September 6, 2011
With seven Olympic medals, nine World Championship medals and honored in eight Halls of Fame, Shannon Miller remains the most decorated U.S. gymnast of all time.
Reflecting on the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta may bring back memories of the “Magnificent 7,” the tiny but powerful U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team who captured gold for the U.S. in the team competition for the first time in history. It was during those Olympics that Miller also became the first American to ever win the balance beam event. Recalling the moment of landing her gold-medal winning routine in Atlanta, she smiles, remembering that, “I just wanted to live in that one moment. It was perfect.”
Fast-forward 15 years later. Miller can be found running her own health and fitness lifestyle company, Shannon Miller Lifestyle, while also caring for her husband and two-year-old son, Rocco. From writing books to hosting her own radio show, Miller is a busy full time career-woman, wife and mother. However, one doctor’s appointment last December turned her already hectic life upside down when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I was really busy and thinking about putting off that appointment. But that day, there was this little voice in my head, telling me not to reschedule,” said Miller. It was at that appointment the doctor found a baseball-sized cyst on one of her ovaries. She was later diagnosed with a malignant germ-cell tumor, a less common form of ovarian cancer that is often found in young women under the age of 30. Miller had no family history of ovarian cancer, and physically, felt at the top of her game.
“There isn’t a particular test or screening for ovarian cancer, and it’s a silent killer because there are often no symptoms until it’s too late,” said Miller. Now, she is a vocal public advocate for early detection, urging women of all ages to make their health a priority.
“Do not delay. Do not reschedule. Early detection saves lives. It’s so important to educate yourself and be aware of the signs and symptoms,” said Miller. Had she waited a few more months or put off her regular appointment until the following year, the outcome of her diagnosis could have been a completely different story.
“Cancer doesn’t care how many gold medals you’ve won, your age, who you are or where you’re from. It doesn’t discriminate,” said Miller. She emphasized the importance of being in tune with your body, and knowing what feels normal and when something “feels off”. Despite the surgery and chemotherapy, Miller’s doctors are still optimistic about her chances of being able to have children again someday. They caught the cancer early, and since Miller is young and otherwise healthy, her chances of recovery are much higher.
Miller blogs weekly, openly sharing her experience of undergoing chemo, hoping to provide support and awareness to others. She even posted a video of having her head shaved. As a celebrity and a decorated Olympian, Miller felt that it was her responsibility to use her resources to bring light to the ovarian cancer cause.
Most importantly, she hopes to spread the word to all women that regular exams and early detection are essential. “I feel that because women are caretakers, we tend to put work, family and everything else first, and ourselves last. One or two hours in the doctor’s office can save your life.”
And although ovarian cancer affects only women, she does have a message for the men out there: “Every man has a mother, a sister, a wife, some woman in his life that he loves. He can make sure that the women in his life are taking care of themselves, and ensure that they make their health a priority. Men can help send the message to women that their health matters.”
Follow Shannon’s journey on her blog at www.shannonmillerlifestyle.com