Though Heather Miller was only 11 years old, she had the ability to positively impact the lives around her.
“She had a tremendous smile,” Scott Brown said. “She connected with people and she became friends with them. She had something to live for. She had such a gift with people.”
Brown, Class of 1994 and former Daily Collegian staff member, initially learned of Heather while reporting on the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose players had become close with Heather through visits at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Because her story intrigued him, Brown, a Penn State and golf reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, decided to write an article for the newspaper.
But he didn’t feel he had told the whole story. And so, after months of trying, he partnered with Heather’s mother, Wendy, to write a book called “Heaven Sent: The Heather Miller Story.”
Heather lost a 16-month battle with cancer on January 29, 2010, when she was 11.
“The book is to serve as an honest look at a family and the unpredictable journey that cancer took them on,” Wendy said. “It’s about survival before, during and even after regarding our family and the grieving process.”
Since Heather suffered from pediatric cancer, Brown said her story relates to stories from other children who receive help from the Four Diamonds Fund and the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.
“This book is exactly the reason there is THON,” Wendy said. “The support and what it means — the families we met through what we went through. Some had to say goodbye to their kids, and some live in fear of it returning.”
Wendy said Heather received a THON care package filled with Penn State apparel and memorabilia, and that Heather was a huge Penn State fan.
Brown also said three dollars will be donated to THON for every book sold at the Student Book Store, 330 E. College Ave. He also said the book, like THON, looks to raise money for a cure to pediatric cancer.
“This is why [Penn State] does THON,” Brown said. “So kids like Heather can have a chance for life.”
After approaching Wendy about the book, Brown said they “hit a wall” with writing, and it was delayed. But Brown talked to Wendy again in January 2012, and she agreed to meet with him to start writing.
“Something clicked that day,” Brown said. “She was ready to do it. From then on, we met regularly, and she would pour her heart out to me.”
Writing the book was “a rollercoaster,” Wendy said. At the beginning of the process, Wendy said she had to walk away from writing, but said the book served as a healing tool for her family.
In the book, Wendy shares experiences of her family throughout Heather’s battle with cancer and memorable moments of Heather’s life. These moments include meeting players like Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller and Casey Hampton , with whom Heather became close.
“The only way I agreed to write this book was if it was completely honest, even the raw truth,” Wendy said. “Not a book everyone wanted to hear, but the truth. Every person knows someone going trough a battle of some sort, and it’s hard sometimes when you don’t know what to do to help. I feel the book can shed a very bright light on how even the simplest of things make a difference.”
Brown said parts of the book are uplifting and heartwarming, but there are also aspects that are heartbreaking. He said he has admiration and respect for Wendy for talking about her experiences again. The goal of the book, he said, was to help people who find themselves in similar situations.
After writing the book from January to August, it was published in December 2012. Since its publication, Brown said there has been positive feedback on the book’s website.
“The book has helped readers deal with some adversity in their life,” Brown said.