AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
After doctors said he would never run far distances again, West Virginia Air National Guard Chaplain (Maj.) Jack Miller, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain, completed a Veterans Day 5K run here, Nov. 11, 2018.
In 2012, Miller was diagnosed with adrenal cancer, a condition where abnormal cells form in or travel to the adrenal glands, and was told by medical specialists that he didn’t have long to live.
“It was bad and had spread from my kidney up to just below my heart,” said Miller. “I was 38 years old, about to turn 39, when the doctors told me I had cancer and had about six months. I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen to me, not with two little kids and as young as I was.”
As Miller mentally prepared himself to combat the cancer, other ailments manifested, making his fight even more challenging.
“As it turns out, my lung had a rare disease,” said Miller. “It was a fungus called histoplasmosis. Because I had this in my system when I got cancer, I couldn’t fight it. A lot of people have it in them, but their body fights it and it goes away. Mine never did.”
Through a series of surgeries, Miller lost half a lung, one adrenal gland, and his spleen. When all the surgeries were over, however, Miller’s chances for recovery became much more optimistic.
“When I woke up the [doctors and nurses] were smiling and I didn’t know what was going on,” said Miller. “I had people all over the world praying for me. I was happy to be alive.”
Despite being on the road to recovery, his overall recovery proved to be even more extensive. Because his adrenal gland was removed, the change in Miller’s hormones caused him to gain 80 pounds in only three months.
In order to stay in the ANG, Miller still had to keep up with expected military standards. While his first physical fitness assessment after recovery proved an incredible challenge, after several months, he was able to pass. Miller credited his unit’s support to his ability to continue serving.
“Through all of it, my unit was so protective and good to me,” said Miller. “I’d seen that in the West Virginia ANG over-and-over. I have never forgotten that. They protected me and did everything they possibly could to hang on to me.”
When Miller deployed to Al Udeid in 2018, he decided to take his miracle recovery to the next step, training on long-distance running, further defying doctor predictions.
“I decided that before I left, I would run a 5K,” said Miller. “It’s a struggle for me because I don’t have the lung capacity and my legs are still atrophied from laying around for two years … you never get everything back.”
After training for several months, Miller was able to finish a Veteran’s Day 5K, with an audience of runners clapping and cheering him on as he crossed the finish line.
“You figure out pretty quick how many people care about you,” said Miller. “It was amazing to see these people that I had known for a very short period of time being so supportive.”
Chaplain (Capt.) Christopher Crutchfield, 379th AEW chaplain witnessed Miller’s completion of the 5K and said that Miller’s determination is motivating.
“Chaplain Miller's performance in the 5K was the epitome of what it means to set a particular goal and being willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it,” said Crutchfield. “His performance inspired me to always see whatever I do all the way through and to never ever give up.”
With a 5K now complete, Miller strives to train further and participate in more organized runs.
“There’s all kinds of people all over the world that will never be all that they could have been in life because somebody has said ‘you can’t do that’ and they listened,” he said. “You should never be that person. The truth is, there are people on this base that I’ve met that have overcome things that I’d consider far worse than what I went through. Just because things are bad now doesn’t mean they’ll be bad forever. You have to find it within yourself to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get on with it.”