Shannon Miller Opens Up On Cancer Challenge As Visit To Fairfield Nears

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Olympian Shannon Miller will speak in Fairfield on Thursday, March 20.
Olympian Shannon Miller will speak in Fairfield on Thursday, March 20. Photo Credit: Flickr user IntelFreePress

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Gymnast Shannon Miller, who won two gold medals in the 1996 Olympics, will visit CT Challenge on Thursday, March 20, to inspire other cancer survivors.

Miller's talk will be at Roger Ludlowe Middle School at 7 p.m. She will greet other cancer survivors at a reception before her presentation.

In 2011, Miller was diagnosed with a malignant germ cell tumor, a rare form of ovarian cancer. She had a baseball-size tumor removed and followed up with nine weeks of chemotherapy. Now cancer-free, Miller continues to be an advocate for awareness and early cancer detection.

The Daily Voice conducted an interview with Miller via email:

TDV: What is your primary message for cancer survivors?

Keep fighting. A cancer diagnosis is an emotional roller coaster. Even when you beat it, you face other issues. You have the joy of being handed your life but often face other physical changes and the ongoing concern of “Will it come back?” This can become depressing. My message for survivors is to remain positive as much as possible and surround yourself with others who can help you. Find programs in your area, like The Connecticut Challenge, specifically for survivors. A great way to turn a negative into a positive is to reach out to others who are going through their own diagnosis or treatment. 

TDV: When you were diagnosed in January 2011, what was your reaction?

My official cancer diagnosis came after my tumor had been surgically removed along with my left ovary. I can’t say I was completely shocked because there seemed to be a very real possibility even prior to surgery. I think the biggest shock for me was when I learned that there was a baseball size “mass” on my left ovary. Benign or malignant, it baffled me that I could have something like that and not know.

TDV: What kind of therapies did you experience? 

I had surgery to remove my left fallopian tube and ovary along with the tumor. It was an invasive surgery that left me with a 6-inch scar and unable to lift my 14-month-old son for eight weeks. After that I faced a nine-week chemotherapy (BEP) regimen. I really thought I was prepared. But chemo knocked me down the first week. I had terrible nausea that left me unable to keep down water at times. So I received IV fluids twice a day. I quickly learned how the cycle affected me.

TDV: Did your background in gymnastics help you mentally in getting over the rough spots and daily challenges?

It really did. I was able to find and focus on those long-term and short-term goals. As bad as it was at times, I knew that I could rely on God to not only help me through it but to also find a way to use this experience to help others. In gymnastics it’s a daily struggle for that long-term goal. So chemotherapy in particular was something I could really equate to my sports background.

TDV: The Connecticut Challenge encourages people to stay active in their fight against cancer. Is that one of the aspects in your recovery that you feel has helped you? 

Remaining active helped me before during and after my treatments. Not only is it good for us physically, but I think it’s also important emotionally and psychologically. Those days that I could take a 10-minute walk were empowering!

TDV: What do you think about the CT Challenge's mission to empower cancer survivors?

I’m excited about The CT Challenge. It is critical that the resources and support continue after treatment. A cancer diagnosis is a lifetime diagnosis. You don’t finish therapy and go back to “life as normal.” You are a survivor, you are changed. And you are often changed in a very positive way, but we do face issues. We need direction, we need to reach out to help others and we need support. This is an incredible resource for the growing number of cancer survivors!

TDV: You have had an interesting ride these past three years – cancer, survival, and a baby last year. Considering the health issues you had, how rewarding was it for you emotionally to have a child after all you had been through?

We feel like Sterling is our miracle baby. Not only were we able to conceive after surgery and chemotherapy but it was the idea of her, of having a second child, that prompted me to go to my OB-GYN in the first place. It was at that appointment when they found the cyst. I have to be very careful not to allow myself to start wondering; “What if I had not gone to the appointment?”

TDV: For someone who has just recently been diagnosed with cancer, what advice would you have for them?

I’m not sure there are many words that can help during that moment. I want to reach out and hug them. Everyone’s diagnosis is different but no matter what the case is: keep fighting!

For more information and to purchase tickets ($5 for students, $8 for adults), go to www.ctchallenge.org/shannonmiller.

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www.shannon-miller.com for the truth about the gymnast.