Dillon Miller Knows the Power of Sharing a Story

Are you ready for his?

Dillon talking into a microphone at a conference with people surrounding him blurred in the foreground and background

Dillon Miller, a 29-year-old Cleft Community Advisory Council (CCAC) member from Virginia, has nearly as many scars as tattoos. And he has a good story for every one of them. Here’s the story behind his cleft scars, in his own words:

Ever since I was a baby, my surgeon told me I would be “fixed” once I was an adult. Never gave me or my family any details of what “fixing me” meant, just that once I was 18, it’d all be over.

I had to go through all of high school feeling insecure. I turned 18 finally ready to be “normal.” Then got told that we had to wait another year. It was upsetting, of course. Still, the idea of finishing my cleft treatment for good made me hold on.

Young Dillon posing for a graduation photo in a white cap and gown holding his diploma
For little Dillon, every step forward was a step towards a better future

My mom and I were so excited when the big day finally came. The final step was so close! My surgeon came into the office, looked at me, and said…

“Let’s put some braces on, and we’ll come back in six years.”

Hold on, what?

He fed me the idea that I was broken my whole life and he could fix me, and now it was like he had forgotten everything he’d ever told me! I had 12 root canals in two weeks to prepare for this. It was unbelievable. I walked right out.

I looked back at my life then and realized that I was content. The people around me legitimately cared about me. I had a sound support system. I was truly happy. I decided I didn’t want the braces.

A black-and-white photo of Dillon wearing sunglasses and posing in front of a field. He’s sitting on a railing.
Despite all of his struggles, Dillon has always found a reason to smile

Hitting a Roadblock

At 24, I wanted something a little more financially stable than bartending, so I decided to sign up for the military. I went to the recruitment station, where I met with tons of doctors and medical professionals. Everything went smoothly up until the very last step.

While I was preparing to get signed up and shipped out, the final doctor had another future in mind for me. When he saw me, he asked, “What are you doing here? You can’t do this. Look at you. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t do any of this.”

I was shocked. After all the steps I went through, this guy refused to hear me out. He told me he’d make up a reason to get me disqualified. The reason he chose? I couldn’t wear a gas mask properly. I told him to give me a mask to prove it, but he just kicked me out.

Lily Milkis, Sam Rosen, and Dillon Miller sitting at a panel at Cleft Con New York
Dillon spoke at Cleft Con New York about his experience having a cleft in the military

I was absolutely crushed. Thankfully my dad had a plan: take a week to be upset about it, then write to our local congressman. I thought that would never work, but one email and nine months later, I had a meeting with a Navy commander.

As soon as I walked into that meeting, everyone could tell I was perfectly fit to join the military. They had me throw a gas mask on and do some exercises. It wasn’t a problem. I got shipped out to basic training two weeks later.

People harped on me for my cleft there, but it wasn’t personal. They gave everyone heat for something; mine just happened to be my cleft.

Defying Expectations

When I got sent to Houston after basic, people started talking about my cleft for a different reason. They pushed me to take advantage of the free healthcare, and thank God I listened. Every little thing, from a root canal to braces to my big jaw surgery, was fully covered.

And that jaw surgery… they broke my palate and put two devices in my face that I would move forward half a millimeter daily. Cranking my face forward hurt bad enough, but the devices pressed up against my cheek and pulled the skin taut. It was the most pain I’d been in in my entire life.

I recorded TikTok videos throughout the process to make it a little more fun. I figured I’d get seven likes. The next day, I woke up to 5,000 new followers! People were interested, and I liked answering their questions and sharing my story.

Dillon sitting with a woman at Cleft Con New York as she shows him something on her phone
Dillon sitting with a woman at Cleft Con New York as she shows him something on her phone

When I went to collect my medical records after leaving the military, I was told that four service members had come in to request medical work because they saw my video. Hearing how I was able to help other people through my videos almost made all that pain worth it.

Inspiring Online and In-Person

Being a content creator wasn’t always my plan. When I was younger, I always thought that if I looked like the rest of my friends, I’d be able to put myself out there, talk to girls, be more comfortable with myself. That mentality stuck with me for a long time. But I asked myself: What can I focus on if I can’t change my looks?

I worked on my conversation skills, speech, smarts, personality… anything I could improve about myself. Obviously, it took a while to get things right – I was really bad at a lot of it in the beginning – but everything clicked eventually. My friends started coming to me for dating advice. I don’t have a problem getting up in front of people now. All of the work was worth it.

Dillon holding a camera up to his face, taking a picture in a mirror. He’s wearing a black mask and beanie, obscuring his face.
Today, Dillon isn’t just a content creator. He’s a professional photographer too!

I took time to build my photography skills along with my confidence. I started doing it professionally when I heard that my friend was charged $300 an hour to get professional photos with her newborn — and those pictures still had watermarks! I thought it was so unfair that people who just wanted to hang some nice photos in their homes had to pay that kind of money. I tell all of my friends that if they know someone who needs photos, send them my way and we can work out payment. It could be in gas money, a free tattoo, or a drink. If they just show me they respect my time, I’m always down to help someone out.

My cleft has taught me that another way to help people is by opening up to them. Being part of online cleft-support groups made me realize I wasn’t the only person who struggled with self-confidence because of my facial difference. A lot of people are scared of putting themselves out there online because they don’t want to handle the trolls or are too embarrassed. That’s why it matters to be public. I want to show that it’s okay to be insecure and still be out there on the internet. Everyone has something to prove.

A headshot of Dillon wearing a suit on a blue background
Although it took some time, now Dillon wears his smile with confidence

I met Christina Larrow, a member of the CCAC who has a daughter with a cleft, over TikTok. She told me about Smile Train, and I joined the CCAC in January. It’s opened my eyes to all the ways people can support Smile Train besides donating or fundraising. You can spread the word, educate people, and donate your time to the cause.

Being part of the CCAC allowed me to be a featured speaker at Cleft Con New York this summer. It was both extremely humbling and uplifting. I always thought I lived on an island, but Cleft Con showed me that it doesn’t have to be that way. Every member of this community’s story matters so much because every one of them will resonate with somebody.

Young Dillon smiling and standing in front of a TV
Young Dillon had no idea how impactful his story would be for others

My advice to other people with clefts is that there’s no right way to deal with things. No advice is absolute. If something doesn’t feel right, say it isn’t, but always move on to the next tip, strategy, or technique. Something out there works for you. Put in the work, and you’ll find it.

Want to get involved in supporting the cleft community?