The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

One-handed organist says keep faith, stay busy

 

Jan Tucker/Daily Globe

Caryl Miilu sits at the organ at United Methodist Church in Rockland. Thirty-eight years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but with surgery and treatments, she credits her faith in God and support of her family for securing a long and active life.

By JAN TUCKER

jantuck@jamadots.com

ROCKLAND - Neither cancer, nor loss of a functioning hand can stop Caryl Miilu from living life to the fullest.

Miilu was 44 with a husband and five daughters when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is now 82 and one of the longest survivors of cancer in the area.

It was after the Ontonagon Labor Fest parade in 1979 while she was reading in bed that she discovered a lump in her breast. She had just started a new job in the office of Dr. Robert Johnson DDS and got the day off to have the lump tested. It was positive for cancer.

"It was a scary time," she said.

What followed was a full mastectomy including removal of lymph nodes under her left arm and radiation. She received severe radiation burns.

But even through that time, Miilu found something to feel good about. While in treatment she stayed with a dear friend from college and they had a good time. "Everything bad seems to have some good," she said.

Her faith in God, great support from her husband and family and the determination to take it "one day at a time" got her through those days, she said.

She counted down the years - 10 years, 15 years - and with each one, her thankfulness grew. Even as she lost strength in her left arm, it did not deter her or stop her ready, quick laugh.

She was diagnosed with radiation-induced plexopathy and gradually has lost the use of her left hand. "I am probably the only one-handed organ player around," she laughed.

Music has been a big part of her life and she was determined that loss of that strength not stop her. At one time she played organ for three churches, Rockland Methodist, Rockland Catholic and Lutheran. She is still the organist for the United Methodist Church in Rockland.

For 20 years, she also has taught music and still has three students. Since she cannot use that left hand to show them certain moves, she tells students, "Do as I say, not as I do," she laughs. "I have just figured ways to do things and overcome."

Miilu has also branched out and works with the Theater of the Performing Arts in Ontonagon. Her concern to help others with cancer has caused her to work with the Ontonagon County Cancer Association, where she is a member of the board of directors. She is also a member of the Ladies of the Kaleva.

Now with five daughters, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, she said her life has been a blessing and she thanks God every day for it. Her advice to others with breast cancer, "Keep your faith in God, and stay positive and busy. You can do it just one day at a time."

 
 

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