Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Biotheranostics, Inc. (Breast Cancer Index®), but the opinions and experiences shared are my own.
Dear Me (and all of YOU!), NOT. ANOTHER. MINUTE. Why wait? By now we all know health = life. Ask EVERY QUESTION. Do not stop until you get answers you feel comfortable with. I’ve asked my doctors. I’m waiting for answers. Have I had the Breast Cancer Index test? Do they use it? Will it change my treatment plan? I. DIDN’T. WAIT. Once I knew the questions to ask. SO ASK THE QUESTIONS! Love, Denise
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What do a seven-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics and an award-winning journalist and television producer have in common? Much more than you would think.
During a MAMARAZZI® event in May, Melissa and I were joined by Shannon Miller as part of a partnership with Our Way Forward and TESARO, Inc., an oncology-focused business within GSK. In getting to know Shannon, who many of you know as a decorated gymnast, I realized that while I was diagnosed with breast cancer and she is an ovarian cancer survivor, we share many similar experiences, emotions and challenges in our journey.
In 2011, Shannon Miller was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. As I have spoken about before, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015. During our discussion, it became apparent that there are so many similarities between our diagnoses, the impact cancer had on our families, parenting and finding unity with others in the cancer community. We hope that many of you can unite with us in our shared experiences and continue to learn and share with one another.
Be Your Own Advocate: Listen to Your Body
DENISE: At 41, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went to my regular mammogram and it was fine. Weeks later, I got a letter which said, “The tissue of both breasts is heterogeneously dense.” I didn’t even see that part of the letter because the top of it said, “normal.” Months later I felt a small lump that hurt and went right to the doctor.
SHANNON: I had a similar situation. I was actually on the phone to re-schedule my routine appointment but something told me not to. That day, my doctor found a baseball-sized cyst on one of my ovaries. I brushed off three primary symptoms of ovarian cancer. I attributed all the symptoms to something else, like weight loss because my body was changing post-baby, bloating and stomachaches, I assumed were due to my monthly cycle. It’s so important for women to listen to our bodies and speak up when something doesn’t seem right.
DENISE: I couldn’t agree more. Even now, I may be cancer free, but the diagnosis and continuing medications and decisions are forever. I scheduled an elective surgery, a salpingo-oophorectomy, a procedure to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes. I carry the HER2 gene so my cancer can return anywhere. But ovarian cancer is hard to detect. It’s often diagnosed at a later stage.
SHANNON: I think that’s the scariest thing. I had this mass growing but I could go to my doctor and tell him I felt perfectly fine. Not only was I dismissing my symptoms and general health concerns, I hadn’t even considered ovarian cancer as a cause. I didn’t want to complain. I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to give it much thought, I had too much to do. Now when I feel like something isn’t right, I say something right away.
Parenting Through a Cancer Diagnosis
SHANNON: My son was only 14 months old when I was diagnosed and it threw another wrench into the challenges of parenting. I remember when I would leave the house, my son would say, “Mommy don’t forget your hair.”
DENISE: Just like there’s no parenting manual, there’s no cancer manual. Combine the two and it’s scary. All I could think about was how I would care for my boys. When I’m sick, how will I do it? But I’m strong. I’m tough. And I called on friends. I relied on family.
SHANNON: And the community. I was scheduled to give a speech that fell during my chemo treatments. I was reluctant to cancel and hadn’t realized how difficult the treatment would be. That day, I felt absolutely awful. I didn’t know how I was going to even stand up through the 45 minute 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 amazing children. You are going to be okay.”
DENISE: That’s so inspiring. Especially because fertility is something that is discussed for many ovarian cancer diagnoses now.
SHANNON: Exactly. I was so fortunate that almost four years after our son, our daughter was born. We were fortunate that my other ovary “kicked in.” And thankfully, with the advancements in medicine, there are more fertility options than ever before for women with ovarian cancer, like egg freezing. It is important for women to be aware of these options and proactively start these conversations.
Uniting as Sisters in the Cancer Community
DENISE: Getting diagnosed wasn’t easy. Treatment wasn’t easy. But after sharing my cancer story, I was inundated with support. Calls, texts, emails and messages from friends and strangers saying how brave I am and it’s truly incredible to hear all of their stories.
SHANNON: You are brave! 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.
