Picture an extremely energetic girl dancing around, tapping her toes, and snapping her fingers as she parades the crowded hallways of Paducah Tilghman High School. An ear-to-ear smile that brightens any cloudy day, Millette Milliken is the person from high school that’s unforgettable.
Her life’s had ups and downs and Milliken admits it’s been ‘a rollercoaster ride.’ Yet, she’s a survivor and has that special something that won’t keep a good woman down. She’s been blessed with a moral compass that steers her through stormy weather. Her love for the Lord, family, and a good days’ work is unwavering. Her drive to succeed can withstand hurricane force winds. Milliken knew God was calling her and she replied, “God, I knew you were leading me to Ministers in Training.” At first, she resisted but ultimately obeyed.
Milliken’s dad was a local preacher and pastored three churches including Second Christian Church in Mayfield, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Paducah, and Unity Missionary Baptist Church in Brookport, Illinois. In the early years, Milliken sang in her daddy’s church choir and played the piano. For 40 years, she served the Lord through music ministry by involving herself in local youth and community choirs, as well as gospel ensembles.
After graduating high school, Milliken attended Murray State University and WKCTC, graduating from the latter with a degree in Administrative Business. After moving to Nashville, Tennessee, Milliken continued church ministry as a director of praise and a worship leader. Next, she added a music workshop facilitator to her resume. The workshops were intended to educate, improve character, and add vitality to praise and worship services.
As Milliken’s leadership skills continued to flourish, her roots stayed firmly planted in humility and love. She attributes her ‘love thy neighbor’ attitude to her parents. She said, “Dad was an advocate for the people. Whether he was preaching, coaching, or educating; he stood for the rights of all people in the community.” Her dad’s efforts were recognized by the Upsilon Iota Iota Graduate Chapter Omega Psi Phi fraternity of Paducah in the form of a local scholarship ‘The Reverend Lawrence Milliken College Supply Scholarship.’
Milliken’s mom was her greatest cheerleader. She said, “My mom pushed me in everything I did.” Unfortunately, a few short months ago, Rosetta was called to heaven. She died 10 days after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Milliken said, “I don’t think I’ve fully processed what happened, how it happened, or how I missed it. I have a little survivor’s remorse to work through.”
To understand her feelings, let’s go back a decade. Milliken’s 2010 is our 2020. It’s marred with good and bad times.
In 2010, Milliken and her son, Kristoffer were living in Nashville. One of the happier memories was Milliken’s second college graduation. She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Worship and Music from Williamson College, a Christian liberal arts school in Franklin, Tennessee. Receiving a degree in a field Milliken had cherished since a young child was a proud moment. Not only was she proud of herself but proud of her son. Kristoffer was graduating from high school.
After such milestones, tragedy struck...twice. In April, the great flood of 2010 happened in Nashville. Fast moving water led to 21 deaths in Tennessee with over half from Nashville. More than 11,000 city properties were damaged or destroyed and flooding had displaced 10,000 residents from their homes. Milliken and her son were two of the displaced. Things got worse, Milliken was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Milliken said she had no classic symptoms associated with stomach cancer...symptoms like indigestion, blood in the stool, and weight loss. Milliken said, “I threw up blood twice, once at home and once in the hospital, but that was it. I went for an endoscopy where they found a polyp in the GI junction of my stomach that turned out to have cancer cells.”
She was diagnosed with stage 2 - 3 cancer. “The cancer hadn’t penetrated the stomach lining, but it did make it through one lymph node.” said Milliken. She said the doctors were shocked that they found cancer in a polyp. Generally, when stomach cancer is found, it’s progressed to a large mass and for some, it’s too late.
Her doctors admitted they were in unchartered territory. Basically, they had never treated a patient with stomach cancer detected in a polyp.
Milliken said the treatment was ‘brutal’. She had surgery to remove the lower part of the esophagus and 40% of the stomach. For five weeks, she received chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. In hindsight, Milliken said she wouldn’t recommend such an aggressive treatment to others but for her, she wanted to be done.
After eight months, she was cancer-free. Milliken is incredibly grateful and her faith in God gave her the tenacity to push forward. “I believed that God would heal me.” said Milliken (This is where the survivor's remorse kicks in). On the other hand, her mother had little notice before she lost her battle with cancer. She didn’t have treatment options.
Milliken said, “I believe God did heal my mom and wanted her with him in her perfect state.” It’s this ‘beacon of hope’ perspective that will give Milliken the survivor’s courage to achieve all her dreams.
In 2015, Milliken graduated with a second Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Williamson College. In 2020, she graduated with a Master’s of Arts in Organizational Leadership and completed the Ministers in Training program. Now, she's a licensed minister and serves on the Virtual Intake Ministry team at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.
Milliken said, “My life’s journey gives me hope for the world. My parents taught us to love everyone.” She said she feels fortunate to have grown up in Paducah to see those she went to school with as friends and classmates and “not identify them by their skin tone.” Milliken continued, “I believe we’ll get back to that one day.”
“My cancer journey plays a big part in my faith. I believe God healed me” said Milliken. A few years ago, Milliken attended a cancer conference where she was interviewed by one of the organizers. She was asked, ‘how do you feel about surviving an orphan cancer?’ Milliken thought, ‘Huh!?’ “Even though stomach cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world, it’s one of the least funded.” She continued, “So much more needs to be done about lesser-known cancers in order to generate funds for treatment and cures. Hopefully soon, I can be more of an advocate for other orphan cancer survivors.”
Milliken will continue to defy limits and push boundaries. She's that kind of fighter and that kind of person. All the best to one of the best.