How Cancer Survivor Abby Lee Miller Is Helping A Friend
- Abby Lee Miller, star of the hit TLC show “Dance Moms” and a cancer survivor, is working to help her 63-year-old friend Gerald Ross get a living-donor liver transplant.
- Miller — who was previously diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and has been mostly confined to a wheelchair since she had a tumor attached to her spine removed— is encouraging anyone interested in becoming a living-liver donor to help Ross to apply through UPMC Transplant Services.
- According to UPMC, a liver transplant “is the only curative treatment for people with liver failure, also known as end-stage liver disease.”
- However, it’s important to remember to discuss with your doctor whether a liver transplant is the right course of action for you.
- While we don’t know what specific disease Ross has, we do know that liver cancer is one reason why someone may need a liver transplant.
The dance coach and reality TLC star shared a photo of herself smiling alongside Ross, including some helpful information, in a recent Instagram post in hopes to get her “lifelong friend” the critical care he needs.Read More
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Miller also shared a photo of a flyer, created to spread the word on Ross’ case, which reads, “Jerry is in need of a liver transplant and looking for a living donor.”
“At 63 years old, the sooner this happens, the better and even if you don’t know him your kindness in considering this, is forever appreciated.”
In another photo, shared in Miller’s post, the choreographer wrote, “My dear friend,life long friend, family friend, hand walking, gymnast, tap teacher, musical theater aficionado friend NEEDS OUR HELP! Please spread the word. Maybe just maybe you know someone who can help!”
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According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Life Changing Medicine, living-donor liver donations may be helpful as more than 11,000 Americans are currently on a liver transplant waiting list and only approximately 5,000 deceased-donor livers are available for transplants.
Miller — who was previously diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and has been mostly confined to a wheelchair since she had a tumor attached to her spine removed — is encouraging anyone interested in becoming a living-liver donor to help Ross to apply through UPMC Transplant Services.
What Is Living-Donor Liver Transplant?
According to UPMC, a liver transplant “is the only curative treatment for people with liver failure, also known as end-stage liver disease.”
However, it’s important to remember to discuss with your doctor on whether a liver transplant is the right course of action. And anyone diagnosed with the following may be in need of a liver transplant:
- Cirrhosis (chronic liver damage which leads to scarring and liver failure)
- Liver (Hepatic) cancer (cancer that develops in the cells of the liver)
- Chronic liver conditions that medicine and treatment can’t help
- Drug-induced liver failure
“During this surgery, doctors remove your failing liver and replace it with either a healthy liver from a deceased donor or a portion of a liver from a living donor,” UPMC explains. “Living-donor liver transplant is possible because the liver grows back, or regenerates, in just eight to twelve weeks.”
Prior to undergoing a liver transplant, doctors will likely access whether a transplant is what you need, through tests like physical exams, CT scans, ultrasounds, a mental/physical health assessment, as well as a check on your personal support system, according to UPMC.
Understanding Liver Cancer
It’s unclear what disease Abby Lee Miller’s friend Gerald Ross has. But here’s what we know about liver cancer.
Liver cancer starts out in the liver, an organ located under the diaphragm and above the stomach. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 41,210 new cases (27,980 in men and 13,230 in women) will be diagnosed with primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer in 2023.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of the disease. However, other types of liver cancers do exist.
The likelihood of someone developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) can include the following risk factors:
- Gender (hepatocellular carcinoma is more common in men)
- Race/ethnicity (The highest rates of liver cancer among people in the U.S. are among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)
- Chronic (long-lasting) viral hepatitis
- Cirrhosis (severe liver scarring)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Tobacco use
Symptoms of liver cancer may include:
- Pain on the right side of the upper abdomen or back and shoulder
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of fullness
- Weight loss
- Yellowing of the eyes and the skin (jaundice)
Being a Friend to Someone With Cancer
It’s natural to want to be there for a friend during a health struggle, like Abby Lee Miller has shown with her friend Gerald Ross.
And the American Cancer Society advises that patients usually need “help, support, and encouragement,” noting that studies have shown that cancer survivors with a strong support system are often more optimistic as they heal.
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The society advises friends of patients to communicate and listen to their needs, schedule visits, offer to do errands or projects, give gifts, and even help the caregiver[s] in any way that’s needed.
Tracy White, a two-time cervical cancer survivor, previously told SurvivorNet how she took the time to pay tribute to all of the people who helped her get through her diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent recurrence. And there were certainly a lot of names to names when it came to her support system.
Like so many survivors, White said that having that support from loved ones made a world of difference and really helped her heal.
White explained, “I had so many friends that stepped up. Two people in particular. One is a nurse … she lives in Ohio, and she came out so many times. Another best friend who is locally here in New Jersey, she would also come and take care of me. She would entertain my son when we needed a rest.”
The Benefit of Support Networks for Cancer Patients
She also had support from prayer groups that she was a part of all over the world and the parents at her son’s school, who would help her make meals and watch her son on days she had chemotherapy.
“I couldn’t have done it without all of them,” White said.
Abby Lee Miller’s Cancer Battle
Abby Lee Miller was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in April 2018. Burkitt is rare (making up 1% to 2% of all lymphomas) and typically starts in the abdomen, where it forms a large tumor. It can quickly spread to the brain and spinal fluid.
According to Lymphoma Research Foundation, this rapidly-growing form of cancer may affect the central nervous system, jaw, bowel, kidneys, ovaries, or other organs.
Miller, who was living in a halfway house in Long Beach, California, at the time, began experiencing pain. She had just been released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville where she served nearly a year-long sentence after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud in June 2016.
Experiencing pain she had never felt before, Miller went to a local urgent care clinic, tests were done, but she was sent home, undiagnosed. Because her jaw hurt, she went to a dentist who “did an ice cube check on every tooth and said there’s nothing wrong with your teeth,” she previously told SurvivorNet.
However, the pain persisted.
Miller ended up at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where she was discharged after three days in “worse pain than I went in with,” prompting medical team to suggest she go to a pain management clinic.
Several days later, Abby Lee Miller returned to the hospital, barely able to move her arms, legs or jaw, and underwent emergency surgery.
Her doctor “went to my spinal cord and meticulously pulled a slime, a tar-like substance, away from the spinal cord,” she says. It was complications she suffered during this surgery that have bound her to an electric wheelchair.
In May 2019, Miller was determined to be cancer-free and started making good progress in her recovery. As of April 2021, she continued to have PET scans every three months to check for any recurrence.
Miller attends regular physical therapy sessions to build her strength back, but faced yet another obstacle as a result of a second spinal surgery she had in October 2020.
The procedure caused two vertebrae fractures; she went through a third spinal surgery in November 2020 to rectify it.
More recently, she says, “I can walk a couple steps with the walker, but I’m not where I was before September 30 (of 2020).”
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Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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