed a second opinion.”

Dr. Dechet pointed to the door. Ten doctors were huddled outside ready to provide their opinions. “This man looked to me like he was too young to be a doctor! But we are so grateful that he came into our lives at that time,” Bruce says.

Dr. Dechet got Bruce an appointment with Wolfram Samlowski, MD, FACPCI, at Huntsman Cancer Institute. What followed was a diagnosis of metastatic papillary renal cell carcinoma. The cancer had spread to both lungs.

“The accident was a blessing in disguise. No one had said anything about a tumor prior to then, not even during my routine checkups. Dr. Dechet saved my life.”

“There were around 20 small tumors, with some of the larger ones being about three centimeters,” Bruce adds. “In 2003, there weren’t many treatment options.”

Dr. Samlowski recommended Interleukin-2 but Bruce admitted to still being in shock when he turned down the treatment. He wound up taking Tarceva for a year, but it didn’t have the desired impact. At that point, Dr. Samlowski told Bruce he had about 9-12 months to live. After Dr. Samlowski left Huntsman Cancer Institute in 2007, Neeraj Agarwal, MD, FASCO and his team took over Bruce’s care.

“I saw myself just shriveling up and dying in a hospital room,” Bruce says. “Then this brand-new drug named Sutent came along. It was just out of clinical trials back then. I tried it and the tumor growth stopped. It was like pulling a rabbit out of the hat.”

Sutent stopped working for Bruce near the end of 2017, which prompted a switch to Cabometyx. 

“Bruce has always been on the cutting edge of treatment,” Dr. Agarwal says. “All of the drugs he has received have either been part of a clinical trial at Huntsman Cancer Institute or recently approved by the FDA.”

“Dr. Agarwal and his team, especially the nurse practitioner, Julia Batten, APRN, have been so accommodating and always explain everything really well,” Bruce says. “Dr. Agarwal and Julia have been working with me for over 15 years now. They have truly extended my life.”

During Christmas 2022, the Cabometyx treatment stopped working. Dr. Agarwal told Bruce about some new immunotherapy treatment options. With Easter around the corner, they are hoping for another rabbit to be pulled out of the hat during the next round of CT scans.

“Bruce has done extremely well,” adds Dr. Agarwal. “In 2006, the prognosis was a year to live. It is an extraordinary achievement for him and our team. Like many patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute, Bruce is a hard-working family person who came in hoping to live longer and improve his quality of life.”

Bruce and Jeanie Miller in Hawaii

“Dr. Agarwal gave me a friendly lecture because he thought I was giving up,” Bruce says. “He told me to focus on quality of life and he’ll focus on quantity of life. So now, I try to stay positive and accept what I have.”

Jeanie says, “I’m still learning. Bruce had been my protector but things changed 20 years ago. Our three grandkids are grown and our youngest granddaughter is now in college. People who have helped us along the way are no longer here. We must live for each moment.”

For now, that’s what Bruce and Jeanie are doing. They recently took a trip to Hawaii to see family and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in November.

“The support from Dr. Agarwal and his team is everything,” Bruce adds. “I don’t know how to put it into words. I wouldn’t have made it this far without them. I’m ready for whatever lies ahead.”

Cancer touches all of us.