From Survivor to Thriver

Ovarian Cancer Survivor Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller is a 7-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics. She’s also a mother, an author, a dedicated health and wellness advocate - and an ovarian cancer survivor. An unexpected cancer diagnosis, and the treatment journey that followed, forced her to discover a new normal and has further fueled her passion of empowering and educating women around health and wellness.

Any woman touched by cancer knows her journey is never truly over. She becomes a survivor at diagnosis, and continues thriving long after remission, but the fight is ongoing. As a survivor you want to celebrate, but, you may also feel as if not much has changed. You’re still dealing with the fatigue and with recovery from surgeries, or trying to handle the neuropathy and other long-term effects. You wonder when these lingering effects will go away.

To me, survivorship has meant acknowledging that I am still on a journey while learning to understand my new normal. Talking about my experiences post-treatment, both to help heal myself and to help other women, has been a super important part of my evolution from surviving ovarian cancer to thriving in my new life.

This is why programs like Our Way Forward are essential to help women and their loved ones through this unchartered territory. New physical and emotional considerations come along with survivorship, including fear of recurrence and questions about additional treatment.

Here’s what I think women at any stage of ovarian cancer, survivors especially, should keep in mind:

  • Run your own race: Recover at your own pace. If you try to compare your experience to another’s, you are bound to be disappointed or even confused by your own progress.
  • Be patient: Getting back on track takes time. Keep working at it, and don’t give up. Work with a physician who can address your specific wellness needs and help personalize your approach to nutrition and physical activity.
  • Set actionable goals: Even if your goals feel smaller now than before diagnosis, it’s important to work toward them. For me, it was facing the reality that walking around our dining room table twice was a really good workout. We all need to feel like we’re moving forward.
  • Seek out other thrivers for support: It’s crucial to know you’re not alone and there are resources out there for you. Many have lived your experiences and are here to lift up this community of women by sharing their stories.

Despite all I’ve been through, I am grateful to be here. Having cancer is one of those times in life where everything else falls away and only things of true importance rise to the top. Clarity surrounds you and you refocus your priorities. In my case, the experience reinforced the importance of health and wellness in my life, both before and after cancer.

There’s a sisterhood in cancer and the journey it takes us on. Cancer doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from, or how many gold medals you have – we’re never alone in our journeys. Finding and forging personal connections can help us better navigate our new normal, from diagnosis through survivorship. Often it’s the small tips and inspiring words of advice we offer each other that make all the difference.

When I speak with other ovarian cancer survivors, we acknowledge how freeing and encouraging it is to learn that we have something inside that enabled us to fight back against an obstacle this challenging. It’s a power we may not have known we possessed, but can now call upon through other difficulties life may throw our way.

We must continue to encourage each other to prepare, be proactive, and persevere to reach our goals – traits I adopted from my time as a gymnast. I’m not leaving my health or well-being up to chance; I’m taking action. And, I wish the same for other women. Join me in making our health, in all senses of the word, a priority.

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