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Celebrating Her Inner Champion

Hannah Miller is a vivacious 9-year-old girl from Bismarck, ND. She loves My Little Ponies, her dog, Tundra, and spending time with her friends and family. These are just a few of the ways to describe Hannah.

And there’s just one more “minor” thing. She survived a very serious form of bone cancer with a strength and spirit unmatched by many adults.

It started with a bump on her right arm in the summer of 2013. Hannah was experiencing pain with the unexplained bump that just wouldn’t go away, and her parents knew it was time to seek medical help.

Unexpected turn of events

In July of 2013, she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (also called osteosarcoma) in her right arm. This form of bone cancer is the most common in children and is quite aggressive, so early treatment is important.

“We certainly didn’t anticipate the diagnosis,” says Hannah’s father, Phil. “But once it presented itself, it was an immediate and swift response, so we quickly understood just how serious this was for Hannah.”

That same month, Hannah and her family were in Rochester for a biopsy and port installation. Following those procedures, she immediately started chemotherapy to combat the disease as quickly as possible. In August, she transitioned to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo for treatments, providing more convenience.

And fortunately for the Miller family, Hannah was able to yet again move closer to home for part of her care. Sanford Children’s Hospital in Bismarck was able to provide Hannah with certain care and therapies she needed, with the added comfort of knowing her friends and family were nearby.

Support through every step

She required 18 rounds of chemotherapy, which was a long and sometimes grueling process, but the little girl learned ways to cope – both physically and emotionally.

“The chemotherapy made me feel so sick, but I learned if I ate after having the treatments, I felt so much better,” says Hannah. “I also had a lot of fun playing with a portable Wii at the hospital. Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers were my favorite games to play.”

Hannah’s mother, Donna, says those small distractions were a great tool for her daughter and other young patients to make the visits a little less daunting.

“The child life services in Fargo were an amazing benefit to Hannah,” Donna says. “They were able to help ease the stress, strain and anxiety that children can feel during difficult times.”

Hannah also reached out and connected with others patients to help keep their spirits up. During her stay at the hospital, she would use her creative side and make get well cards for each and every patient on the floor.

“This is just one way Hannah is so special,” Phil says. “We watched our little girl provide support and advice to kids who were earlier in the process than Hannah. She would give them tips on how to handle things better.”

Words of relief

At the end of October 2013 Hannah took a small break from her chemotherapy to have reconstructive surgery on her arm in Rochester. During the 11-hour procedure, Hannah’s cancer, and part of the bone in her arm, was removed and a bone graft was also performed. Surgeons used bone from her leg to regenerate the bone that was lost in her arm.

And then chemotherapy resumed until March of this year, followed by a second reconstructive surgery on her arm again in Rochester that lasted six hours. And on March 7 of this year, Hannah got the news she’d been waiting for – her cancer was gone.

“The doctors, nurses and staff at Sanford Children’s – both in Fargo and Bismarck – that offered support during her treatments are a phenomenal group of people,” says Phil. “The random acts of kindness that happened there every day were truly amazing to see.”

The next chapter

But Hannah’s journey isn’t done yet. As this year’s North Dakota’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion, she’s beginning a new chapter and sharing her story on a much larger scale.

She has already completed some public speaking events and is providing encouragement to other kids and families.

“It’s important to remember to ask for help if you need it,” Hannah says. “Don’t be afraid.”

Hannah’s father is proud of his daughter’s accomplishments and overcoming some significant obstacles. And most importantly, he embraces life in a much different way.

“Through Hannah’s entire journey, I began to witness a side to my daughter that I knew was always there, but she had to show it much earlier than I ever expected,” Phil says. “She is truly an amazing, inspiring girl and our family has been blessed with an even closer bond than before.”

Posted Date: May 2014