After cancer, photographer focuses on his work and family

Claude-Aline Nazaire Miller and Sandro Miller

Partners in life and in business, award-winning photographer Sandro Miller and his wife, Claude-Aline Nazaire Miller, do everything together.

They never expected that to include facing cancer.

Six years ago, Sandro was at the height of his career, in his early 50s and still young enough to feel “a bit indestructible.” A diagnosis of stage 4 throat cancer turned his life, and Claude’s, upside down.

Claude will never forget the moment he told her. The couple had gone up to their cabin in Michigan, and Sandro made dinner.

“We just started talking about just a lot of different things,” Claude recalled. “And all of a sudden, I noticed how emotional he was, and I said, ‘What’s going on?’  That was when he actually told me what he had discovered. It was heart-wrenching.”

Sandro was determined to “go in and fight it with everything I’ve got.”

Claude would become his caregiver, at his side throughout the long and difficult treatment. “So I had to become stronger,” she said.

As cancer experts know, support from loved ones combined with leading-edge research, treatment and care strengthens a patient’s ability to successfully fight cancer. Sandro chose University of Chicago Medicine oncologist Everett Vokes, MD, for his care.

Vokes is an internationally renowned expert in the treatment of head and neck cancer. His groundbreaking research has shown that intense, targeted treatment combining radiation and chemotherapy can bring locally advanced head and neck cancer under control and improve survival. 

“Dr. Vokes and his team were very good at explaining everything that was going to happen to me, how I was going to feel, what I was going to go through,” Sandro said. The caregivers on his treatment team “seemed immediately to become close friends of mine, people who I felt like I knew for a long time.”

As a photographer, Sandro is based in Chicago, but known throughout the world for his expressive portraits of actors, athletes, artists and everyday people. His photos have been featured in shows, books and award-winning advertising campaigns for commercial, community-based and charitable organizations.

I wake up every day and I feel blessed. I’m living every day to the fullest, loving as deeply as I can and just really having a great, great, great life.

“I remember while lying in my bed, I came up with a couple of really wonderful projects for me to do, if I was to get well,” Sandro said. He did, and completed both — “Eyes of Morocco,” a series of 400 portraits of people across the African nation, and “Homage to the Masters,” a tribute to the great photographers who had influenced and inspired him throughout his career.

And several months after he completed his treatment, Sandro received a call from an advertising agency planning a campaign for an unnamed hospital. That hospital turned out to be UChicago Medicine. “Little did (the agency) know that I had just been cured of stage 4 cancer at this hospital,” he said. “Once they found that out, the serendipity, the coincidence — it just became a natural.”

Since then, Sandro has teamed up with UChicago Medicine to help tell the inspiring stories of many cancer patients.

A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family. Sandro and Claude reflect on how their lives have permanently changed. “We try to enjoy life to the fullest,” Claude said. “If we could travel somewhere just for a day, if we could take a road trip somewhere, we do it. And we do it together.”

“You learn to make every minute count, every bit of time with your wife, your children, your grandchildren,” Sandro said. “I wake up every day and I feel blessed. I’m living every day to the fullest, loving as deeply as I can and just really having a great, great, great life.”

Cancer Can't Compete

Cancer survivor Anthony Rizzo is teaming up with the Chicago Tribune, along with the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, Mariano’s and the University of Chicago Medicine, in a campaign to raise money for cancer research and support for families as they fight cancer together.

Cancer Can't Compete