Lisa Britton was working this weekend on a feature story about Schyler Miller when she learned that he had become ill and was taken to the hospital.
By Lisa Britton
For the Baker City Herald
Schyler Miller loved to hear the laughter out beyond those bright stage lights.
Laughter, you see, meant he was doing his job well.
"I personally love acting in comedies," Miller said Friday as he prepared for the opening night of "Bus Stop." "There are times the crowd is laughing so hard I start to giggle myself.
"Listening to people laugh - it makes me feel good. To affect people that way is a wonderful feeling."
His acting seemed seamless, with every line memorized and delivered to elicit a response from the audience.
But it takes a lot of work to act like this - and Miller had to work a bit harder during the last five years as he fought acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
He lost that fight Monday. He was 20.
Theater, he said last Friday, offered an escape from life for both actors and audience.
"Theater has always been a way for people to forget what's wrong in their lives," he said. "To go up and act, I get to be someone completely different. I get to step into a life of someone who doesn't have cancer."
His most recent appearance on stage was "Bus Stop," produced this month by Eastern Oregon Regional Theater.
In this play he truly stepped out of his own personality to play Bo Decker, a young cowboy described as "bullheaded and mean."
"He's as opposite his character as anyone can be," said director Scot Violette. "This character has been extremely difficult for him to play because 'Bo' is so not like Schyler. Every night, before he goes out, I look at him and say, 'BE MEAN!' "
The remaining performances of "Bus Stop" have been cancelled.
Miller's diagnosis came during the first quarter of his junior year at Baker High School.
"We noticed I was always tired and had bruises that wouldn't heal, but just got bigger," he says.
His mom suspected a vitamin deficiency, and he thought maybe that was right.
"I was a teenager - I ate really bad," he said.
He had a test done in La Grande, and soon received a phone call referring them to Boise.
"They'd found leukemia cells," he said.
And he found himself in a car, headed to a meet an oncologist. He didn't know anything about leukemia.
"I knew it was a cancer. That's it," he said.
Next came the treatment plan.
"They said it wasn't an overnight thing - it'd take a few years," he said.
Once a week he traveled to Boise for a dose of chemotherapy at the St. Luke's oncology clinic.
"That was the way it was for two, three years," he said. "For a while, I couldn't do anything for myself. It feels like you have a constant stomach flu."
He took his junior year off school, saying he was basically "quarantined" because of a weak immune system.
"The chemotherapy knocks down your immune system and resets it," he said.
During that time, he came down with chicken pox, a disease he'd already had as a child.
He returned to BHS for his senior year, taking double credits to graduate on time with his class.
"I managed to pull it off," he said.
He graduated in 2011.
During the third year after his diagnosis, the leukemia went into remission, and his chemo treatments dropped to once a month.
Then, after an 18-month reprieve from chemotherapy, he got bad news.
"They said they found more cancer," he said. "It was a huge blow. I'd just gotten my life back."
He started chemo again in March 2013.
And through it all, acting has been a constant in his life.
"It was his therapy," said Lynne Burroughs, who directed him in "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "A Christmas Carol." "He was a very brave kid and totally devoted to theater."
He discovered his interest for theater in high school, and acted under the direction of Annie Fale, who teaches English and theater at BHS.
"She really sparked my inspiration for theater," he said.
Fale said Miller "just has a way of touching people's hearts."
"Theatre teachers, and I think maybe coaches too, have the special place of 'parents' in our students lives," she said. "We spend so much time with them and ask of them so many things that we end up reaching them on levels that they themselves don't even know they have. Schyler responded to my directing and the shows we did really well and I am very proud to have worked with him."
After high school he started acting for Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre, and assisted Violette in his Professor Algernon magic shows.
"If I had to describe Schyler, I'd say that he totally lives in the present, and gets every bit of living from every moment that he can," Violette said. "He puts 110 percent of himself into everything he does, and what he says, he is. If he makes a promise, he keeps it. He's a person of integrity."
And when the audience laughed, he knew he'd done his job well.
Donations being accepted to assist Schyler's family
Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre is collecting donations to help his family with funeral costs. Donations can be sent to Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre, 2101 Main St. Ste. 207, Baker City, OR 97814.