Sarah Miller has only a child’s memories of her mother, who died when she was just 3 years old.
“I don’t remember a lot about her, mostly a lot of the little things from when she was sick,” the Polytech High School senior said. “My family says she was one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. She’d do anything to help anyone.”
But Laura Miller’s spirit lives on within her now-grown daughter: on March 4, Sarah is sponsoring a fundraising walk in her mother’s name, intended to help raise awareness of chronic myelogenous leukemia, the disease that took her life.
CML is an uncommon, slowly progressing type of blood cell cancer that begins in the bone marrow. The marrow makes an excessive number of abnormal white blood cells, which crowd out infection-fighting healthy white cells as well as red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.
It occurs mostly in the middle-aged, but struck Laura Miller when she was in her late 20s.
Money raised through the 5K walk will be donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is supporting several Delaware students in fundraising projects.
The society’s mission is to find a cure for cancers including leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma and to improve patients’ quality of life, LLS campaign director Clair Harmer said.
“We fund research nationally and we also have programs to help people afford medications and travel assistance to help patients afford the costs associated with treatments,” she said.
A $2,500 scholarship will be awarded to the student who raises the most for cancer research.
A woman of faith
Despite it being more than 13 years since her passing, Sarah remains close to Laura’s family.
“They tell me all the time I’m the spitting image of my mother, from what I look like to how I act,” she said. “They said that when she was younger she was kind of like a little rebel. She did what she wanted, and I’m kind of like that, a little bit.”
Growing up in Joppatowne, Maryland, Laura lived just up the street from Sarah’s father, Steve. The pair married in Dover, and Sarah was born in October 1999.
A devout Christian, Laura owned her own business, The Gospel Shoppe, in Dover and regularly attended the First Southern Baptist Church in Dover.
“I think her faith gave her something to hold on to, and she knew that no matter what, she’d be in a better place,” Sarah said.
Sarah was just a toddler when her mother became ill.
“I remember a lot of little things when she was sick,” Sarah recalled. “I remember every single day she was home. I’d go and lay in bed with her and rub her back, even when she was throwing up. I just had to be in the same room with her, no matter what.”
Laura was treated with chemotherapy and received a bone marrow transplant, but that effort failed when her body rejected her medication.
She weakened steadily and died Jan. 27, 2003, just three months after Sarah’s third birthday.
Sarah’s fundraising effort is part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Student of the Year leadership development and philanthropy program.
The six-week program teaches leadership, project management, public speaking and community involvement, Harmer said.
“We’re in our third year, and it’s a wonderful program,” she said. “Students who go through it grow and learn how meaningful it is to give back to the community.”
Sarah sees the competition and her 5K memorial walk as a way of continuing her own growth to adulthood and dealing with her loss.
“I know how much my family was affected, so anything I can do to help other families get through such a hard thing, I kind of think I’m meant to do it,” she said.
“It’s something I feel really strongly about.”