Olympic gold medal gymnast turns battle with cancer into platform encouraging women to prioritize health

Tokyo Olympics

Shannon Miller. (Photo Courtesy: Ascension Seton Women’s Health Campaign)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Don’t delay your care,” has taken center stage during the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Simone Biles announced her withdrawal from the competition Tuesday, citing a need to focus on her mental health. Many praised the strength, courage and humility of the four-time gold medal Texan’s decision.

Not delaying health care is something that came into focus for Shannon Miller, a member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, “The Magnificent Seven”, in 2011.

(Photo Courtesy: Ascension Seton Women’s Health Campaign)

“Cancer doesn’t care how many gold medals you have,” explained Miller, who won seven Olympic medals and was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame twice.

Miller was prepared to cancel a screening with her doctor ten years ago and was going to be out of town at the time of the scheduled appointment. “I figured I would just cancel it and put it off to the next year,” she said, adding that she rescheduled to make it after thinking twice.

“That was the morning that my doctor found a baseball-size mass on my left ovary,” she said. “Had he not caught that as early as he did, especially with something like ovarian cancer, the outcome could have been very different for me.”

(Photo Courtesy: Ascension Seton Women’s Health Campaign)

Instead, the summer of her 10-year “cancer free” milestone, and also during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she’s celebrating by teaming up with Ascension Seton on campaign encouraging women to prioritize their health.

“It’s a treat and really a part of my passion to help women and encourage them to get to those screenings and exams, and don’t feel guilty about it. Oftentimes, we’re so focused on those around us, and sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves,” said Miller. “We cannot feel guilty about putting our health more toward the top of the priority list.”

Biles in her message on Tuesday announcing her departure touched on the immense stress this round of Olympic Games has brought.

“It’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are,” said Biles.

“Making that decision to say, ‘you know what I’ve checked in with myself and there’s something that’s just not right, and it could put me at physical harm so I’m going to step away,’ I think that’s really important for her to know about herself, and it kind of goes back to all of us and just understanding that we are our own best health advocates. We know when something doesn’t quite feel right.

Shannon Miller

Miller added having a trustworthy doctor to communicate concerns to makes a big difference.

“If I can help one woman just focus on her health by doing what I do then I call that a win,” Miller said.  

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