One morning not long ago, Lance Armstrong awoke to find 400 messages on his Twitter account asking him to contact Clint Miller.
Miller works for a real estate lead generation firm in Missoula, Mont. Lance Armstrong is … well, Lance Armstrong.
What the two have in common is testicular cancer. The seven-time champion Tour de France bicyclist is famous for having overcome the disease, and has set up a foundation to provide support to cancer patients.
Armstrong’s immediate response to the tweets was to post a YouTube.com video greeting for Miller urging him to get well.
"I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you, hope you’re doing great," Armstrong said. "And yes, I’d love to hook up sometime, go for a bike ride, go for a beer, whatever you want, man. In the meantime, get better, hang in there, and live strong."
It was just one more post in the tidal wave of social media support that has washed over Clint Miller since he was knocked flat by cancer about a year ago, and the bloggers, tweeters, video-makers and Facebook commentators of the real estate business took notice.
"It’s been a real comfort to me," he recently commented at @therealclint, where about 2,900 followers have read his tweets — when he was able to post them — about his weeks in a hospital bed, his hours of radiation and chemotherapy, and his surgeries.
"I have often referred to Clint as the most transparent person I know in social media and blogging," wrote Austin, Texas, broker Jason Crouch in an appeal for prayers and support on ActiveRain.com. "He has always worn that as a badge of pride, and he’s never afraid to share even the roughest details of his personal history with his friends online."
"I can bet you that Clint isn’t feeling sorry for himself," wrote Jay Thompson on his blog, the Phoenix Real Estate Guy. "He’s worried about his family."
Thompson urged real estate social networkers to respond with prayer and funds for to support Miller and his family. A Facebook prayer page followed; a group of concerned followers popped up on Twitter at #weloveclint.
His wife, Angela, created a Google Map and video showing where more than 200 "We Love Clint" support bands have been sent around the U.S. The bands also have gone out to France, Canada and Costa Rica, he said.
Clint Miller and his wife Angela
"I am so humbled by the outpouring of support," he said. "I’ve never met 98 percent of these people."
It cements his faith in social media, which he came to after numerous other careers. He gave up being a radio disc jockey after five years because, as he put it, "Unless you’re Howard Stern, you get paid minimum wage."
He also worked as a machine-shop operator at Boeing, building and inspecting replacement airline parts ("It was horrifically hard work, hauling around 100-pound blocks of titanium all day long, surrounded by chemicals you’ve never heard of," he said), and selling insurance.
Even prior to his recent illness, his life has seen some very rough spots. His first wife died two years after being diagnosed with cancer. A second marriage failed, though he said he feels blessed because the two are still on friendly terms and he had adopted her three daughters.
He became severely overweight. He developed problems with alcohol and became addicted to methamphetamines, he said.
But he walked away from substance abuse, remarried 10 years ago and now he and wife Angela have two sons: Alex, 6, and Aaron, 3.
Miller said he "fell into" real estate when he interviewed at a lead generation firm, and he became a top producer for the company.
"I had been doing sales my entire life," he said. "I had never looked at a house, never been involved with a real estate agent. But I knew I could sell — sales are the same wherever you go, as long as you believe in the product. Same stuff, just a different widget."
These days, he primarily works in social media and blogging for his employer, Real Estate Pipeline. His online infatuation began on ActiveRain.com, a popular real estate industry blogging platform.
"I developed quite a following," he said. "Primarily, I spent a lot of time blogging about lead generation.
"But then I started writing about stuff that meant more to me and other people on a personal level. It was along the lines of being a better person, being a better agent — even just random stuff.
"One of the most popular blog posts was about me being thankful for everything I’ve been through," he said. "I had 500 comments."
Switching gears from the strictly professional to the more personal in the ActiveRain blog taught him about what works in social media, he said.
"It turned me into a human," he said. "As a result, my authority both in real estate and lead generation, the blogging world, social media — all went up. Instead of being a lecturer, I turned out to be a guy."
After initial skepticism about Twitter, he jumped in and developed a following.
"What works on Twitter — the biggest thing — is not to sell anything," he said. "Don’t sell a product. You can infer, you can hint, but can’t say, blatantly, ‘I sell real estate.’ The biggest mistake is posting your listings."
