Taking One Day at a Time: Advice from a Cancer Survivor

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.

Something happens to a person after their last cancer treatment. So often it is assumed that with treatment being over, the cancer is gone or in remission and you will be back to normal quickly. This was exactly what I had in my own mind. The day my last treatment ended, I somehow imagined that I would no longer suffer from the nausea, neuropathy or fatigue. I learned very quickly that was not the case.

Adjusting to this “new normal” was difficult to understand, both for me and for those around me. It was frustrating because I felt like I had made it through, yet I felt no better, and quickly was losing hope that I’d ever feel like myself again. I had to learn that when treatment ended, the journey was not over. Instead, I was just taking one step towards the next phase of that journey.

I remember distinctly when my mom, a cancer survivor herself, gave me the advice I so desperately needed during this difficult adjustment post-treatment. It was very similar to something my gymnastics coach had once taught me as well: I needed to have goals for every single day. A lofty goal like going to the Olympics is great, but it’s even more important to set interim goals that’ll help you reach that ultimate achievement. I had to adopt this same approach in order to cope with the slow process of gaining strength post-treatment. Some days, it was just about getting up and walking around the dining room table two times, and that was a win.

It took me nearly a year post-treatment to feel like myself again. It took me nearly a year to open a water bottle on my own. And I learned that was okay – all part of the process.

I learned this through my mother – whether it was during treatment when she understood that it might take all of my energy just to sit up in bed – or after treatment – she helped me get through it because she truly understood. It’s so important to keep your ears and heart open to support and positive relationships, no matter where you are in the treatment or post-treatment process.

Another source of support for me came from an unlikely place. Towards the end of my treatment, I had agreed to give a speech, thinking I would be feeling okay. Truth is, I felt absolutely awful that day and didn’t know how I was going to last through the speech. But right before I went up, a woman came up to me and took my hand. She said “I had the same rare tumor you have and the same doctor that you have. That was 10 years ago and now I have two children. You are going to be okay.”

To this day, it’s very emotional for me to think about this special exchange. This moment provided me hope when I needed it most.

Whether from a complete stranger or my closest loved ones, positive relationships were the key to getting through. The advice my mother gave me is the same I’d give anyone else transitioning back to life post-treatment – don’t rush the process and take it just one day at a time.

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