Tag Archives: derek-miller

Derek Miller, Cancer and The End Game

This is a guest post written by my Community Manager Kat. Derek was a friend of mine for about six years, and his loss leaves a large hole in my heart and within the Gnomedex community.

On the morning of May 4th, 2011, I read fourteen words that stopped me in my tracks. Though I had been expecting them for weeks, I still felt this huge surge of denial. My friend of more than four years, Derek Miller, is now gone from this world. He wrote what was to be his final blog post not long before he died, and a family friend published it the morning after he left us. It was several hours before I could bring myself to read beyond those fourteen words.

“Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog.”

It’s not as though I’m new to this whole dying thing. Being forty years old, I have dealt with a lot of death in my lifetime: grandparents, two best friends, various relatives – and my hero… my big brother Jimmy. Though we shared a love of music, blogging and all things geeky, it was the story of my brother’s cancer – and death at the age of 36 – which brought Derek and I closer together as friends. When Derek announced late last fall that he had decided to give up treatment and live out the rest of his life HIS way, the connection began. I sent an email to him, telling him how my brother made the same decision… how strong he was, how he fought hard for so many years. Derek’s reply – he titled it “The End Game” – was one I will treasure forever. He later gave me permission to share this with all of you when the time came. Sadly, the time is now.

We always use the words fight and battle in conjunction with cancer. That’s what it seems like, you know? It’s not something we chose, and it’s so difficult to go through. It takes a horrible toll on the patient and their families – both mental and physical. It’s as though you’re fighting in a war… one you pray to win. In this reply, though, Derek taught me that having cancer isn’t a battle at all.

“I would change one word now, after four years: “fight.” I’ve used that word a lot too, but I’ve recently begun to change my tune. Why must it be a fight, a war or a battle? Those are stressful, soul-draining things, with images of violence and winners and losers.

I think less personally about my cancer than I used to. I fought it hard, I used to tell it to fuck off, I used to imagine the chemo snuffing it out like carpet bombing over Cambodia. More recently I’ve thought, no, cancer has no mind, no evil intent, no demon driving it.

I hate that it will kill me, and what that will do to my family. It’s sad and unfair. But there’s no one and nothing to blame. It’s a pure example of “shit happens.” Like your brother, my time has come to win the battle by not fighting anymore, by pushing back against the desire to treat the end of my life as a war and myself as a soldier. The human mind and heart deserve better than war, whether in Afghanistan or in the brain of a cancer patient.”

During the four years he had cancer, Derek blogged every step of his journey. His honesty and bluntness about what he was going through won the hearts of thousands from all over the world. Even a week later, people are mourning his loss on their social networks and blog pages. His story – and that of his final blog post – has been featured on websites such as CNN. Derek touched so many with his strength, his humor and his love of life.

Derek Miller touched me with his simple acceptance of what was to be. He helped me finally let go of the anger I still harbored towards my brother for giving up his treatments and leaving us… ten years ago. I hadn’t even realized it was still buried inside of me until Derek and I began talking. Of course it hurts to not have my big brother here, but it’s much easier to deal with now. I understand exactly where Jimmy was coming from… why he made the choices he did. I owe that understanding to Derek.

The penmachine was so full of life… passion… intelligence… love of friends and family… humor… wisdom. I have shed more than a few tears since learning of his passing. But I am doing my best not to break the promise I made to him a few months ago. It is a one that I hope each of you will vow to keep, as well.

Derek asked me not to mourn his death, but to use it as an example to others. He hoped that I could take what I learned from our friendship and use it to help people in similar situations. Cancer is evil, of that there is no doubt. It rips apart our lives and the world as we know it. But it doesn’t have to be a “fight.” It’s not a war. It’s an illness that we do our best to overcome. When there is no hope of surviving it, the way we choose to deal with the emotions, decisions and the end of our life is what people will remember.

Derek Miller will forever be remembered for the courage, strength, humor and dignity he carried with him until after he was gone. I only hope my loved ones can say the same about me one day, no matter what takes me from this Earth.

Goodbye, my friend. Thank you – for everything. To Airdrie, Marina and Lauren: please know that you have the love, prayers and thoughts of thousands of people with you. I hope that the strength we share with you will somehow be able to make its way into your hearts, bringing some measure of comfort and peace.

Why Should You Grow Up?

“I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys “R” Us kid…” How many times have you sung this little ditty in response to someone mistaking you for an adult? I may be a tad closer to forty than thirty now, but I’ve often said that I refuse to grow up. I’ve come to learn this week, though, that there is a difference between growing up and allowing yourself to embrace your inner child as a responsible adult. There’s something to be said for figuring out what it is you want to do with this life, and then actually going out and doing it.

