Shannon Miller, the most decorated gymnast in US history, was diagnosed with germ cell ovarian cancer in 2011. After surgery and chemotherapy, Shannon is doing well and expecting her second child, a daugther, this Summer. In honor of World Ovarian Cancer Day, we asked Shannon to tell us about how her ovarian cancer diagnosis changed her life, her hopes for her kids and her views on medical research.
How has your cancer experience changed your outlook on life?
My life has changed no doubt about it. There is nothing like the threat of losing everything to remind you what is truly important. While I’m still very driven, I’m also better able to stop and enjoy life each step along the way instead of simply racing to the next thing. The insight I’ve gained throughout the cancer process is the realization that we all need to take control of our own health. Get those screenings and exams. Work to find a healthy moderation in your diet and exercise. Take time for ourselves so that we can recharge. My passion as an advocate for women’s health has only increased.
What are your hopes for your kids, health-wise?
Having children is scary. You’re constantly worried about making a mistake with them. But it’s the fear of the unknown that can be the most nerve racking. There are some things you simply cannot control. I hope to instill in both my children the idea that physical activity is fun and that a healthy diet is important. Beyond that, I will do everything I can to help them lead a healthy, happy life. We cannot prevent everything, but if we can work on areas of prevention and teach them to listen to their bodies so that as they get older they get the proper screenings and tests, then that’s a good thing. I don’t want them to live in fear but I want them to know that early detection is important.
In your view, what role does medical research play in improving health?
Research is vital to saving lives and improving the quality of lives. There have been so many discoveries made that have helped create more cancer survivors than ever before. Cancer no longer has to be a death sentence. But there is more work to be done. We need more tests and screenings for certain types of cancer. We need to be able to catch them earlier. I encourage others to take action and help with the many fundraisers that go on year round to help raise funds for cancer research. In some way, we will all be touched by cancer. Let’s find ways to detect it earlier and let’s find a cure!
look at your family history and take note of areas where you may need more focus at each visit.
What are your thoughts on determining the genetic risk of ovarian cancer and being armed with information?
It’s important to understand your family history so that you and your personal physician understand areas where you may need to be more diligent in your health care. Determining genetic risk is an exciting new tool but it’s important that a person be prepared for what they might find. It’s not a decision to take lightly, and it’s important to speak with your physician about what the testing and the results may mean to you. As one young woman said to me, “If you decide to get genetic testing, you need to be prepared beforehand with what you’ll do with the information.” Overall, I think it’s good to have options. If the testing is available then you have more choices. And certainly it’s good to have more information on why certain types of cancer affect certain people. This allows a physician to
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