For Shannon Miller, Preparation Plus Pretending Builds Confidence
- Miller’s team won the first-ever gold for U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics
- She beat ovarian cancer in 2011 but admits she still finds annual health checks “nerve-racking”
- Once shy, Miller’s formula for “true confidence” is a combination of practice and pretending: “Chin up, shoulders back”
“And,” she adds, “you never know when one kind word or one act, in even the smallest of moments, may just give someone hope. You may just give them the strength to keep fighting. ”
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Admittedly, I was not always smiling during treatment for ovarian cancer in 2011. But my amazing nurses and doctors were amazing and always ready to try something different or just hold my hand. September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. While every day is a day to share the importance of awareness of the disease, signs and symptoms, raise fund for research, earlier detection and to support those who are battling this disease today, September gives us an opportunity to focus in on the message and come together in the battle against ovarian cancer. If you are or have a woman in your life (mom, sister, daughter, aunt, grandma, friend, co-worker…you get the idea 😉) it’s important to know the symptoms, talk with your doctor. If there is an event or a way you can get involved in your town, go for it! When we work together, amazing things can happen. And you never know when one kind word or one act, in even the smallest of moments, may just give someone hope. You may just give them the strength to keep fighting. #nationalovariancancerawarenessmonth #ovariancancer #earlydetection #earlydetectionsaveslives
“I Found A True Confidence”
Miller admitted recently that, despite her accomplishments as an athlete and cancer survivor, she doesn’t always feel courageous. To build it, she relies on her own tried-and-true formula — a combination of preparation and “chin-up” pretending.
“I wasn’t always the most confident in gymnastics or life,” Miller shared on Instagram (below). “But I found that if I trained hard/prepared and then pretended to be confident walking up to an event; over time, I found a true confidence.”
Miller has won a total of 108 medals in national and international competitions. And she is the only U.S. gymnast to win two World All-Around titles. So it was surprising to learn that sometimes, even Miller, needs a little help conjuring courage.
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I wasn’t always the most confident in gymnastics or life. But I found that if I trained hard/prepared and then pretended to be confident walking up to an event; over time, I found a true confidence. I think of it as working from both the inside out and the outside in. The work you put in each day allows you to understand where the confidence comes from. But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes we also have to really work on putting our chin up, shoulders back and walking into a boardroom or an arena like we belong there. And over time, you’ll realize…you do. #courage #theworkmatters #confidence
“I think of it as working from both the inside out and the outside in,” Miller continues. “The work you put in each day allows you to understand where the confidence comes from.”
Still, like the rest of us, she acknowledges that “sometimes that’s not enough.” “Sometimes we also have to really work on putting our chin up, shoulders back, and walking into a boardroom or an arena like we belong there. And over time, you’ll realize…you do.”
Annual Checkups: “Nerve-Racking”
A nine-year survivor, Miller still finds annual checkups nerve-racking. “It’s the smile I force in front of the kids as I busy myself (trying not to count the minutes until appointment time) as I inevitably recall what it was like to be stuck in bed too weak and nauseous to play with my son,” she shared on Instagram.
“It’s the underlying anxiety and worry, that I can typically push away, and yet bubbles to the surface as I walk in the door of my oncologist’s office.” Many cancer survivors call this “scanxiety,” referring to the lingering fear of a cancer recurrence.
She pushes away the underlying anxiety, she says, although it “bubbles to the surface as I walk in the door of my oncologist’s office.”
“It’s the wave of relief when I hear “your labs look good” which is soon replaced with the reality of making the next appointment. But today was a good day. Actually a great day! Every day I’m cancer-free is a great day.”
Dr. Jim Allison, 2018 Nobel Prize winner, tells SurvivorNet that the next big wave of cancer research will likely involve combining immunotherapy with targeted drugs.
Miller also advocates for cancer immunotherapy research. In May, she joined the New York-based Cancer Research Institute, in supporting the work of over 3,300 scientists globally.
Cancer Will “Humble You Real Quick”
In an interview with SurvivorNet, Miller said she was just 33 when she was diagnosed with germ cell ovarian cancer in 2011. Germ cell tumors are more likely to impact a single ovary and are more likely to occur in younger women. About 90% of these cases can be cured while preserving a woman’s fertility.
When Miller first decided to go public with her illness, she felt empowered: “I came from a shy background. I would hardly speak during my [gymnastics] training.”
“But I realized, you know what? I’ll go around and talk about my ovaries all day long, if it makes even one person think, ‘yep, I’m going to go to the doctor. I’m going to focus on my health.’ Then it is all worth it,” she told SurvivorNet.
Dr. David Cibula, former President of the European Society of Gynecological Oncology (ESGO), says combining immunotherapy with standard treatment is extending survival for women with relapsed ovarian cancer.
Screening for Ovarian Cancer?
Despite ovarian cancer’s reputation for being a devastating disease, when detected early enough, the disease has a better than 90% cure rate. The problem: it’s not an easy disease to diagnose, especially in its nascent stages, so only 20% of cases are caught early on.
Dr. Beth Karlan calls screening for ovarian cancer, “the holy grail.” Symptoms of the disease, like abdominal bloating, are subtle.
Dr. Beth Karlan, a gynecologic oncologist at UCLA Medical Center, says, “In certain high-risk women, who have either inherited a defect in a gene called BRCA1 or 2 or other associated genes with hereditary ovarian cancer, you should undergo an ultrasound of the pelvis—transvaginal ultrasound—and a CA-125, [a blood test] because it’s the best we have at the current time.”
But these tests are only routinely available for women with the aforementioned family histories of cancer, inherited genetic conditions like Lynch syndrome (which is a form of colorectal cancer) and/or women presenting with recurring symptoms of the disease.
In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, low-risk women may be better off skipping screening if they aren’t experiencing symptoms. “In studies of women at average risk of ovarian cancer, using TVUS [transvaginal ultrasound] and CA-125 [blood test] for screening led to more testing and sometimes more surgeries, but did not lower the number of deaths caused by ovarian cancer.” And so for that reason, they don’t recommend routine testing.
So while there’s no widespread screening method currently available, researchers are working hard to find one. As Dr. Karlan says, “finding an early detection method for ovarian cancer is really like the holy grail.”