"A friend said to me: ‘This cancer diagnosis is like being on the balance beam. You fall off. You get back up.’ "
The former Olympic gold-medal gymnast is "back up" after being diagnosed with a germ cell malignancy, a form of ovarian cancer, in December. She started nine weeks of chemotherapy March 9 after doctors removed a baseball-size cyst and an ovary. And she started an exercise program that she follows faithfully, even during treatment.
Experts say she is on the right track: assisting her treatment by exercising. Many of the 12 million cancer survivors in the USA also would benefit, they say.
"There is a growing body of research showing exercise not only helps with the side effects of treatment but also decreases the recurrence risk and improves overall survival," says researcher Melinda Irwin, an associate professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale.
"My prognosis is good," says Miller, 34. She says her doctors have said they’re hopeful that she and her husband, John Falconetti, will be able to have more children. Their son, Rocco, is 15 months old. The family lives in Jacksonville near John’s parents, who, along with friends, help with Rocco on treatment days.
Miller concedes it isn’t easy. She says there are many days she just wants to lie in bed, usually during the first week of a three-week treatment cycle. That’s when she has five straight days of chemotherapy for five to six hours a day. The other two weeks, she has chemo one day a week.
Nutrition can be a problem. She says she always has had a tendency to become dehydrated, and at one point, she ended up in the hospital because of dehydration after a round of chemo.
Exercise isn’t always possible, but more often than not, she says, she finds time to be on her exercise mat at home.
"I find exercise is really helping me with the nausea and fatigue and helping me regain control of my life," says Miller, who won two gold and seven Olympic medals overall in 1992 and 1996.