Considered one of the greatest gymnasts in U.S. history, Shannon Miller holds 7 Olympic and 9 World Championship medals. Now mom to 2-year-old son Rocco, the 35-year-old athlete is also a cancer survivor after undergoing surgery and “intense” chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.
Shannon opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about supporting the Team USA‘s Raise our Flag initiative, her battle with cancer and her fears of facing Rocco with her bald head. The celebrated gymnast also talks about the possibility of baby No. 2 and partnering with the Look Good Feel Better program, empowering women with cancer.
CBS: Tell us about partnering with Team USA‘s Raise our Flag initiative and the importance of funding for Olympic athletes.
SM: “It was such an honor to help launch the US Olympic Committee’s Raise Our Flag initiative during the 100 Days Out celebration in Time Square! This is a great program that allows people to donate a stitch in the American Flag that will then be flown to London and walked during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
No one wins a gold medal alone. It takes parents, coaches, community and the greatest fans in the world! In most cases it also takes sponsors. Team USA does not receive any government support. So Olympians and Olympic hopefuls rely on sponsorships and donations. Raise Our Flag is a wonderful program that allows those of us who would like to support Team USA to do so by purchasing a stitch. I donated my stitch in the name of my son, Rocco, and his generation who will one day be our new Olympic hopefuls! You can purchase a stitch for just $12 in honor of the 2012 Games at TeamUSA.org.”
CBS: Are you heading to the London Olympics this summer? Who are the gymnasts to watch for?
SM: “Yes, I’ll be in London as an analyst for major outlet (TBA April 30th). I’m so excited for Team USA. Jordyn Wieber is the current world champion moving into the Olympics so she will certainly be one to watch. Gabby Douglas has surprised many this year. Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney are names that continue to be in the mix for one of the top spots on the team. Of course we have quite a few from the 2008 Olympic Team making comebacks including Nastia Liukin and Bridget Sloan. With only a five person team this year it will be all about staying healthy and being consistent.”
CBS: We were so sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis with ovarian cancer. Are you now in remission?
SM: “I was diagnosed with a malignant germ cell tumor (a form of ovarian cancer) in January of 2011. After surgery and chemotherapy, I am now very excited to say that I am cancer free! My cancer was caught at a very early stage. I hope that by being very open and public about my diagnosis I can remind others that early detection is key. My company is dedicated to helping women make their health a priority. When I found out I had cancer it brought my passion for the topic to a new level. Whether it’s cancer, diabetes, heart disease or just trying to stay fit we must make our health a priority.”
CBS: How did you manage your chemotherapy treatments alongside being a busy mom?
SM: “My son was 15-months-old when I was diagnosed. After surgery I wasn’t allowed to lift him for eight weeks. Any mom out there understands how hard that is emotionally as well as logistically with three naps a day getting him into and out of the crib.
My chemotherapy regimen was very intense. I called it the ‘hit’ em hard hit’ em fast’ regimen. I was extremely sick for the better part of 10 weeks and the fatigue was incredible. I was blessed to have so much help from family and friends. I would try to rest a lot during my tough weeks and on better days I would get work done. My son was a wonderful inspiration. Seeing him smile and play made everything better.”
CBS: What have you taken away from your experience with cancer? Have your priorities and goals shifted?
SM: “I tend to be a workaholic so this experience has really helped me practice what I preach. That means taking time for goofing off and being with friends and family. It also means exercise, going to the doctor and just taking some ‘me time.’ I’m more passionate than ever about my work in women’s health.”
CBS: Tell us about the Look Good Feel Better program. How does it empower women with cancer?
SM: “The Look Good Feel Better program gives back much of what cancer treatment takes away…your identity. Losing your hair isn’t just vanity. You lose your hair, eyebrows, eyelashes….you lose that face in the mirror. Women worry about what others think and can also lose their confidence. The Look Good, Feel Better program isn’t just about makeup; it’s about giving you back a piece of you that was lost.
Through these workshops you learn how to take care of your newly sensitive skin, how to apply certain makeup and which ones are best during this time. You learn how to tie scarves, wear wigs and where you can get soft caps. The best thing is that you get a couple hours to forget about what has been taken away and simply enjoy friendships and community…..and laugh! Unless you or someone you love has been through cancer treatment it can feel like a different world. Look Good, Feel Better helps you navigate that world.”
CBS: How did you manage your health issues with your son Rocco? Did he react OK to your new bald head after the chemo?
SM: “I was very concerned….well terrified…. about how my son would react to bald mommy. I was so scared he would be frightened. I voiced my concern to a friend who had taken care of Rocco while I went to get my head shaved. A mother herself, she was amazing. She told me that I had to be comfortable with my new look first, or he certainly wouldn’t be. I wore hats for the next couple of days around him and took the time to get used to my new look, feel my head, look in a mirror. When I finally introduced it to him (nonchalantly while playing the ‘wear the hat’ game) he didn’t even flinch. Apparently it was just another hair style for mommy!”
CBS: How is Rocco doing? What is he into these days?
SM: “Rocco is into jumping! I don’t think the child ever stops. I put him down for naps and he’ll do a couple front rolls and jumps before going to sleep. Not sure what we’re going to do when he goes to a ‘big boy’ bed. We’ll never sleep again. He’s also into Curious George. We have every Curious George book ever written and have read them hundreds of times.”
CBS: Are you hoping to have another child one day?
SM: “In July, I’ll find out the status of having another child. After surgery and chemo I was still given an 85% chance of having children. John (my husband) and I have done our best to leave it in God’s hands and remain very thankful to have such a wonderful little boy.”
CBS: What are your favorite memories of summer vacation when you were a child?
SM: “[Laugh] Well, lot’s of driving. Basically we would go anywhere within ten hours of where we lived in Oklahoma. One of my favorites was skiing in Colorado. I peaked with the snow plow at age five but maybe one day I’ll actually learn how to ski.”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
SM: “I have some great projects I’m working on right now. A few of the exciting ones will launch in May and more in August and September so make sure to check out my website ShannonMillerLifestyle.com or follow me on Facebook and Twitter. It’s always hard to wait to let everyone know the exciting things going on.
I will be in London as an analyst during the Olympic Games for a major outlet (TBA). I continue to host my weekly radio show dealing with health issues and I am the host of the Health & Wellness Channel’s Wish List with Shannon Miller where I travel the country granting wishes to those that are facing life threatening health issues. I continue to do quite a bit of motivational speaking but the most exciting thing on my schedule……potty training!”