DENISE: How do you find those personal connections? Because I have been public about my journey, people reach out. Do you have a similar feeling?
SHANNON: I do. For me, I was so excited to partner with the Our Way Forwardprogram, which offers resources and support for individuals diagnosed with ovarian cancer and their loved ones. I wish I had a program like this when I was first diagnosed. During treatment, we have this incredible support team around us but the day treatment ends, you suddenly feel alone. Our Way Forward provides resources to help keep that morale going. We need to have more of that communication and feeling of community so we don’t feel so alone.
DENISE: That’s great. I feel like it’s also my responsibility now to help others in the community. Sharing my story helped me, and speaking to my new cancer-community friends each day gave me more inspiration to keep sharing and hopefully helping others.
SHANNON: There is a sisterhood in cancer and the journey it takes us on. And what hope we give to each other just by sharing our experiences.
This could have been YOU. Or your mom. Or your dad. Or your child. Or someone else you may be traveling with.
Last December it was me. Because of this, I’m hoping it won’t be YOU or anyone else.
I was loud. I am now proud. More than anything I’m thankful to the TSA for hearing me and now asking me to share my story, together with them, so it doesn’t happen to others. I’m grateful that my kids, and others, can see that something positive can come from a negative.
I’m grateful that my story, and the video I worked on with the TSA can help travelers to make sure they know the best way to travel through security, can be a mini reminder for agents on their role tokeep passengers safe while being respectful and sensitive.
I’m glad it happened to me. I, fortunately, have a chance to make a difference. I hopefully have. I purposefully chose to capture the situation to share with you. I now, proudly, am sharing more so others who travel with illness make sure to know the protocol.
So, please, watch the video. Know your rights. Pass this along. Remember, the TSA is here to protect us. Not hurt us. As a mom, I am very proud that my children know that I stood up for my rights and because of it others will be helped in the future.
Looking back, I did look sick … but now I look and feel like myself again.
Happy Anniversary to me. It’s not romantic. It’s not a gold, silver or even bronze. It’s my first chemoversary and I hope it lasts longer than my actual wedding anniversaries did. It’s been a year since I completed chemo. While in the midst of treatment I decided to celebrate all of the time. With the end of each treatment I had a party or dinner. I also decided to travel more. Having things to look forward to got me through each day. That philosophy has continued for me. I celebrate as much as possible and want to continue to travel as much as possible.
So, with my boys off to camp, I planned a girls’ trip to Canyon Ranch . This trip though was more than being with friends. This trip was more about feeling like me again. This trip was me for the first time in a year finally feeling like it is okay to push myself. This trip was me for the first time finally with a full appetite again. This trip for me was healthy.
Yep, I said it. I deserve it. They deserve it. Gwyneth, contrary to what you said recently about summer camps for kids, I love my two boys. Kristen Hewitt, contrary to your piece that you are doing nothing with your kids all summer; I’m doing NOTHING. WITH. MY. KIDS — as in, they are not here. They are away and I couldn’t be happier.
I didn’t know how I would feel and had a lot of anxiety leading up to my boys leaving. I am 5 days in and feel great. I’m used to my kids not being with me all time since I am divorced. My two boys (12 and almost 9) left on Saturday and I was expecting that when their normal return time of 7 p.m. on Sunday evening of their dad’s weekend came I would be devastated. I thought about it when 7 p.m. came, but I was just fine. It felt a little weird, but I’ll take it.
PLEASE WATCH. I hope this explains how meaningful it is for me to share and for all of your support along the way.
Thank for to Susan G. Komen Greater NYC for this incredible honor presented by Sandra Lee. I’m a proud #Survivor, MOM, Daughter, Friend, Supporter & now Impact Award Winner. #FutureCancerSurvivor #myBrEaSTyear
I never imagined how my horrific and humiliating experience with the TSA could turn into something so positive. I’m honored to be included in the TSA’s piece on Sprinklr.com. I’ve never been more proud to show my kids how good things can come from bad.
At 440 federalized airports across the United States, 44,000 TSA security officers will screen 2 million passengers. They will do that again tomorrow. That’s 730 million passenger screenings annually, and all it takes is one missed needle in the haystack for the consequences to be catastrophic. To read the full story visit Sprinklr.com