Bessie Miller, a cancer survivor and who is approaching her 100th birthday, is still active enough to get out and about with the help for friends and family.
Bessie Miller, a cancer survivor and who is approaching her 100th birthday, is still active enough to get out and about with the help for friends and family.

Archived Story

Two bouts of cancer, yet soon to be 100

Published 10:57am Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bessie Miller has seen a lot in 99 years, and she’s not quitting

As they would have said in her day, Bessie Miller is a tough, old bird.

The 99-year-old Austin resident, who will turn 100 on Aug. 3, battled cancer twice — in the past 18 years. She raised five children, lived through the Great Depression and has seen some of Austin’s hardest moments in the last century.

“She’s a stubborn German,” said Donna Haas, Bessie’s oldest child. “She said, ‘I’m not going to die.’”

Sitting in her living room with family — in the same northwest Austin house where she has lived since 1941 and gave birth to two of her children — Bessie tried to recall the best and worst times of her life. During the past 99 years, Miller has forgotten more stories than some people will ever hear. Still, she recalls the floods over the past decades, walking over the footbridge that went over the railroad tracks and the corner grocery stores that no longer exist. Ask her about the Hormel strike, and she’ll tell you about the strike of 1933. The P-9 strike of 1985 isn’t so clear anymore.

Bessie was born in Osage, Iowa, in 1913 and later moved to Austin with her family. After she got married, she and her husband, Bill Miller, lived in an upstairs apartment before moving into one of the Hormel Homes. Bessie and her family later moved to 1407 Ninth Ave. NW, where Bessie has been ever since.

The children, Haas, Donald Miller, Joan Barington and Pat Mortenson, recall growing up in that house — and still visiting it today, where they stop by before taking Bessie out on the town nearly every day.

In 1995, Bessie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her leg. She was 82 at the time. She battled the disease into remission, but it reappeared in her back in 2002, when she was 89. Not surprisingly, doctors said they won’t do treatments on her anymore, as it would be too hard on her body. During the second bout with cancer, Bessie was hospitalized three times and underwent several rounds of chemotherapy.

Doctors could only giver her so much treatment. Then again, the tough woman only needed so much to keep going.

“It’s in remission now,” said Bessie’s youngest daughter, Betty Neus. “It’s already been 12 years.”

Today, Bessie still gets around with a walker. She attended this year’s Relay for Life Cancer Survivors’ Dinner and still loves to get out for car rides with family.

“I like to go riding,” Miller added. “I could ride all day long.”

She may even attend this year’s Relay for Life at Bandshell Community Park, a beacon of hope for anybody struggling with cancer. She would be a fitting addition, as the American Cancer Society is Celebrating its 100th year, too.

After 100 years, Bessie doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. She can simply sit back and relax, but that’s far from the only thing she’s going to do.

“What fun would it be just to sit here for the rest of my life?” she said.

Bessie doesn’t have any big secrets for battling cancer in her 80s and living to be 100. Her life’s principles have been pretty straightforward, and she has a hunch about the reason for her longevity.

“I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t drink,” Bessie said.

Her children say Bessie ate nutritious meals and led a healthy lifestyle, for the most part. Another life lesson may have been key, as well.

“Don’t worry,” Bessie says about life.


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