The social media gig was going along well when Miller, who is 40, went for a physical exam early last year.
"It came back very grave," he said. "I was at about 440 pounds, and they told me, ‘You are at risk of every disease on the planet.’ "
So he began exercising and dieting, losing six to 10 pounds a month, he said. Then he developed a terrible cold in August 2010.
"The symptoms would go away for a few weeks and I would start coughing again," he said. "Finally, it got to the point where I was coughing up blood. I had severe stomach issues, uncontrollable pain."
He ended up in an emergency room in February, where he was diagnosed with Stage C3 testicular cancer. "That’s the highest level they have," Miller said.
The news got worse. "It had metastasized into my lymph system, permeated my liver, was in both my lungs," he said. He had surgery to remove the affected testicle.
"They sent it off for pathology, and sent me home," he said. "Fourteen hours later, I couldn’t breathe and my wife rushed me to the (emergency room)."
He stopped breathing and was on life-support systems for seven days, Miller said.
Doctors put him into a medically induced coma and began chemotherapy. After emerging from the coma, he spent two weeks in treatment in the hospital, and was released. A day later, he was back in intensive care with a massive fever and blood infection, and was kept in isolation.
"Between Feb. 11 and March 14, I was home a total of 31 hours," he said.
He went through several rounds of chemotherapy, the last one ending April 22. On June 9 a brain MRI came back "clean," he said. He went back to work.
But 19 days after the MRI, he had a seizure at work.
A CT scan found a brain tumor he described as "the size of a 50-cent piece," and on June 29 there was more surgery.
"I now have a big titanium manhole cover on the back of my head," he said. "That’s permanent. They wouldn’t put the (skull) bone back in because it was resting on the tumor."
More treatment ensued, and encouraging reports came back. In early August, he returned to work.
"I feel better than I’ve felt in five years," he said a few days ago. "I’m 150 pounds lighter, and I have more energy than I can remember."
The whole time, his social media sphere was watching.
"I hadn’t realized how many people were on the Facebook prayer page and were sending me packages and cards," he said. "Entire school classes wrote letters to me. I had 6-year-olds sending me pictures and letters."
The followers also sent coloring books and toys to his sons, to give them something to do while they waited in the hospital, he said.
Between the worst bouts of his illness, after weeks of silence he would pop back on Twitter.
"I would get this massive outpouring from people," he said. "They would say, ‘It’s so nice to hear from you.’ "
Four hundred people are following the Facebook prayer page, he said.
"It was that kind of outpouring of support and love that made me want to get back into social media more and more," Miller said.
He’s also has tried repeatedly to get talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to take an interest in research on testicular cancer.
"Just to remind her that the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation isn’t the only one out there," he said. "I never heard back from anyone."
These days, he sees life anew, he said.
"I have an outlook that’s so different than before," he said. "There’s a level of clarity that happens when you’re faced with the prospect of something you cannot control in your life."
In a way, it’s exhilarating.
"When my first wife died, I almost drank myself to death, and I walked away from alcohol," he said. "I quit smoking cold turkey, and I quit meth.
"I figure, if I can walk away from this, I’m just going to buy myself a cape."
A social media support network
- Twitter: @TheRealClint.
- Clint Miller’s Facebook page.
- Clint Miller Benefit blog.
- Facebook page for Clint Miller’s real estate company.
- Facebook page offering prayers and support for Clint Miller.
- Google Map of #weloveclint wristband locations.
- Twitter hashtags showing support for Clint Miller: #weloveclint, #helpclintmeetlance.
- YouTube video from Lance Armstrong showing support for Clint Miller.
- NextAgePlus post about Clint Miller.
- A post by @ReRockstar about Clint Miller when he was first diagnosed.
- A post by GreenHomeBox about Clint Miller’s cancer fight.
- A post about Clint Miller by SocialMediaHandlers.
- Clint Miller’s YouTube channel.
- @RealtyMan is raising money for cancer research via the Pan Mass Challenge, and dedicating his ride to Clint Miller: #pmc2011.
- A Google search of: "therealclint cancer."