A Wildcat, 'Team Skyler' showing a lot of fight
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Tuesday, while many of us fought the snow, Skyler Miller sat in his room and fought something more serious.
Something much more serious.
To be specific, he sat in his room, not at his Logan home, but at the Ronald McDonald House in Huntington.
See, Miller is 15. He's been a promising athlete at Logan High. Yet he's not battling an opponent on the field or one on a court. He's battling leukemia. In fact, he's battling AML, acute myeloid leukemia.
It's his second go-round with the disease. At 14, he had an ATV accident. When the doctors ran blood work at the time, they found abnormalities. They found AML.
To say he's had a rough go ever since would be an understatement. Last year, a special Easter service was held for him in the waiting area of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Yet he fought. And he fought.
"He had eight weeks of high-dose chemotherapy," said Logan basketball coach Mark Hatcher. "He played basketball, but his main sports were football and track. He runs a 4.5 [-second 40-yard dash]. Very fast. Was 170 pounds and could run all day long.
"When he played basketball, he was a defensive specialist. He could play man-to-man all game long."
After the eight weeks of treatment and a loss of 50 pounds, Hatcher watched Miller's battle to return.
"He kept getting stronger," Hatcher said. "Most of his weight and muscle returned. He had trouble with endurance, but most of his weight and muscle returned.
"Then, at the beginning of January, his blood work came back. It wasn't good."
Unfortunately, the leukemia is back in full force. It was a blow because it seemed Miller's hard work had paid off. His brother Zak, a senior returning starter for Hatcher, had convinced Skyler to play basketball again.
Miller played some junior varsity and varsity hoops. Then came the news.
"When we found out, we started him against Nitro," Hatcher said. "He was able to start with his brother. His shoes were orange, the color of leukemia awareness."
Skyler Miller, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard, scored a few buckets, the last with 2:30 remaining to give Logan a 65-25 lead in an eventual 69-25 victory. When Miller was replaced, he received a standing ovation. Even Nitro's players, facing such a deficit, stood and clapped.
Now, though, Skyler is sidelined. He's in that Ronald McDonald House. He's receiving chemotherapy treatments again. He's awaiting a bone marrow transplant, which will take place in Columbus, Ohio.
He is, however, doing so with much love and support. When Logan played Point Pleasant in the King Coal Classic, money was raised and a check for $1,000 was presented to him. There has been a concert held on his behalf.
"All our kids," Hatcher said, "wear at least one orange shoestring. They call it 'Team Skyler.' "
"It means a lot," Skyler Miller said on Tuesday. "At the [Nitro] game the support really showed up. When I ran out of the locker room everyone cheered. It showed how much I'm supported. It was awesome. It helps a lot."
Miller said tests showed his mother, Kristi, is not a bone marrow match. The family is still awaiting test results on Zak, who could be a donor. If that's not a match, Miller said the Columbus hospital assured him the donor bank there has him covered.
Hatcher said Miller's attitude has been terrific through the entire process.
"He's just a great kid," said the coach. "He's a Christian kid who goes to church religiously, and did so even before all this happened. He's a good student and a good artist.
"In the hospital he even developed relationships with others, mostly younger, in the same situation. He had like 30 names of Logan-area people [with leukemia] on his shoes."
Hatcher, by the way, has had his own struggles. He's facing charges after a fight broke out between his team and Chapmanville. The coach was diagnosed with kidney cancer two years ago. Also, Hatcher's brother, Chase, went through two bouts of cancer.
The coach's heart, though, is with Miller.
"It's tough," said the coach. "Skyler and I had a pretty good relationship before he was diagnosed. Now, we have a tight relationship. I could relate because of me and my brother."
The coach and the town of Logan have been on Team Skyler. Now, hopefully, the state will join in as well.
"He's doing really well," Kristi Miller said.
"There are still no side effects [to the latest round of chemotherapy]," Skyler said. "I've been in the hospital a week and a half and still no side effects."
He knows, though, the fight isn't over. Wearing a tattoo that says "God's Warrior," Skyler said there's yet another round of chemo and then the transplant.
"I just need to get this over with," he said. "Then hopefully we'll knock it out."
It certainly would be appropriate if Miller knocked leukemia out.
Because this kid from Logan sure is a fighter.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.