Being Your Own Best Advocate

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.

The day I found out I had ovarian cancer was the day I had almost cancelled my doctor’s appointment. It was a typical OBGYN exam and everything at home and at work was unbelievably busy. I didn’t think I could manage to fit it all in. But as I was waiting on hold to cancel my appointment, I changed my mind. I realized I wasn’t practicing what I preached about women’s health. So, I adjusted my schedule and took the first available appointment. It was that same morning. That day, my doctor found a baseball-sized cyst on my left ovary which would be diagnosed as a rare form of ovarian cancer just weeks later.

Looking back, I realized that I had several of the primary symptoms of ovarian cancer – I was bloated, I had terrible stomach aches and I was losing weight. But I just brushed them aside, thinking they were unrelated and nothing too serious. Instead, I should have listened to my body and told my doctor about how I was feeling. The fact is we know our body better than anyone else.

There are countless lessons that came from my terrifying experience with ovarian cancer. In the end, I feel as though I got lucky with my diagnosis and successful treatment.  But I also recognize that leaving my health to chance is not something I would do for myself or my loved ones ever again.

Understanding this, I’ve adapted a few tips that I hope can empower other women diagnosed with ovarian cancer – or any illness – to understand how to be their own best advocate, even when it feels like the tough thing to do.

  • Attend all of your regular well-visit doctor’s appointments, check-ups and exams, even when everything feels normal. This opens up the lines of communication and ensures your doctor understands your baseline before any issues arise.
  • Educate yourself about the primary things to look for when it comes to your health. You don’t have to know every warning sign for every disease, but read about some of the top ones so you are informed.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to speak up for yourself when you think something may be wrong or feels off in your body. We are all taught to be tough, but it is too much of a risk not to listen to your body and say something.
  • Before you go to the doctor, write down your questions. We tend to want to just get in and out to get on with the rest of our busy lives, but having a list of questions will help you remember them and prioritize getting the answers.
  • Find the right doctor that will take the time you deserve. I always say if your doctor has one hand on the door knob and is trying to rush the appointment, they are the wrong doctor.
  • Take advantage of the nursing team and/or your nurse navigator, who is there to help you through every element of diagnosis and treatment. They can be instrumental in helping you keep your medications and appointments straight and pointing you in the right direction to get your questions answered.
  • Just like tracking your steps, track how you feel throughout your treatment. There may be solutions for any side effects you’re experiencing and it helps that you’ll be more in tune with your body.
  • Above all, start to think about your wellness beyond treatment to help separate you from your cancer. For me, movement was the key. A 10-minute walk to the playground or just dancing with my son in the living room helped me cope mentally and emotionally just as much as physically.

Everyone’s journey is different. These are things we can all do to be our own greatest advocates. By speaking up for yourself and knowing your own body, you are best prepared to manage your ovarian cancer experience.

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