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Senate President Miller has prostate cancer; Longtime lawmaker pledges to fight disease, vows to continue working

Maryland Gazette - 1/12/2019

An emotional Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a powerful and long-tenured figure in state government, announced Thursday he is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and vowed to continue working throughout the General Assembly session.

"I fully intend to fight this disease, as so many have, and to fully carry out my Senate responsibilities," he said in a statement he distributed as he opened the chamber's morning floor session.

Miller, a Democrat who has served as Senate president since 1987, choked back tears as he spoke briefly about his condition.

"It's a recent diagnosis," Miller said. "I wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. ... You look in the morning and see if your hair is still there."

He said he didn't want attention on him, but on the work of the Senate.

"It's not about me," he said. "We have business to take care of."

Senators re-elected Miller as president of the Senate on Wednesday, the first day of the annual 90-day General Assembly session.

Miller, 76, was elected in 1970 to the House of Delegates. He was elected to the Senate in 1974. His district includes parts of Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties. He is an attorney with a private practice.

In his statement, Miller said that he has been "struggling with pain management" for months following hip and knee replacement surgery that "never seemed to heal."

"This past July, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer along with my osteopathic issues. I was prescribed medicines for the prostate cancer and continued physical therapy," Miller said.

"Despite these treatments, the pain did not subside and on Dec. 27, I awoke with a sharp pain in my leg. After another series of tests at Johns Hopkins, the oncologist informed me and my family that the prostate cancer could no longer be managed through pharmaceuticals alone and that additional treatment would be necessary. As a result, I will be undergoing chemotherapy during this legislative session."

Miller said he didn't plan to miss time at work during the session.

"As many of you know, beyond my tremendous love for my wife and family, I have no greater commitment than to the success and stability of the Maryland Senate," he said.

"I have been told that in spite of my treatments, I will be fully able to join my colleagues and preside this session. Despite my longevity as president, I have never sought to retain this position out of personal gratification, but out of a true belief I could lead the body to the tremendous achievements we have accomplished together over the years."

Support from around the state quickly poured in for Miller.

Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Prince George's County lawmaker and chairman of Senate Democratic Caucus, said he believed Miller will fight cancer as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan did.

"Just like Governor Hogan faced his illness and kept on track leading the state, President Miller will power through leading the Senate," Rosapepe said. "With God's love - and health insurance - he'll have the speedy recovery we all wish him."

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he had confidence the Senate president will rebound.

"It's tough to see a giant in pain and reminds us that we're all human facing individual trials and struggles," Ferguson said. "I have every confidence that President Miller will fight this health battle well, and he should know there are many of us here that have his back to support him through it. The Maryland Senate will persist amidst the challenge and continue to fight for Maryland families."

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system, a walnut-sized organ that sits below the bladder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of 100 men, 13 will get prostate cancer at some point in their life, according to the CDC. Two to three of those men will die.

Serving as president of the Senate can, at times, be physically and mentally taxing, especially as the General Assembly session nears its end and daily meetings of the Senate last for several hours. The Senate president stands on a rostrum at the front of the chamber, conducting the Senate's business. The president calls on senators to speak during debates and manages the flow of amendments and votes.

Any time the president is not available, the Senate president pro tem fills in as the presiding officer. Sen. Kathy Klausmeier of Baltimore County was elected Wednesday to the post. She's new to the role, as are three of the Senate committee chairs.

"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. As you could see, he was pretty sad, too."

Klausmeier said she and other senators would do their part to keep the business of the Senate going. "We have to just hold it together for him."

Sen. Stephen Hershey, an Eastern Shore Republican who serves as minority whip, said he's confident Miller will make sure the Senate runs smoothly.

"I think Mike is going to do the best job that he can to see that the floor operates in the same manner ... I'm sure part of what he is concerned about is that we can operate the same way we always have," Hershey said.

In his lengthy tenure as president, Miller has solidified his control of the chamber, adapting as the interests of members changed. He allowed bills he personally opposed - such as legalizing same-sex marriage - to move forward, recognizing that a majority of senators supported them. He's earned respect from senators from both parties over the years.

Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat who is Senate majority leader, said Miller's leadership is essential to Maryland government.

"We have every confidence that even through these difficult times, he's going to do a great job as our leader," Guzzone said. "His knowledge, his strength, his insights, his ability to find a path to accomplish great pieces of legislation, it's really extraordinary."

After Miller closed the Senate's session, senators took turns greeting him at the rostrum and giving him their good wishes. Miller elected to skip his customary talk with reporters after the session and declined interview requests.

With Miller's diagnosis, the three most powerful men in Maryland politics have all encountered serious health issues in just the past few years.

Less than six months after being sworn in to office in 2015, Hogan was diagnosed with with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Hogan, 62, made a point to continue working from the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore during his treatment, though Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford sometimes took Hogan's place at public events. His final treatment was in October 2016.

House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, a 72-year-old Anne Arundel County Democrat, had heart bypass surgery last September. And in 2017, Busch received a liver donation from his sister after being diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

Busch and Hogan both have praised the University of Maryland Medical System, and Hogan joked this week that the two are "graduates" of UMMS.

Credit: By Pamela Wood; Luke Broadwater - The Baltimore Sun

Caption: Maryland state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. announced Thursday in the Senate Chamber he has prostate cancer.

Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette

 
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