When the world first got to know gymnast Shannon Miller, she was competing in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics as an elite global athlete. But fast-forward to 2011, and a tough workout for Miller involved two trips around her dining room table — that’s how much ovarian cancer took out of her.
“I couldn’t open a bottle of water by myself for almost a year,” said Miller, who was the emcee for the 2018 Voices of the Year Health Awards at the inaugural BlogHer Health event. “I wasn’t competing for gold. I was competing for life.” The seven-time Olympic medalist shared her story to drive home the importance of women speaking up when something doesn’t feel right about their bodies. “I urge you to take care of yourself and your own health,” she told the audience. “It is not selfish to make your own health a priority.”
Despite the fact that ovarian cancer is the fifth-most common cause of cancer death in women, it’s not one that’s talked about much — something Miller is working to change. Initially, she overlooked common ovarian cancer symptoms, like a persistent stomachache, bloating and fatigue, writing them off as part of everyday life. During a routine medical appointment, a doctor found a baseball-size cyst, which turned out to be cancerous, on her ovary.
“I thought maybe it was my post-baby body — it was a little out of whack,” Miller said. “Maybe it was stress; maybe I ate something bad. It was so easy to find numerous reasons why this wasn’t a big deal, and I pushed all of these symptoms aside. I should have listened to my body. I should have told my doctor how I was feeling, and instead, I told him I felt fine. The fact is, we know our bodies better than anyone else; we just have to pay attention. We have to speak up when something isn’t right.”
In addition to using the power of her own story, Miller highlighted the work of other women who received Voices of the Year Awards in health for using their voices and creativity to make a difference. The awards, now in their 11th year, honor content creators, influencers and advocates whose work deserves to be heard, seen and read — this year, specifically in the health and wellness space.
“It’s an honor to be part of the first ever VOTY Health Awards, which recognize the achievements of women who have used their voice to make a difference,” Miller said. “I’m thrilled to have partnered with Tesaro to share my story with ovarian cancer and educate others about an important program called Our Way Forward that provides resources for those facing ovarian cancer and their families.”
Other VOTY honorees included: Jessamyn Stanley, an internationally recognized yoga teacher and author of Every Body Yoga (the VOTY: Health Inspiration Award); Cleo Wade, a poet and author of the new book Heart Talk (the VOTY Award for Heart + Soul); Daysha Edewi, a former video producer for BuzzFeed who chronicled her journey to health (the VOTY Award for Authenticity); Jen James, a Crisis Text Line founding supervisor for her “My Life as a Survivor” article about overcoming her own struggles with suicide (the VOTY Courage Award); and Kimberly Zapata, a writer and mental health advocate for her article in which she points to the death of the Linkin Park frontman to destigmatize suicide (the VOTY Spotlight Award). Finally, singer and Harvard student Brynn Elliott received a VOTY Award for Empowerment Through Artistry and opened the celebration with an acoustic performance of her single, “Might Not Like Me.”
“Congratulations to all of the Voices of the Year Health Awards honorees, who bravely wield their influence and experiences to bring about positive change,” said Samantha Skey, president of SheKnows Media. “Their work makes us feel, think, reflect and want to be part of the solution as it relates to important issues affecting women’s health and well-being.”
As women like Miller and the VOTY honorees remind us, before we can create change in the world, women must first care for themselves.