By DAVID ADAM
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The dizzy spells came and went, but Brett Miller never paid them much attention.
Why should he? Miller, 29, a teacher and athletic director at Liberty High School, is young and in great shape. Yeah, sure, he'd get a little light-headed on occasion when he worked out, but after a few moments, he would be fine.
"When he would get light-headed, he would just sit down and catch his breath, and he'd be OK," Miller's wife, Lydia, said. "I sent him to a doctor a year and a half ago, and what we got was, ‘Drink more water and watch your diet.' "
During a ceremony before a home basketball game on Feb. 11 against Quincy Notre Dame, Miller was talking on the public address system when he started slurring his words. It was difficult for the packed crowd to ignore, but about 30 seconds after the incident, Miller claimed he was OK.
"Thinking back now, he was going slower than usual," Lydia said.
Another incident during a class on Feb. 13 caught the attention of Liberty students, and an appointment with a doctor was scheduled nine days later. But on Feb. 17, during another home basketball game against Pittsfield, Miller again slurred his words while reading Senior Night introductions. The official scorer seated next to Miller took the microphone away, and Tara Powell and Penny Hyer, two nurses attending the game, told Miller it was time to go to Blessing Hospital in Quincy.
"I kept telling them, no, I'm not going," Miller said. "I was fine. The spell was done, but they made me go."
"We were sitting in the emergency room, just joking and laughing," Lydia said. "I would have never guessed in a million years what was coming."
An MRI revealed a "grapefruit-sized" tumor on the left side of Miller's brain.
"I knew I have a big head, but it's like, that's huge," he said. "How can that big of a tumor be in my head?"
Two days later, the Millers, their 14-month-old daughter Malena and several family members were on their way for a quiet 5-hour ride to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Doctors there determined the tumor was slow growing, non-aggressive and likely had been there for several years, possibly since birth.
Surgery on Feb. 24 removed 80 to 90 percent of the tumor. Doctors told him he will never get rid of all of the tumor, but six weeks of daily radiation treatments at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis starting in mid-May are designed to kill the cells and keep it from growing. Miller's quality of life is not expected to be affected.
Within hours of the surgery, Miller was walking laps around the hospital. He returned to Quincy on Feb. 27, and he says he has family members keeping an eye on him to prevent him from doing too much. He can't lift his daughter until April 6, which is equally difficult for Malena and her dad.
Miller returned to work half-days at Liberty on Monday, sporting a stocking cap to cover up the bandage wrapped around his head.
"I feel too good not to be working," he said. "If I'm home sitting on the couch, I get bored."
As rough as those moments were when she learned about her husband's tumor, Lydia says the news since has generally been good. So has her husband's outlook.
"He's probably the most optimistic person you'll ever find," she said. "He almost refuses to believe he won't be able to do everything he always could.
"(The visit to Blessing Hospital was) the hardest two hours of my life. Everything was scary until we got to Mayo, but everything since has been great news. It hasn't been as bad as I envisioned it."
Save for the stocking cap in the spring and the swelling on the side of his head, Miller looks as if nothing had happened.
"I'd have never guessed I'd have been in the hospital that long and feeling this good," he said. "I kept thinking, ‘I shouldn't be here. Hospitals are for sick people who are in a lot of pain. I feel too good.'
"It just seems so weird. I still can't believe it really happened."