Carisa Cegavske

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April 16, 2014
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Healthy Wednesday: Roseburg woman struggles with rare liver cancer, big medical bills

Roseburg resident Debi Miller barely noticed as her skin turned orange in December.

She did not know it, but she had a rare form of cancer growing in her liver. It was not until a 22-year-old niece visited that Miller realized she needed to see a doctor.

“My niece took one look at me and started crying,” she said.

Her doctor sent her to a Portland hospital, where part of her liver was removed. Miller, 63, has cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer of the bile ducts, which drain bile from the liver into the small intestine.

Miller has some idea what to expect from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She recently watched a friend go through esophagal cancer treatment.

“I kind of know what it looks like. I’m going to get tired, I know. Hopefully, I won’t lose my hair,” she said.

The cancer already has caused significant changes in Miller’s life. She lost 30 pounds between December and March and had to take a leave of absence from her job as a Walmart cashier.

Miller has insurance and will soon be signed up for the Oregon Health Plan, but believes the bills she has already will force her into bankruptcy.

“My doctor bills are about that thick,” she said, holding her fingers an inch and a half apart.

Insurance will pay part, but not all of the cost.

A sister stepped in to pay the $649 co-pay for the 88 chemotherapy pills she will take over the next six weeks. Miller, who earns part of her income from work and part from Social Security, would otherwise have to spend about two-thirds of a month’s income to pay for them.

“It’s hard because if you’re a senior, you think, ‘Do I get my medication or do I just let the cancer roam?’” Miller said.

She said the experience has taught her the importance of having insurance, something she hopes Cover Oregon will provide to more people.

“I think if they ever figure out Cover Oregon, people need it because people without insurance, if they don’t have Cover Oregon or affordable care, they’re not going to get the medicine they need,” she said. “It’s really important to get insurance for everybody. No matter how old you are, no matter what your income. Nobody should be left out.”

Miller said she never smoked and has no idea what risk factors she had for cancer, except that her father died of prostate cancer when he was 46. He donated his body for research at Stanford Medical Center before he died.

“Maybe he’s helping me today,” she said.

Miller said the best advice she has for others who discover they have cancer is to make sure they have social support. She said her younger sister calls her every morning and night to make sure she is all right. “You can’t do it alone,” she said.

• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or

I kind of know what it looks like. I’m going to get tired, I know. Hopefully, I won’t lose my hair.

Debi Miller
on chemotherapy and radiation treatments

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The News-Review Updated Apr 16, 2014 12:03PM Published Apr 18, 2014 09:25AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.