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University of Missouri

Finding Another Gear

Cancer survivor Dan Miller races toward a dual doctorate in medicine and pathobiology.

man on mountain bike

Dual doctoral student Dan Miller has overcome thyroid cancer to excel at mountain bike racing. Photo by Rob Hill.

For self-described “lone wolf” Dan Miller, mountain biking provides a meditative solitude. Miller, who is earning doctorates in medicine and pathobiology, distanced himself from the pack enough to nab a gold medal in the 34-and-under age group July 29, 2012, in the Show-Me State Games’ mountain bike race in Columbia.

But when he found himself unable to speak after surgery to remove his cancerous thyroid gland in 2005, the isolation was terrifying. “One of the risks of the procedure was that they would cut a nerve to my voice box,” says Miller of Clayton, Mo. “When I woke, I couldn’t talk because my throat had been intubated, but I didn’t know why at the time. It was a nightmare.”

Miller has since endured radiation and chemotherapy. He has also struggled with depression that accompanies the corresponding hypothyroidism.

Miller lives with cancer nodules in his chest and back, but he has learned that his chronic condition need not slow him down. Biking allows him to hone his thoughts and emotions, which helps him academically. Since arriving at Mizzou to study molecular diagnostics — how proteins interact with genes in the human body — he started “crushing” tests.

His wife, Maggie, a Mizzou medical student, urged him to start crushing opponents on the trail, too. Now he regularly competes in races throughout the region.

“I ride therapeutically in the sense that I’m tuning into what’s going on with me,” Miller says. “And exercising outside is how I connect to the environment.”