Originally published in fall 2016 FAIS Magazine
Years attended FAIS: 1998-2007
High School: Sunset High School, International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program
College: Yale University
College Acceptances: Yale University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Vanderbilt
Employer: Medical research internship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
In what ways did your experience at FAIS prepare you for what you’re doing today?
In retrospect, I think the best decision my parents made for me was to enroll me in the French American International School. I give credit to FAIS for instilling a solid foundation in education, setting me up for a life of learning. The School’s culture was as demanding as it was encouraging. I remember in middle school after a lunch period my close friends and I—which was the whole class—acted as if we were still on recess. La maîtresse, who stood at the white board, wielding her ruler, expectantly awaited our attention. As soon as we acknowledged our inconsiderate behavior, the class fell silent. She paused. She demanded we exit the classroom, return to address her properly and try again. These lessons in respect cultivated the self-discipline and focus that would prepare me well for high school at Sunset and beyond. In class, reading and writing in French and Spanish was challenging, forcing me to think horizontally for alternate ways of expressing the same sentiment when I would forget important vocabulary. Moreover, the foreign exchange trips, the diversity of my class and faculty, and a multicultural curriculum all garnered a cultural competency important for living a full life, but also for a career in the medical profession.
How many languages do you speak, and how have you put them to use?
I speak three languages: French, Spanish, and English. I was well prepared to continue language classes at Sunset in fulfillment of the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program requirements. I was that freshman in a Spanish class of upperclassmen—I’m sure other FAIS alumni know the feeling. I exhausted the Spanish courses available before senior year and took the highest French course—IB French. At Yale, I took an upper-level French seminar and, even then, was among upperclassmen. While learning foreign languages is one of the best exercises for the brain, I find it most meaningful when used to connect with others who cannot speak English. Two years ago, I volunteered at a free clinic for the underserved and was able to translate in Spanish for patients, which really helped facilitate the patient-physician bond.
I understand your father had cancer: How old old were you when he was diagnosed? And when he passed away?
Yes, my dad, Doug Miller, had a rare form of pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed my sophomore summer of high school in 2009. After a courageous fight, he passed away in March of 2012 during my first spring semester at Yale.
How much has that experience influenced your educational direction and your decision to pursue cancer research?
When my dad sat me down to reveal his diagnosis, he told me the last thing he wanted was for this news to consume me and to interfere with my education. I listened. He was less worried about himself and cared most about the impact this would have on his family in his wake. My dad’s attitude at the end of his life is what gave me my strength; I learned that our ultimate freedom is our ability to control our responses—our temperament—and thus our decisions. In turn, the world responds to you. I want to convey to patients that through support, goal-oriented planning, and (most importantly) the right attitude, anyone can overcome great adversity. I chose to study cancer because I have seen first-hand that treatment options are inadequate (especially for patients with rare cancers like my father’s), and I have also seen that cancer biology is booming right now, which gives me hope and resolve.
What do you envision for the next five years of your life, career-wise? The next ten years?
I am applying to medical schools to be matriculated in the Fall of 2017. During my application year, I will be living in Los Angeles doing clinical research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center under the mentorship of a liver and pancreas surgeon. My focus is the management of the same rare form of pancreatic cancer that my father had. I will be reviewing the medical literature and publishing papers based on patient outcome data in hopes of informing surgical decision making and expanding the patient population eligible for curative surgery. My long-term planning has me working at a hospital after completing a residency program in surgical oncology or perhaps something completely unrelated to cancer. I plan to enter medical school with an open-mind.
Is there anything else about your FAIS experience that you would like to share?
Aside from the multicultural focus, what separates FAIS from other schools is the level of engagement the teachers brought to the School each and every day. Across the board, FAIS teachers saw their role as being more than just an instructor. I remember feeling secure being taken care of by teachers and amazing aides who genuinely cared about our well-being in and out of the classroom. Small class sizes allowed the class to form close relationships with our teachers. That type of tight-knit, supportive environment is key to any successful education. I have maintained friendships formed at FAIS and we often reflect on the shared memories we hold so dear.
What do you think your father would think today, if he saw what you were doing and where you are headed?
I know that he would be proud, and I think he would be able to rest a little easier knowing I had found a calling in medicine. He would be sure to remind me to leave the hospital from time to time to embrace the world’s flowers and to plant some bulbs for the future.