EDGEWOOD, Ky. -- Eric Miller wants to help improve the lives of others. One way he’s doing so is by living his.
Miller was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer in July 2012. Doctors told him the disease was inoperable and non-curable.
“When I first got the diagnosis I said a couple bad words,” said Miller, who lost his mother and father to cancer.
The prognosis was grim and the outcome seemingly decided, and Miller was forced to ask himself: What should I do next?
While some would have stewed in the dark reality of the situation, Miller decided to get up and start moving. He decided to make it his goal to maximize whatever amount of time he has left to improve the lives of others.
“Being mad and upset at the world wasn’t going to improve anything, so I decided I was going to accept my fate and start living life. I couldn’t do anything about it so I was going to focus on what I could affect,” he said.
Miller credits the love and support he received from his wife, family and health care professionals for being there for him during his battle. They were responsible for supplying him with the strength he needed, particularly early on in his battle, he said.
The endless support Miller received inspired him to want to give back. In January 2013, about six months after his diagnosis, he decided to volunteer at St. Elizabeth Hospice in Edgewood, Ky.
The center's goal is to "take care of patients and their families with the highest level of physical, emotional and spiritual care during life’s final journey," according to the St. Elizabeth website.
"At hospice, we know this is one of the most important times any family ever experiences, and we are committed to making it as comfortable and meaningful as possible."
That commitment is one Miller experienced firsthand while he was spending time with a friend who was living out his final days at the facility.
Through that experience Miller got a feel for what hospice care was all about. He said the health care professionals and volunteers at the facility realize the importance of making every day a good day for those in their care.
“They really understand that there’s a difference between living and living well,” Miller said.
He took part in several hours of training before dedicating two days a week to helping the staff with a variety of tasks around the facility. Miller said the eight or so hours he spends at the center in Northern Kentucky help him put things in perspective.
"When you give back you begin to realize how much you truly have been blessed," he said.
The irony of it all is Miller will at some point end up in the facility, being attended to by the same people he's assisting.
"The irony is not lost on me that at some point my own journey, this is where I’ll end up," he said.
Miller openly jokes about his motive being selfish, that he wants to ensure favorable treatment when he eventually becomes a full-time resident.
"You know, I'm just trying to sneak in here and get to know these guys and butter them up so they treat me good," he said jokingly.
But his decision to bring in doughnuts for the staff and willingness help out with tasks around the hospice center isn’t about currying favor with anyone at the facility. It’s about showing appreciation for the gift of each day.
“I’m just so appreciative to wake up every morning, to see the sun when I wake up. Each day is such a gift and I feel like giving back is the best way to say thank you,” he said.
'Walk With E' Across The Way of St. James
That appreciation for each day took on new meaning about 24 weeks into his treatment.
Around the time he decided to volunteer at the hospice center, Miller received positive news from doctors. His body had withstood the intense, aggressive treatment and it was determined that the size of the tumors in his pancreas, liver and abdominal lymph nodes had significantly reduced.
While not cured, he was given a gift, the gift of time. Doctors advised him to take the opportunity to accomplish some of his life goals.
Miller was contemplating what to do with the time he had left when he saw the movie, “The Way.” In the film, the characters embark on a journey to walk Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a Catholic pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
“Martin Sheen’s character starts off the movie somewhat angry at life, but over the course of the journey he starts to come to terms with things. That reminded me of myself. I think that message can resonate with anyone."
Emilio Estevez, who collaborated on the project with Sheen, his father, called the film "pro-people, pro-life, not anti-anything," according to an article in the "Independent Catholic News." The movie draws upon the spiritual journey of many and the multiple lives and effects that each person can have on another’s life.
That message was not lost on Miller, who decided he, too, would make the trek from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela, a trek of about 150 miles.
He leaves for Europe Thursday, and his walk of a lifetime will span 11 days, from Sept. 9 until Sept. 20.
With the help of travel companies, Miller was able to set up arrangements at hotels and hostels along the travel route. The company will deliver his luggage to each overnight rest spot so he won't won't have to carry all of his travel gear with him.
Miller said given his condition, he wouldn't have been able to endure the length of the trip without the assistance from the travel agency.
He will return to the Greater Cincinnati area Sept. 23 after spending several days taking in the natural splendors of the Atlantic Ocean. The trip was planned around necessary medical treatments, he said.
Miller originally planned to make the journey next spring but since he was feeling strong he decided to move up the timetable.
“Why wait? I was feeling good and everyone told me if I’m feeling good, I should just go ahead and do it now,” he said. “You’re not promised tomorrow so if you have a chance to do something today, you should do it.”
Miller is dedicating the walk to the volunteers, patients and staff at St. Elizabeth Hospice as a thank you for the inspiration and help they’ve given him. And although he’ll be making this personal pilgrimage by himself, he will not be there alone.
“I wouldn’t be doing any of this alone. Every day, every person in my life has been so wonderful. I just want to make sure that I’m living each day to the fullest for them,” he said.
Miller will chronicle his journey by way of a blog, which he’s calling "Walk with E." He’s using it as a way to communicate with his wife, family and friends, and also to tell his story to those battling similar life situations.
In addition to sharing his message of positivity, Miller hopes to broaden awareness of hospice care. He’s also hoping to raise $1 million in donations for the St. Elizabeth Hospice program, $5 at a time.
“Do good. Do good today. Why wait? You’re aren’t promised tomorrow but you can make a difference today,” he said.
9 On Your Side reporter Anthony Mirones contributed to this report.
You can donate to St. Elizabeth Hospice at the following link: https://giving.stelizabeth.com/sslpage.aspx?pid=298
You can follow Eric Miller on his journey at the following link: http://walkwithe.com
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