Senate President Mike Miller is being treated for prostate cancer. As the 76-year-old legislator made his diagnosis public on Thursday, he promised that he will continue overseeing the state Senate while undergoing chemotherapy during the General Assembly session that began on Wednesday.
Miller did not discuss his cancer directly during Thursday’s floor session. He tried to stay upbeat as his chief of staff passed around a written statement discussing the diagnosis.
“It affects every decision you’re making. So you look in the morning, you see if your hair is still there,” he said, laughing. “It’s thinning out!”
But he also became emotional at times, such as when he recognized several former legislators and former members of his staff who were watching from the gallery.
“I always had the best people,” he said while fighting back tears.
Miller’s announcement came as a surprise, said Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat.
On Wednesday, Klausmeier was named Senate President Pro Tem, the second-in-command who fills in when the Senate President is unavailable.
“It’s not the way I ever envisioned what I was going to be doing,” Klausmeier said. “It’s just a sad day for everybody.”
For Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, the news was a “gut punch.”
“Although we disagree sometimes, he’s still a good leader. In my role as minority leader, he’s always been fair and honest to me. I could not ask for a better person to work with,” Jennings said. “You don’t want anybody to go through this.”
Miller was elected to the House of Delegates from his Southern Maryland district in 1970 and to the Senate four years later. He became Senate President in 1987.
Jennings said Miller’s portrait appeared a few weeks ago in the Senate Office Building, prompting whispers about whether Miller plans to step down.
“As politicians, as legislators, you’re always looking — who’s going to be the next committee chair? Who’s going to be this? Who’s going to be that?” Jennings said. “I haven’t thought about it. I don’t want to think about it because I’m nervous who would come in behind him.”
In a written statement, Gov. Larry Hogan referenced his own experience with cancer. He was diagnosed with stage three Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015, shortly after taking office, and he was declared cancer free later that year.
“I know firsthand how hard it is to receive a diagnosis like this,” Hogan said. “But I also know firsthand that Mike Miller has earned his place in Maryland political history because he’s a fighter who always gives it everything he’s got, no matter how tough things get.”
Miller originally sought treatment for back pain following hip and knee surgery, he said in the written statement his aide passed out on the Senate floor. He was diagnosed in July with cancer and was prescribed medication. But in late December, his doctor told him that the cancer could no longer be managed solely with medication. He has already begun chemotherapy and will continue the treatment during the legislative session.
“If he got diagnosed in July and in December his cancer is already progressing, that sounds pretty aggressive,” said Nancy Dawson, director of urologic oncology at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.
She said Miller’s course of treatment indicates that his cancer has spread, probably to his bone.
Dawson also contrasted Miller’s prostate cancer with Hogan’s previous cancer diagnosis.
“[Hogan] had lymphoma, and that’s a different cancer. That’s a curable cancer,” Dawson said. “When prostate cancer spreads, it’s not curable. You know, it’s treatable. We can make him live longer. But it’s not curable.”
It’s also a common form of cancer. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, one in nine men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. Ninety-nine percent of patients live at least five years after their diagnosis.
Dawson encouraged everyone around Miller to be optimistic on his behalf.
“As an oncologist who treats this disease, I would be very disappointed if he was not able to continue in his job,” she said.
That’s what Miller plans to do.
“With your continued support and indulgence, I fully intend to fight this disease as so many have and to fully carry out my Senate responsibilities,” Miller wrote in his statement. “Now, let’s get to work.”