September 23rd, 2011
10:38 PM ET

Shannon Miller: A chemo journal

Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast and ovarian cancer survivor Shannon Miller talks to Dr. Sanjay Gupta on this weekend's "Sanjay Gupta, M.D."  at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. Here, journal-style, she shares a window into an important part of her experience, the loss of her hair during chemotherapy.

Day 14 of treatment

Today is the day. Dressed and ready for a meeting, I ran a brush through my hair and although I knew it was coming, there was pure shock at the amount of hair left dangling off my brush. For fear of looking a little mangy at this very lovely lunch meeting, I decided to break out the heavy duty can of hairspray and plaster all hair left on my head. If I can just stay out of the wind and avoid the pressing need to reach up and see how much hair is left, I might be okay.

I’ve never considered myself a hat girl but I think I could get into this. And the thought that I can wear a wig is a good one. No more worries about flat ironing, blow drying, styling, humidity. I can simply plop on a wig and head out the door!

Day 17 of treatment

I received a wonderful piece of advice from a friend and two-time cancer survivor before beginning chemo. She told me to shave my head at the first sign of hair loss. Yikes! This is a pretty bold move. I don’t relish the clumps of hair falling out and can now understand why this is so important. Losing your hair is emotional. It’s depressing and, frankly, a bit yucky. There is hair EVERYWHERE! It’s on the bathroom floor and on my pillow when I wake up.

While not completely ready mentally, I decided to jump in with both feet and shave it off.  In celebration of this lovely milestone in my journey through chemotherapy, my friends threw a wig party! It was a celebration of health and life. We tried on wigs, hats and scarves, laughed and cried. Most of all they helped me keep it light and in perspective.

Hair loss is such a personal experience. It seems to be a symbol of illness… of cancer. I wonder if I’ll be strong enough to look at myself in the mirror or just remain in sweet denial. The mind is a funny thing and we all face these issues in different ways, one not better than another.

Day 20 of treatment

It seems like everything comes back to control. Isn’t that the worst part of a cancer diagnosis…the loss of control? I feel like I took back some of that control by losing my hair on my own terms and shaving it off.

My biggest worry was that my son, now 16 months old, would be scared of mommy. What would he think of my bald head? While talking with a friend about my fear she looked me straight in the eye and said “Shannon, if you’re not comfortable with how you look, Rocco certainly won’t be.” She is so wise. It became crystal clear that I needed to get myself in gear. I had not even looked in a mirror since shaving my head. I wore my hat or wig around Rocco for the next couple days while I worked on my own comfort level. I forced myself to look in the mirror and reach up and feel my head.

It didn’t take long until it became a very natural part of me. It became a non-issue. I very casually introduced my big bald head to Rocco while we played but didn’t really place focus on the lack of hair. He didn’t flinch. Apparently it was just another hairstyle for Mom.

Treatment Day 24

I’ve been very focused on the physical impact of chemo this past couple of weeks, for obvious reasons, but the emotional toll is beginning to take hold.

Rocco (our son) becomes more mobile each day and he wants to go-go-go!  I want to stay upbeat and active in front of him but I’m sure he’s noticed some changes. I wonder what’s going through his mind when I turn pale and dart out of the room or when I’m just not as active as I used to be.

I feel like chemotherapy is all about forward momentum. You just have to keep taking the next step. Different obstacles will try to block your path but you just have to keep moving forward. If you fall off the beam, you GET BACK UP. Then you just keep going.

One of my toughest battles each day is not allowing this to take over my life. There is a constant struggle between wanting to crawl into bed and sleep for remainder of treatment and understanding that I cannot surrender.  There is a bigger picture out there and if we can remain focused on the ultimate goal…our health…we can not only make it through these rough times but use them to become stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.

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Filed under: Cancer

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Neda Hilliard

    God bless you and thanks to you for sharing your story. We Okies are tough people who can face adversity and come out stronger, and we're all behind you. Keep fighting!!

    September 24, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply


    September 24, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Grace

    How brave you are to share for your private thoughts. Thank you! I made friends with people around me and focused on making them (and myself) laugh once I got through the emotional aspects of mine and let my body do what it already knew how to do, heal. I just had simple faith that my body would heal. It just needed the time, rest and emotional space to do it, and of course, the expertise of the doctors and nurses. I have a theory that cancer is the solidification of the fear and anxieties that never were expressed or worked through and takes physical root in our bodies and grows, It's constantly fed by the very same fear and anxiety. In our fast-paced, fear-driven world, there is much for it to feed on. Peace, laugher, friends, family and good medicine get you through. Express and work through your fears, go inside and find out where those fears come from. Understanding them and forgiving yourself for having them, forgive others too and laugh. These things go a long way to bringing you peace. It's the peace that puts your body in a place where it can heal.

    September 24, 2011 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. toddflanders

    Waiting for all the comments from the geniuses that will tell you that chemo is "poison" and all you need to do is change your diet to beat cancer.

