Submitted photo##Cassylou Miller of Yamhill watches her son, Brody, play with an electronic device while in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Brody, 5, is being treated for leukemia.
Submitted photo##Cassylou Miller of Yamhill watches her son, Brody, play with an electronic device while in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Brody, 5, is being treated for leukemia.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Brody's battle

Although the 5-year-old Yamhill boy typically found change challenging, he was doing well. He liked teacher Tina Hoyt, who had once taught his mom, Cassylou, in middle school. When his dad, A.J. Miller, came to pick him up at the end of the day, he usually had a big smile on his face.

A few weeks into the school year, Brody contracted a cold. Lots of his classmates were sniffling, too, so his parents didn’t think much of it.

But Brody’s illness persisted. He wasn’t his usual energetic self.

A cold turned into the flu, and then the lymph glands on his neck began to swell. He threw up one day, but seemed fine the next, demanding his regular three bedtime stories. The following day, he threw up again.

His parents had him scheduled for tests on Monday, Nov. 9. But over the weekend, they noticed bruises developing on his shins and arms. Their doctor had a worried look on her face when they arrived for a blood draw.

They returned home to await the results of the tests.

A.J., a farrier who volunteers as a reserve officer with the Yamhill Police Department, was doing paperwork when the doctor called that evening.He heard his wife talking to the doctor, seemingly calm.

But she was crying when she came back into the room. “Leukemia,” she mouthed.

And in a moment, their lives had been turned upside down.

The Miller family rushed to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, where Brody was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. He was diagnosed with a particularly agressive and rapidly moving form of the bone marrow disease.

Indicators in his blood were already on the upper end of the spectrum. Doctors said he wouldn’t have lasted much longer without treatment.

They also said the Millers had done everything right by seeking treatment as soon as the disease became apparent. 

“That first night in the hospital, we didn’t sleep at all,” A.J. said.

But Brody pulled through. “He’s an amazingly strong little monkey,” his dad said affectionately.

Doctors started him on a course of twice-daily steroids, twice-weekly chemotherapy and other medications. And his parents started sleeping a little, in shifts, so that one of them would always be at their son’s side.

One night, on A.J.’s watch, Brody’s condition began going downhill. His respiration weakened, his oxygen levels fell and his temperature spiked to 104.

“Then two hours later, his fever broke and he wanted to watch TV at 4 in the morning,” his dad said, grateful to hear his son request yet another screening of “Frozen.”

By Day 4, Brody was working with an occupational therapist to build his strength. His parents walked him around the hospital with his IV in tow. He playfully pointed his Nerf shooter at the medical personnel.

“He has a great attitude,” his dad said. “He’s a little fighter.”

The Millers returned to Yamhill after 10 days at Doernbecher, seven of them with Brody in the ICU. A week later, they made the harrowing trip to the Portland hospital again after Brody came down with a bacterial infection. He had to stay in over Thanksgiving.

Brody is eating again now, after having dropped 32 pounds. But he has little stamina.

He’s eager to get out of the house. Even a quick trip to T&E tires him out, though.

Brody’s immune system is compromised, so he has to avoid contact with anyone who’s ill. He also can make himself sick, as he’s not strong enough to resist the bacteria everyone carries in their body normally.

His strawberry blond hair is starting to fall out. He’s swollen from the steroids injected twice daily.

The steroids also have caused him to have emotional ups and downs. One moment he’s the sweet boy his parents know, the next he may become angry and act out.

They treasure the good moments, such as one they experienced a couple days ago.

“I love you, Buddy,” A.J. told his son at bedtime. Brody rolled over, and sleepily replied, “I love you too, my precious daddy.”

The next day, his mother said, Brody snuggled in her arms and asked for “a true love kiss.”

Brody doesn’t know how ill he really is, but he understands he needs to take lots of medicine — seven daily drugs, each with a different schedule, some every four hours and others every 12, plus anti-nausea medication and three others administered on an as-needed basis. 

His parents have told him the medicine “kills the sicky bugs.” 

Still, sometimes he balks at taking them. That’s emotionally difficult for his parents, who hate to have to force it on them.

One night, Brody flatly refused his medication and fought them when they tried to make him take it. “That was my breaking point,” Cassylou said.

Yet the next day, she said, he was not only compliant, but eager to take his meds.

Brody has had three spinal injections as well. And he’s scheduled for surgery on Dec. 10. Doctors plan to take a bone marrow sample to see how well he’s responding.

The Millers are happy with the staff at Doernbecher, whom they called “professional and caring.” They’re pleased, too, that the doctors are willing to give them straightforward information

“We want to know what’s going on, get it all out on the table,” A.J. said. “People ask us how we do it. We don’t have a choice. It’s like, well, it’s here; let’s beat it.” 

At the same time, Cassylou said, they are united in protecting their son from emotional trauma. “A.J.’s rule is that no one is allowed in Brody’s room who’s not positive,” she said.

Before Brody was diagnosed with leukemia, Cassylou, a CNA, had been a part-time caregiver. She and her mother, Jan Derosset, also had been running a housekeeping business in the Yamhill-Carlton area for 13 years. Now she’s spending all her time caring for and advocating for her son. 

A.J. is able to continue is horse-shoeing business part time, although he spends a lot of time going to doctors’ offices and the Portland hospital.

Cassylou’s mother and stepfather, Fred, are a big help, she said. Her stepfather, who lost his job when the paper mill in Newberg shut down, is looking after the family’s horses and dogs.

Cassylou, A.J. and Brody have temporarily moved in with her parents, who live close by. Their own house has a mold problem, which Brody’s immune system can’t tolerate.

Her parents, members of the Yamhill Christian Church, and the rest of the community have all been extremely supportive, the Millers said.

So have A.J.’s fellow officers at Yamhill PD, and their families.

Chief Greg Graven and his wife, Georgia, were Brody’s first visitors in the hospital. Then the whole department arrived to cheer the boy up.

“The support has been amazing,” Cassylou said. “It’s been more than you could ever imagine.”

Many people — from local residents to strangers in other countries — have learned of the little boy’s situation through his Facebook page, Brody’s Battle.

Many are now sporting rubber bracelets in orange, the official color of his fight against leukemia. The bracelets say, “No one fights alone.”

Everyone is praying for Brody. That’s making a huge difference in their lives, the Millers said.

Because of those prayers, they said, Brody was able to leave the hospital more quickly than expected. Because of prayer, he has otherwise exceeded doctors’ estimates.

He’s strong, they said. Prayer is stronger.

“There’s gotta be something in prayer,” A.J. said. “Never underestimate the power of prayer.”