On Wednesday morning, I learned of the death of long-time friend Derek Miller. Derek had been battling cancer for several years, and decided with his wife and physician back in November to suspend treatment. He wanted to live the rest of his life on his own terms – in his own way. I admire him for that. I’m not sure I would have the courage to do the same thing.

My initial reaction to the news of his death was sadness, much like the rest of our community. I also became angry, railing at Fate or God or whoever decided it was “time” to take such a young and GOOD person from this Earth – from his family and friends. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, though, a different thought took shape. I began to ask myself what it is I can learn from Derek’s life and his too-soon death. After all, aren’t we supposed to learn and grow from every experience we go through?

It’s time to grow up. Stop wasting your time drifting through life. I’m not only talking about your education and career. Figure out the things that are truly important to you. Decide what you want to do with your life and freaking do it already. Who cares if you fail? At least get your butt out there and try. Forget waiting for someday to get here so you can learn to para-sail or program or whatever else it is you keep putting off. Someday isn’t ever coming, my friends.

Don’t waste your life. Go after your dreams, even if they seem impossible. Reach for the stars, push yourself beyond the limits you think you have and just generally light a fire under your ass. Work hard, play hard and let that inner child have fun along the way.

Live your life.

Top Ten Gnomedex Memories

We’re entering the home stretch, preparing to launch Gnomedex 10 here in Seattle. Wow – ten years of Gnomedex. It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this for so long! Planning a conference of this magnitude is no easy feat and this year has been no exception to that rule. However, I have a fantastic team of volunteers without whom this tenth year would not be happening. They’ve all worked incredibly hard to help pull together what promises to be an excellent weekend – and I guarantee you will regret it if you miss out.

Over the past several weeks, we used our @gnomedex Twitter account to ask previous attendees what their favorite memories have been from past years. We took all of the responses and created a top-ten list for your enjoyment – and to help you remember why it is you love Gnomedex as much as you do. It’s funny… a few people have accused us of not being Geeky enough – not technical enough – not hard-core nerd enough. However, looking at the top ten it’s easy to see that the hard-core Geek stuff is not what people remember most.

Gnomedex is all about YOU. We focus a lot on humanity, community and communication. We aren’t a tech conference in the traditional sense, and that’s okay with me. People have repeatedly told me that they have come away from Gnomedex with a new outlook on life… that the conference has changed their life in some way. Something strikes a chord deep within our attendees each year, and that is priceless to me. I was pleasantly surprised by this list, and enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I hope you will, as well.

Without further ado, here are your favorite Gnomedex memories, in reverse order:

  • Watching Miss Gnomedex Christine Juhnke earn her title at Gnomedex 1 in Des Moines.
  • Microsoft giving the first public look at IE 7 during Gnomedex 5, showing off the built-in RSS capabilities.
  • Television actor Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) speaking at Gnomedex 4.
  • Raising thousands of dollars in a short time to help send Cambodian women to college with Beth Kanter.
  • Not one single attendee took their eyes off the stage during the Mars Rover presentation given by “driver” Scott Maxwell during Gnomedex 8. Every Geek in the house had a serious case of jealousy going on.
  • Nearly 2/3 of the attendees jumping on stage to dance spontaneously with Matt Harding (of Where the Hell is Matt? fame) during Gnomedex 8.
  • Having our perceptions drastically changed by Mark Horvath’s presentation about the plight of homeless people. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the auditorium when the money we quietly passed the hat to raise was given to James… the homeless but hard-working man who appeared on stage with Mark.
  • Watching our buddy (and long time Gnomedex supporter) Drew Olanoff tell his cancer to take a flying leap off of a short pier. I’m beyond happy to report that Drew beat his cancer, but his fight against it continues – on behalf of the millions of others still battling the disease.
  • Multi-year Gnomedex attendee Derek Miller couldn’t be with us in person back in 2007. Derek’s fight against cancer began that year, and he was unable to travel. SO – we brought Gnomedex to him via a live video feed from his home in Canada. Derek is still fighting the good fight, and we continue to follow his story and wish him well.
  • Gnomedex 6 keynote speaker Senator John Edwards being told by Dave Winer that he needed to make net neutrality his campaign platform in order to successfully run for President.

What was YOUR favorite Gnomedex memory of all time? Will you be joining us this year? Tickets are going fast – I hope you’ve already reserved yours.