“Because someone we love is in heaven, there is a little bit of heaven in our home.”
Braden Patrick Miller, affectionately known as Buddy, touched a lot of hearts during his long and courageous, 21-month battle with brain cancer. The young warrior suffered from Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare form of pediatric cancer for which there is no cure. His long journey came to an end on October 19, 2018 when he was just nine years old. “He was the epicenter of our universe,” says Patrick McDonald, Buddy’s grandfather, tearing up as he spoke.
The communities of Flushing and New Lothrop, local football teams and many, many others rallied around the family and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars so the Millers could travel to Mexico (15 times) to get treatment for Buddy which, at first, was very successful. “The little guy was loved by thousands, many who had never met him,” says McDonald. “Even now, it is really difficult for us. It’s very, very emotional. But we have to take all of those emotions and continue to make a difference and help others.”
In order to do that, the family established the Team Buddy Forever Foundation of which McDonald is the marketing and fundraising director, Buddy’s aunt Brandie Stemple manages community involvement and Buddy’s parents, Brad and Jeni Miller, are the co-founders and executive directors. The foundation was not only formed to honor Buddy’s memory, but also to raise awareness of this rare disease, which affects approximately 400 children per year nationwide, and to raise funds for other families fighting DIPG. “The foundations focus is assisting DIPG diagnosed children however we can and to help families in financial distress as a result of any type of pediatric cancer,” Brad says. “Buddy was a big-hearted, caring boy who always wanted to help,” his father shares. “We know that this is what he would have wanted us to do.”
To further their cause of raising DIPG awareness, Buddy’s family will travel to Lansing on May 17, which is DIPG Awareness Day in Michigan, where they plan to speak to lawmakers in support of the cause. “We are a grassroots family, looking to expand our army,” says McDonald. On that day, the family hopes to shed light on the fact that only four percent of cancer funds goes toward pediatric cancer, and only a minute part of that goes to DIPG kids.
“We have made great strides in pediatric cancer but not DIPG,” Buddy’s father reports. “The disease is considered rare, around 400 kids are diagnosed annually and unless it affects their family, a majority of people have never heard of it. Our goal is to develop a momentum for change with regard to DIPG research funding, not just raise awareness of the cancer.”
The family is still reeling from the loss of their beloved Buddy. “The grieving comes in waves,” says Jeni. “Christmas was tough.” But with donations they received through the foundation, they were able to provide for three needy families and give to others during the holidays, which helped ease their grief.
The foundation was not only formed to honor Buddy’s memory, but also to raise awareness of this rare disease, which affects approximately 400 children per year nationwide, and to raise funds for other families fighting DIPG.
Jeni especially remembers Buddy’s kind and giving heart. When she took her son shopping after his birthday celebration in April, she told him he could buy anything he wanted. “I want to buy my sisters an Xbox,” he told her. “And that’s what we did,” she said, with tears in her eyes as she recalled. “He was such a joy.”
Buddy had also made a huge impact on the New Lothrop High School football team who helped raise funds for his treatment. The month after he passed away, the team qualified for the state championship playoff. The entire team wore lime green socks printed with Buddy’s name. “They won the state championship!” Brad exclaims. “For such a small town, it was a pretty big deal. Buddy was right there with them.”
Even now, Buddy is making a difference in the fight to find a cure for DIPG. After making an agonizing and heart-wrenching decision, Brad and Jeni made the ultimate contribution and donated Buddy’s tumor to the University of Michigan for DIPG research and the development of a comprehensive treatment plan. “The only previous option to determine the cancer mutations was a brain neurosurgery biopsy and there was risk involved with that procedure,” McDonald shares. “This research from Buddy’s tumors has already helped other families identify the DIPG cancer mutations using the spinal tap fluid biopsy technique, rather than risky neurosurgery.”
In a letter to Brad and Jeni, Buddy’s doctor, Carl Koschmann, MD writes: “You would be amazed at how much we are still learning from Buddy. His tumor cells are continuing to grow. We confirmed last week that they are his tumor cells, genetically. We only have a small handful of cells started by patients at U of M, so this will be very useful. Also, we sent his frozen tumor in two spots to Bonn, Germany and it is currently being studied there by international experts. Buddy’s gift will provide important insights to the world.”
The Team Buddy Forever Foundation, which gained nonprofit status in January, has much work to do and is moving ahead full steam. They are continuing their fundraising efforts and have items online that can be purchased, including the lime green socks. The Foundation is also reaching out to organizations, foundations and corporations that might wish to support them with financial donations or by sponsoring events. They are working with other groups and have a few fundraisers already in the works, such as the Volley 4 Molly Volleyball Tournament at Flushing Schools on May 10th and The Donation Nation Walk/Run event at Ascension Genesys on August 3rd. “We have a lot of volunteers, but are always looking for more,” says Jeni, adding that people can go to their website and fill out a form to volunteer, request financial assistance or make donations at Teambuddyforever foundation.org/.
“Buddy’s doctor said that Buddy’s gift (tumors cells) will provide important insights to the world,” says his mom. “The Team Buddy Forever Foundation wants to see that happen.”
Photography By Kayce McClure