Gabriella Miller: Her life and legacy
WASHINGTON (WJLA) - One year ago this week, 10-year-old Gabriella Miller was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. In the time she had left, the little girl from Leesburg did everything she could to raise awareness for more childhood cancer research funding.
Gabriella recently lost her battle with cancer, but she left an indelible mark on this world.
For days, volunteers worked around the clock at organizer Chris Croll’s home in Leesburg. They dropped walnuts into vases and then filled them with paper tissue flowers.
Bright colors aren't normally associated with heartbreak, but Gabriella was hardly a normal 10 year old.
“Gabriella loves purple and pink and turquoise. She didn’t like it when people wore dark colors around her,” Croll says. "She accomplished more in 11 months than most of us would accomplish in a lifetime."
The bouquets were created to serve as an enduring legacy to a remarkable life.
Following her diagnosis last November, Gabriella became the unofficial national spokesperson for childhood cancer awareness.
“We used to kid that we were going to have to get a booking agent for her, she was so in demand,” says her father, Mark Miller. "Everyone wanted to hear from her.”
Gabriella worked tirelessly, despite arduous chemotherapy and radiation treatments, to raise money for childhood cancer research through her foundation, Smashing Walnuts. Her tumor was the size of a walnut, so to symbolically destroy the disease, she smashed away whenever she could with anyone who would join her.
Her mission was to inspire people to act because only four-percent of all federal cancer research funds go to pediatric forms of cancer.
For the past year, WJLA chronicled the challenges and triumphs of the 5th grader who galvanized a movement of giving. Gabriella raised $250,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, was named Loudoun County’s Volunteer of the Year, co-authored a book, and even earned an honorary college degree.
“The things that she did and accomplished going through that period, yeah she’s a hero,” her father says.
Whether visiting an oncology unit or giving a motivational speech, Gabriella convinced anyone who would listen that more should be done so kids like her won’t have to face this crushing possibility.
In what would be her last sit-down interview, Gabriella didn’t hold back her frustrations last month with Truth 365, a documentary that gives a voice to children with cancer.
"I just have to say it. Talk is bull****"," Gabriella said, giggling in the documentary. "We need actions."
"All of a sudden the tumor grew back," says Ellyn Miller, Gabriella's mother. "And not only did it grow back but it metastasized."
The tumor she so bravely battled came back with unforgiving speed. She slipped away on Oct. 26 surrounded by family and close friends.
“Seven kids a day in the United States alone die from cancer, and I hate it more than anything that my child is one of those statistics. That is not OK,” says Ellyn.
The Millers want the world to see the horrifying and sobering reality of their experience.
“Let people see that it’s not OK that your 6-year-old son is carrying the casket of your 10-year-old daughter because that is what happens in childhood cancer,” Ellyn says.
When Gabriella’s circle of social media friends from across the country heard she was nearing the end of her fight, a request was put out for people to mail in and drop off colorful arrangements to brighten the family’s darkest hour. Nearly 10,000 flowers arrived in only a few days.
For the Millers, the radiant signs of support defined their daughter’s spirit.
“She said she wanted to be an eagle so she could soar above the clouds, and that’s where she is now, soaring high above,” Mark says.
At her memorial service, hundreds of those flower-filled vases lined the hallway leading to the gym that was packed with thousands of people.
Those flowers are now heading to hospitals, oncology offices, and research wings so children diagnosed with cancer can see a sliver of hope where there might nowt be any, and maybe inspire a cure for a wretched disease that robs children of their dreams.
“If I go, if I lose my battle, then I want other people to carry on with the war. They are going to win this war. But you know, I’ll be with my friends and I’ll be in a good place and it won’t be all that bad,” Gabriella said in her last interview.
Gabriella continues to inspire change. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office has announced that the name of a bill allocating an additional $126 million for pediatric disease research has been renamed “The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” in her honor.