Disease & Illness

Olympic Gymnast Shannon Miller Opens Up About Her Cancer Battle

“You can’t leave your health up to luck."

Shannon Miller is the most decorated Olympic gymnast — male or female — in history, winning seven medals. She’s even won two gold medals, one as part of the “Magnificent Seven” in the 1996 Atlanta team and another for the balance beam in Atlanta. When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven years ago, she harnessed some of the same strength and determination that she relied on as an athlete to fight cancer.

Miller’s cancer battle and recovery led her to become an advocate for women’s health, and she has partnered with oncology-focused pharmaceutical company TESARO to promote the Our Way Forward campaign. The program is intended to help other women learn more about ovarian cancer, providing resources as they navigate the challenges associated with their diagnosis and treatment. It also helps cancer patients, and their loved ones and physicians to navigate issues that arrive post-treatment.

shannon miller photo
Getty Images | Bryan Bedder

In a recent interview, Miller told us that prior to her ovarian cancer diagnosis she was experiencing bloating, stomach pain and significant weight loss — which should have been red flags, but she mistakenly chalked them up to “women’s issues.” At her annual exam, her doctor found a baseball-size mass on her left ovary. The tumor was successfully removed and she went through an aggressive chemotherapy regimen.

Her takeaway message? “You can’t leave your health up to luck,” she said.

Now, she is cancer-free and is an advocate for early detection.

Courtesy photo

“We’re so busy and have so much going on, but we have to make sure our health is a priority and we need to listen to our bodies,” Miller said.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women and is the deadliest of the gynecological cancers. A woman’s lifetime risk of developing invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 79, and ovarian cancer rates are highest in women ages 55 to 64, according to Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.

In her own cancer journey, Miller applied the lessons she learned from gymnastics — values such as goal-setting and perseverance.

shannon miller photo
Getty Images | Doug Pensinger

As she was recovering from surgery and going through chemo, she would set daily goals. Sometimes her goal was as simple as getting dressed and walking around her dining room table twice. “That was my win,” she recalled.

Teamwork, she said, was also critical when she was fighting cancer as she had her physicians and her family members in her corner. The Our Way Forward campaign is helpful in that it can bring ovarian cancer patients, their loved ones and their doctors together to talk about the disease.

Miller has also taken the lessons she learned as an Olympic athlete and her battle with cancer to publish an inspirational memoir, “It’s Not About Perfect: Competing For My Country, Fighting For My Life.”

You can learn more about ovarian cancer from the American Cancer Society.

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