A cancer diagnosis is never easy, no matter what kind of cancer or how far it’s progressed. It reminds us that we are not invincible. However, it also reminds us of our priorities. It allows us to let go of the little things and focus on the most important things in our life. My tumor was discovered at a regular GYN appointment in mid December of 2010. I almost postponed that appointment. I was too busy to deal with it. However, a little voice in the back of my head made me stop. While cancer was certainly not on my mind, I did know that these visits were important. I took the first available appointment that morning. It was at that visit my doctor found a baseball sized cyst on my left ovary.
I wasn’t terribly alarmed at first. He explained that women have cysts that come and go all of the time. I received more tests, then more after that and by January I was sitting in a gynecologic oncologists office hearing words like “mass” and “cancer.” On January 13th I had surgery to remove the tumor along with my left tube and ovary. That was one of the most difficult parts of my journey. It was fear of the unknown. I didn’t know what I would wake up to. Would the tumor be benign? Would it be malignant? Would I have to have a hysterectomy and never bear more children? What if it had spread? I couldn’t allow my mind to go there.
After surgery, we were so excited. Yes, it was malignant; however, they had caught it at stage 1A!! it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that we learned it was a higher grade malignancy than originally thought and I would have to go through 9 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy.
At that point, I slipped into my competitive mindset. I could compete against this disease! I took on chemo like I did Olympic competition. I prepared my body and mind for what lay ahead. Although I admit I didn’t realize that chemo could pack such a punch! I landed back in the hospital that first grueling week with dehydration and low blood pressure. It was at that point it became real. I was really going through this, this had really happened. Cancer didn’t care that I had 7 Olympic medals. I focused on taking it one day at a time and trying to achieve some type of goal each day. The nausea was severe, the fatigue difficult. I have numbness and tingling in my hands and feet that still has not gone away. But I made it through.
Losing my hair was one of the more difficult parts of treatment. Even when you think you’re ready for it, losing your hair is a shock. Mine came out in clumps, and left me feeling depressed and embarrassed. Like a lot of people, I saw my hair loss as a symbol of my sickness. I was scared that my son might be frightened of me. I had to turn this around in mind. I had to say to myself: losing my hair is a symbol of all that I am doing to get and remain healthy. It’s a symbol of my road to recovery and good health.
When it came time, I shaved my head. This was something I could control. One of the most difficult and humbling experiences about a cancer diagnosis can be the loss of control. I fought back and regained a little bit of the control I lost.
While it’s easy to think that how we look on the outside isn’t important when you are fighting for your life, it really is. It’s important to be able to look in the mirror and feel like you are still in there somewhere. For many of us, we have to keep up with work, family and other obligations even during treatment. It’s hard to feel like yourself if you don’t look like yourself. Sometimes we just need a break from the roller coaster ride.
That’s one of the reasons I love the Look Good Feel Better program. They understand that the outside is important. Looking good on the outside can help you feel better on the inside. Feeling better overall can give you hope and a better outlook which can aid you in a more positive outcome.
My day at the Look Good Feel Better workshop was a fabulous day filled with laughter, bonding and some great tips and techniques. Like how to use concealer, apply foundation and brighten your eyes with the right shadow colors. We also learned the importance of wearing sunscreen, especially on the top of the head. And how to fill in your eyebrows, style a wig and tie a turban. These are not things you necessarily ask your physician about.
On this day, it wasn’t about the cancer. It was about feeling beautiful, gaining confidence and transforming signs of sickness into signs of life. All with help from the Look Good Feel Better program.
Shannon Miller remains The Most Decorated American Gymnast, male or female, in history. She is the only American to rank among the Top 10 All-Time gymnasts and is the only female athlete to be inducted into the US Olympics Hall of Fame – Twice! (Individual (2006) and Team (2008))
Her tally of five medals (2 silver, 3 bronze) at the 1992 Olympics was the most medals won by a US athlete. At the ’96 Games, she led the “Magnificent Seven” to the US Women’s first ever Team Gold and for the first time for any American gymnast, she captured Gold on the Balance Beam.
Shannon remains a passionate advocate for health and wellness for women and children through her company Shannon Miller Lifestyle.