When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 33, Shannon Miller — like many in the SurvivorNet community — learned to embrace uncertainty. Now a mother of two, Miller, 43, is getting the hang of home-schooling under quarantine: “First day of distance-learning is in the books! No tears (at least not from the kids.”Read More
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First day of distance-learning is in the books! No tears (at least not from the kids ????????) First, this was the picture my son took of our PE class. ???????????? I may have lost control during this portion. (But i got my own push-ups in. ????) Second, and more importantly, THANK YOU to our teachers and every teacher out there for all you do. Thank you for answering the thousands of crazy questions from us parents. Thank you for the technology help. ☺️ Thank you for the encouragement, strength, confidence and skills that you give our children. As we all figure this out together it’s incredible to have such wonderful people jumping in to keep our children on track and having fun. #teacherdayiseveryday #thankyou #covid19 #distancelearning #momlife
A Record-Breaking Olympic Career
Miller holds two gold, two silver and three bronze Olympic medals, and broke the record for winning the most Olympic medals of any U.S. athlete in any sport during the 1992 Olympics when she won two silver and three bronze medals in one Olympics.
In 1996, she led the “Magnificent Seven,” a group of seven record-breaking female gymnasts, to the first-ever U.S. Women’s Team Gold, and was the first American ever to win gold for the Balance Beam. She has won 59 international and 49 national competition medals.
Now, she’s thinking of the athletes poised to compete in Japan, which has postponed the 2020 summer Olympic games. “I know this affects athletes in so many different ways. Just know that We Are With You!,” she wrote earlier this week. “We celebrate all you have accomplished … and we will keep cheering for you every step of the way!!!”
Of her “Magnificent Seven” teammates, Miller says, ‘we have to find a way to get together … It might be face-time or zoom, but we can make it happen!”
Ovarian Cancer: Early Diagnosis is the Holy Grail
Miller was diagnosed with “germ cell” ovarian cancer in 2011 at the age of 33. Germ cell tumors are more likely to impact a single ovary, rather than both, and when you hear about a teen or young woman being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it’s usually germ cell. About 90% of these cases can not only be cured; fertility can often be preserved, as well.
Miller says the mental and emotional lessons she learned from gymnastics, “things like goal setting, teamwork, and positive attitude,” sustained her through her cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy. “Here I had swung around uneven bars for more than a decade and now I couldn’t open a bottle of water.”
Dr. Beth Karlan, a gynecologic oncologist at UCLA Medical Center on screening for ovarian cancer
Early in her recovery, she began setting small daily goals. “On many days, my goal was to get up, get dressed, and walk twice around the dining room table,” she explained. “And if I did that, I could check the box and that was a good day. I didn’t always get there — but that was the goal.”
Now, she’s become a vocal advocate for women’s health. “I came from a shy background,” she said, “But I realized, you know what? I’ll go around and talk about my ovaries all day long if it really does make 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,” Shannon told SurvivorNet.
While there’s no widespread screening method currently available for ovarian cancer, researchers are working hard to find one, says Dr. Beth Karlan, a gynecologic oncologist at UCLA Medical Center, “finding an early detection method for ovarian cancer is really like the holy grail.”
Genetic Testing After Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
It’s estimated that 80% of women with ovarian cancer do not get offered a genetic test. “We think that needs to change,” says Sheryl Walker, M.S. CGC, lead genetic counselor at Medical City Dallas Hospital in Texas, “because these tests can open up a whole new range of treatment and inform women about he best treatment options for their specific cancer.”
Sheryl Walker, M.S. CGC, lead genetic counselor at Medical City Dallas Hospital in Texas, on the importance of genetic testing after an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
“All patients that have ovarian cancer meet criteria for genetic testing, 100%,” says Sheryl Walker, a cancer genetic counselor at Medical City Dallas Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
“Unfortunately, only about 30% of patients with ovarian cancer ever actually proceed with genetic testing, which is a very unfortunate statistic.” According to Walker, there are three main reasons that women with ovarian cancer should get genetic testing:
- First, genetic testing can help women better understand why they developed ovarian cancer in the first place. While lifestyle and chance play into cancer diagnoses, inherited risk — which is evaluated during a genetic test — can play a huge role.
- Secondly, if a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she may have a gene mutation that puts her at an increased risk for completely different types of cancer — for instance, breast or colon cancer. Genetic testing can provide women with this valuable information, too.
- Finally, the third reason for genetic testing is that the information it reveals can be relayed to family members who may want to get tested to assess their own risk.