    September 24, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mary Kovoor

    As the mom of a gymnast, you are a great role model both in the gym and now. I applaud your courage and wish you the very best.

    September 24, 2011 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rthornton

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It reminds me of my own, especially the hair all over the place! I especially liked your comment about not allowing cancer/chemo to take over your life. That was always a struggle with me, but it helped so much to know that my response to my illness helped me retain some bit of control. Take care, and God bless you!

    September 24, 2011 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Nancy

    I'm glad uve stayed positive. Do not let it run your life all though sometimes it may feel like it's hard not to.. I hope all goes well.

    September 24, 2011 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Michelle

    Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you and your family.

    September 24, 2011 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RLMS

    What the hell does anything in YOUR comment have to do with the article. She wrote about losing her hair and her changing looks during chemotherapy. Read the article AGAIN, then maybe you can comment on the same one as the rest of the folks.

    September 25, 2011 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Christianna

    Shannon, take heart. Repent your sins and trust in Jesus as your Savior to be saved if you haven't. God goes through everything His creatures go through with them. Look up at the starry sky as often as you can. Like Solomon in the Bible, I had everything that I ever wanted in my life but being able to see the clear sky was the best luxury on Planet Earth.

    September 25, 2011 at 02:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SunnyD

      Really? Her religious views are none of your business and were not addressed in her journal. She is not asking for salvation. Simply sharing her journey.

      September 26, 2011 at 13:34 | Report abuse |
  11. Maria

    Shannon, thank you for sharing your experience. After going through breast cancer treatment, I can relate. God bless you and keep you well.

    September 25, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lisa

    I care for cancer patients, and reading about the real experiences you went through, what concerned you and what your struggles were will help me meet their needs better. I can only imagine how much it helps others just beginning the journey that is cancer treatment.
    You go, girl!

    September 25, 2011 at 17:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Afflicted

    Shannon, I'm so sorry you have to go through all this. It sucks, I know. I'm a 3 year breast cancer survivor (stage 3). Hang in there. God bless.

    September 25, 2011 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Carol

    Shannon, thank you for having the courage to share your story. Taking control, even if it is only your hair, is a big part of this journey. My hair went as soon as it started falling out. Never looked back. I am now a 5 year survivor of bilateral breast cancer.

    September 26, 2011 at 04:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Linda

    I went thru the chemo thing too. You really don't understand the significance of the whole experience until you have completely recovered. It definetley makes you a better more appreciative person,

    September 26, 2011 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Kelly

    Shannon, thanks so much for sharing your story. I was a gymnast when I was younger and you were always who I looked up to. It is evident from your writing that you have a wonderful spirit, and I wish you and your family all the best.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ckav

    Thanks Shannon, for sharing your very personal story. My sister is going through chemo for lung cancer right now, and I'm definitely going to have her read your post. It will give her a little boost knowing someone else is sharing her same fears and concerns. God bless and good luck.

    September 26, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Patty

    Stay positive. I did. I remember the day I had to shave my head – it is a very personal thing. It wasn't for awhile that I let anyone see me without a wig. My doctor also told me to walk everyday. I was a lucky one during my chemo (18 weeks – one day a week) I didn't get sick and continued working 4 days a week and only took my chemo day off, which was a Friday morning. I was determined not to let cancer get the best of me, even though it does take over your life, with all the doctor appointments, and blood work. Stay strong, and God bless.

    September 26, 2011 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Beverly

    Been there, twice. My best friend shaved my head for me, twice. You are absolutely on target about the loss of control and forward momentum. You've just got to keep your eyes on the prize. Reach out to other survivors and they will tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are so many worse things that happen in life than cancer and chemo. Cancer changed my life and chemo saved it. Peace.

    September 26, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sandy

    Oh how you brought back the memories. I had breast cancer and you will be tired for quite sometime after treatments end. I don't know if this will help you or anyone reading the comments. But my last chemo treatment I had a sinus infection and was given an antibodic I did not have any of the usual systems you get from chemo except being tired. I would remomend doctors to give it a try. Shannon you will never have another bad hair day some just better than others. God Bless and remember one day at a time.

    September 26, 2011 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Meekee


    September 27, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. george

    [...] Shannon Miller: A chemo journal – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs [...]

    September 27, 2011 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 30, 2012 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Holly Desfosses

    Probably the most important actions you need to take would be to function on your diet plan. Based on study on individuals around the world who died from illnesses, a high percentage of it's associated using the food we eat. By operating around the root cause, you would conquer a significant obstacles that's blocking your recovery and reduce your fats intake, eggs and red meats. Build up the body immune system by minimising the intake of meals such as dairy goods, meat, coffee and maintain the body at optimum level. When your immune system is higher, you'll be able to fight the cancer cells in our physique.
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    November 12, 2013 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 10, 2017 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.