Shannon Miller stole the hearts of Americans in 1992, when she won five Olympic Medals in gymnastics. She then delighted the country when she led the “Magnificent 7” to gold in the 1996 Olympics and followed up with the first US gold medal on the balance beam, making her the most decorated gymnast in American history. However, her biggest challenge yet may have been the diagnosis of a rare form of ovarian cancer in January 2011. Shannon describes her move from Olympic athlete to advocate for the health and wellness of women and children as we asked her a few questions recently:
CCSB Question: You were only 32 years of age when diagnosed with ovarian cancer. What were you thoughts when hearing that news?
Shannon Miller: It was certainly a shock, as a cancer diagnosis always is. My company, which is focused on women’s health and wellness had launched the previous year. I was interviewing physicians regarding health issues on a weekly basis as host of a radio show and was involved with different organizations that raised funds for cancer research. In fact, my mother is a cancer survivor. But nothing prepares you for that moment. I was stunned, upset, resolute, and confused all within seconds of the diagnosis. My son was just over a year old and my thoughts kept coming back to one thing…..My son needs his mommy. As others around me went through denial, I began to feel isolated. For several weeks, I floundered until one day I decided I did not want to be the victim…..I was going to fight. I relied on my faith and many of the lessons I had learned through sport to give me strength during my battle.
CCSB Question: What have you learned about ovarian cancer since beginning this journey?
Shannon Miller: I had little knowledge of ovarian cancer at the time I was diagnosed. In fact, I had no idea I was having three of the main symptoms in the weeks before my doctor’s appointment. I was going in for a post baby appointment and gearing up to try for baby #2. I think many of us have this perception that ovarian cancer only happens to “older” women. That’s simply not the case. It’s also true that there are different types of ovarian cancer. The form I had which is a germ cell tumor, and very rare, often happens with women in their late teens and early 20’s.
I learned the primary symptoms such as bloating, stomach aches, weight loss and frequent urination. I also learned that there is no specific test for ovarian cancer. That’s why it is critical that women know the symptoms and communicate them clearly with their physician. It’s also one of the reasons I am such a big advocate of yearly exams. These yearly visits create a base line so that both we and our physician can see when changes occur. We can’t prevent a cancer diagnosis, but the earlier we catch it the more options we’ll have. In addition, you may catch other issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
What I learned was that I am not invincible. I have to make my health a priority.
CCSB Question: What would you like to share with other women about your experience?
Shannon Miller: Mostly I want women to know that there is hope. A diagnosis of ovarian cancer, or any kind of cancer, can be devastating. It’s critical for positive stories to be out there. Women need to know that there are new ways of battling this disease. Hearing stories of women who survived and thrived was an important part of my journey. These stories gave me hope on the most difficult days. I needed to know that I was not alone.
If you would like to learn more about Shannon’s courageous story, please check out her bio at: Shannon Miller She also recently released her new book, It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life.
You can help raise awareness of Ovarian Cancer, too, by wearing a teal ribbon, the symbol of ovarian cancer awareness.
Did you know that approximately 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and the survival rate is only about 30%? If detected early (Stage 1), the five-year survival rate is more than 93%. However, there is no screening test to detect ovarian cancer, which is why this cancer is often discovered in later stages. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often subtle and easily confused with other ailments.
Symptoms may include:
• Pelvic or Abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Urinary urgency or frequency
Other symptoms may include:
- Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Weight Gain
Talk to your doctor if symptoms last more than 2-3 weeks. You are your best advocate.