Category Archives: shannon miller healthy lifestyle

Survivorship Is Always Evolving

I recently went to hear Shannon Miller, gold medal gymnast and now ovarian cancer survivor, speak at UVM where she was sponsored by Fletcher Allen and the Eleanor B. Daniels Fund. Shannon’s speech was uplifting because of her personal courage and optimism. She was genuine, open, and honest in talking about her experience coping with ovarian cancer, surgery, and treatment. Even though she saved her handstand for the next day on her visit with gymnasts, she radiated with her champion glow–something that her experience with cancer has not changed.

My husband appreciated her practical advice and optimism, as he listened in the audience with me. It seemed that Shannon is fighting cancer with a champion’s attitude, and she appears to be winning, as her health is good right now, over a year after treatment ended.

After the talk, though, a funny thing happened on the way back to my car. I was sad. I didn’t at first know why. I was just sad. In reflecting, I think there are two main reasons.

First, I really hate cancer. All I can say is that I wish that Shannon had not had cancer. She is so young, vibrant, and has a young family. I know in my mind that cancer doesn’t pick its victims in any way that is fair, but honestly, it kind of breaks my heart that she has had to deal with ovarian cancer.

Second, I am now five-year survivor of ovarian cancer. Her talk about diagnosis, the shock, the rigors of treatment, and the fears of recurrence brought back a lot of my worst memories of my own ordeal. I don’t dwell on them often in my day-to-day life any more. Hearing her account seemed to trigger some sadness in me. Tears came, then went. A passing grief. My own cancer survivorship, it seems, is still evolving. That was the first time in a long time I had felt such sorrow.

Shannon mentioned something I thought was important: She said she believed that you need to allow yourself to have your feelings. I believe that, too. Sometimes cancer experiences are frightening, sorrowful, painful, or even maddening on some levels. You can’t just check a box that says: I will always be happy and upbeat in the face of my cancer ordeal. Not going to happen. The toil and troubles of cancer are too rigorous. Everyone will feel sad, hurt, scared or angry at some point. You wouldn’t be human if cancer didn’t upset you.

But, like Shannon said, “When you fall, you get back up.” So, you can accept the so-called “negative” emotions as you feel them, but then you get on with your day. Maybe your day can include getting support or regaining your health by taking care of your body and of your emotions. Get counseling if you need an expert’s help.

Let someone close to you know of your pains, physical and emotional, and then, respond by getting up, moving on, and having a core belief in your ability to cope, your odds of healing, and your inner strength. Everyone has inner strength, with or without gold medals in your past.

April Anniversaries for Active Against Cancer

author_nancy_brennan_skiing_in_2007Today is a good day.

Today is the five-year anniversary of my cancer surgery and diagnosis. The photo on the right, of me skiing in the Vermont sap season in the April sun, is right before I knew I was sick. I knew I was tired, too tired, all the time, but until I sent myself to the ER, where they did a CT scan, I didn’t know how sick I was.

Please, if you have any “weird” symptoms, get medical attention. I thought that I would be laughed out of the ER for worrying about feeling something strange in my abdomen. Instead, I began to get the medical care that would save my life: surgery and chemotherapy.

Today is good day.

I have been free of any signs of cancer since treatment. I have tried to use these years wisely, to help others understand the many benefits of exercise to their cancer recovery. Medical doctors agree; researchers agree; the new guidelines from the American Cancer Society agree: exercise can help you heal as a cancer patient and survivor.

You need to do a rather small, but consistent, amount of exercise to gain benefits. If you’re in treatment, your exercise volume might be 15 min. a day and still make a difference. You don’t have to push hard, go fast, or be super-fit to do some meaningful exercise. If you can’t do aerobic activities like walking, you can perhaps do some yoga, stretching or light weight/strengthening work. Avoid doing nothing, if you can. Ask your medical team for advice, read my book, or get help from an exercise therapist. Remember,

Today is a good day to help yourself heal.

Lovely Endorsement from Shannon Miller

This past year, Shannon Miller, who runs a business named Shannon Miller Healthy Lifestyle, (aka SML) went public with her fight with cancer. Shannon, you may recall, is an Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics.

She is also a wife and mother now. Her ovarian cancer episode was, to many, shocking both because she is young and because she has such a healthy lifestyle. As I know only too well, myself, a healthy lifestyle does not eliminate all cancer risk.

Shannon bravely detailed her cancer challenge on her website’s blog. When Active Against Cancer, my book, was first out, USA Today newspaper ran a story about Shannon’s being in chemotherapy. I sent her the book immediately, and I hoped that it would help her feel encouraged.

Of course, I’m not saying that I had a lot to teach an Olympic gold medal gymnast about fitness (NOT!), but I thought that the words of experts who advocate for exercise during cancer treatment would be meaningful to her. I followed along, in her blog and in the media, as she went from chemo patient, to educator, to spokesperson for pro-active cancer survivors, and onward. Now, she’s a vibrant cancer survivor. I’ve rooted for her complete recovery.

She seems to be doing great! Chemo is over and there is no evidence of disease, according to her website updates. Shannon is using the whole episode to help others with their cancer challenges. Thank you, Shannon.

Recently, she made this lovely endorsement of Active Against Cancer on her website. She said, in part, “We think all cancer patients and survivors should have this book to share its knowledge [with] all. Many thanks to Nancy for sharing this book with us here at SML!”

Cancer makes it a small world, sometimes, or a big club. Let’s all root for health for 2012.

Peace,

Nancy