Abby Lee Miller, star of the reality TV show “Dance Moms” and owner of the Abby Lee Dance Company, says women should record what their doctors are telling them about their bodies, and if they won’t let you record the information, get a new doctor.
“If you go to a doctor — this is kind of my little tell-tale sign — ask them if you can record what they’re saying. If they tell you no, find another doctor,” said Miller in a recent video interview with Women’s Health.READ MORE
She explained that to her, sitting in the doctor’s office isn’t when she feels calm, and she wants to make sure she can listen to their advice again when she’s more comfortable. “You want that information, you wan to be able to go home and process it, and listen to it over and over and hear exactly what they said because let’s face it if you’re in the emergency room, or you’re in the doctors office, you’re upset, you’re worked up, you’re in pain, and you might not hear everything clearly. That’s my advice. When you know something’s wrong, get to the bottom of it.”
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Miller drew on her own experience as a woman and working with women, to sketch out what she sees as one of the main problems with the way women respond to illness: they take care of everyone else, and forget about themselves. “I think you need to be an advocate for your own body. And I work with so many women because their daughters take dance from me. And I know that woman all over the world take care of their children,” Miller said. “They twist their ankle, they have a cough, they have spots all over them, you are at the doctor immediately. You also take care of your husband. When he’s sick it’s like the whole world is coming to an end. And you also take care of your own parents. You become the caregiver. And you put yourself last.”
She even admitted that was how she had always acted, taking care of others’ health before her own, “That’s what I always did.”
But when the pain is really bad, Miller said, you have to take care of yourself too, “But when you know that there’s a pain that is so significant, that is so traumatic, you have to do something about it. You have to find the answers.”
Wigs and Hair Loss
Miller said that she’s a proponent of cheap wigs, and of making sure you get the style you really want if you get a more expensive wig, “My advice for anyone shopping for a wig is buy the cheap ones, the 39.99 jobs, find something you like, the style perhaps, and then maybe have it copied, in a real one.”
“I found out much too late that there’s a hair salon in Pittsburgh and that’s what they do they make wigs that match your look before you had the chemo and lost your hair,” she added.
But for the most part, she found the process of trying new looks to be fun, and something she never would have been able to do without cancer, “I think you should go the cheap route, and I change my look up. I had a brand new wig on the show every single week this season. Just trying out different looks. It’s fun. You can do crazy things that you would never do with your own hair. Like dye it pink.”
Getting used to a wheelchair
For Miller, the wheelchair was really difficult at first, “Using a wheelchair for the first time — that’s driving a car for the first time. Literally. I am in my wheelchair sixteen hours a day sometimes. On set, literally sixteen hours a day,” she said.
And she said that her doctors’ advice about how to cope with her wheelchair turned out to be really valuable, “Pressure relief, taking the pressure off of your tailbone, all of things your physical therapist is going to tell you about, take it. Take their advice, and live with it. Because it’s so important to protect the body that you have left.”
No matter what, Miller said, you have to make sure the wheelchair is comfortable, because it’s going to be with you all of the time, “This is going to be your car. This is going to be your legs, this is your seat, this is your lounge chair for the pool. This is everything, so make sure it fits you, make sure it’s comfortable.”
Miller said that she actually had rounds of chemo after doctors found that there was no cancer in her body, “I had a PET scan done three sessions in, three treatments of chemotherapy in and there was not one cell of cancer. I did seven more session because let’s be safe, let’s get it all.”
And she sometimes wonders whether she might be walking already without those extra rounds,”And now I wonder if I would be walking now if maybe I would be walking if I would have just been in physical therapy that whole time.” Ultimately, she said, there’s no way to know for sure.
Keeping her eye on the prize
Miller explained that her treatment was very invasive and very and very difficult, “I had ten rounds of chemotherapy. Very, very, very invasive chemotherapy. The spinal tap, the big huge needle going into my spine, injecting chemotherapy, shooting it up my spinal cord to go around my brain. It was bad. It was poison, in my system day in and day out for months.”
But she says that her role in the dance world is to be competitive, “I have a competitive spirit. It’s what I do, it’s my livelihood. I go to competitions to win. Not for the experience, not to just see how it goes, but I go for the win. And if I know in the back of my mind that it’s not going to be a big winning number then I’m probably tryin to teach the kids something about performing, or about doing a different kind of routine.”
And that she brought that same competitive spirit to cancer, “Did I want to beat the dance studio down the street? Yes. Did I want to Beat Burkitt Lymphoma, hell yes.”
Burkitt Lymphoma, A Rare But Aggressive Type of Blood Cancer
In a conversation that was not specific to Miller’s cancer, Dr. Catherine Diefenbach, Director of Translational Hematology and Clinical Lymphoma at NYU Langone Health and the Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously explained that “Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not one disease, it’s many diseases.” There are over 68 types of lymphoma, and that includes Burkitt lymphoma, which is a rare yet aggressive cancer that begins in the immune B-cells (in the bone marrow) and has been known to spread to the jaw, central nervous system, bowel, kidneys, ovaries, and other organs.
Treatment varies across different lymphoma types, which is why Dr. Diefenbach said “it’s very important that you’re treated by a lymphoma specialist,” to determine the best treatment regimen—which in Miller’s case was chemotherapy and surgery.