LAKE SUCCESS, NY – Shannon Miller, the most decorated American gymnast in history, was the keynote speaker Saturday at North Shore University Hospital’s and LIJ Medical Center’s sixth combined Cancer Survivors’ Day, held at the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success, NY.
More than 2,400 cancer survivors and their guests, mostly from Queens and Long Island, came to the invitation-only event to celebrate their good health with music, dancing and toasts. They also came to hear Shannon Miller, Olympic Gold Medal-winning gymnast and U.S. Olympic Hall of Famer, describe her greatest win of all – overcoming ovarian cancer.
The large gathering watched monitors positioned throughout the 340-foot-by-100-foot tent, where a brief video brought back memories of the determined little blond girl’s Gold medal-winning performance on the balance beam at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA. The audience listened attentively as she described her thoughts on that stellar day 16 years ago, and then recounted her thoughts in December 2010, when at age 33 she received word from her doctors that she, a world-class athlete, had a rare from of ovarian cancer. Without any symptoms or family history of cancer, she was diagnosed with a baseball-size Germ Cell Tumor.
The malignant cyst was removed from her ovary and she went through nine weeks of chemotherapy. “On my last day of chemo I was so excited that it was over, but at the same time it hit me – is it going to come back? When will it come back?” Ms. Miller said. She focused on the fact that there was not a day that went by when cancer didn’t cross her mind. “I know that I can’t live my life that way,” she said. “I really want to help so many people, to encourage them to get regular screenings, because early detection does save lives. That has become a mantra for me.”
As a result of her cancer experience, Miller is now raising women’s awareness of this disease, bringing hope and healthcare to others going through their battle with cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be nearly 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer this year and more than 15,000 related deaths, making it the deadliest (in terms of percentages) gynecologic cancer.
Ms. Miller is the only American to rank among the Top 10 All-Time gymnasts, and the only female athlete to be inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame twice -- for her individual and team performances. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Ms. Miller’s tally of five medals (two silver and three bronze) was, at the time, the most medals won by a US athlete in a single Olympics. At the 1996 Games, she led the “Magnificent Seven”-- the only US women’s gymnastic team to win Olympic Gold, and for the first time for any American gymnast, she captured Gold on the balance beam.
After retiring from the sport because of an injury, the grown-up Shannon Miller completed law school, married, and in 2009, gave birth to a son, Rocco. She became a motivational speaker, focusing her career on exercise, health, nutrition and pregnancy, and started an informative website called Shannon Miller Lifestyle.
At the end of her presentation, North Shore-LIJ Chairman Richard Goldstein and President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Dowling presented Ms. Miller with a special white lab coat, embroidered with her name, making her an honorary member of the North Shore-LIJ faculty.
Earlier in the program, two local Long Island cancer survivors spoke eloquently about their personal battles and how they overcame the disease, Judith Dowd, of Floral Park, an ovarian cancer survivor, and Lee Ielpi of Great Neck, a survivor of Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia.
Mr. Dowling presented a special award of recognition to Ruthee-Lu Bayer, MD, director of the Don Monti Adult Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Program at North Shore University Hospital, for her contributions to the care of her patients and to the unique research she is conducting to alleviate cancer. In addition, Kanti Rai, MD, chief of the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research and Treatment Program at North Shore-LIJ, was acknowledged in absentia, as he was attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), where he was awarded the organization’s highest and most prestigious special award, the David Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture, given for his outstanding achievements in cancer research, and for his influence on the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
About North Shore-LIJ Health System
The nation's second-largest, non-profit, secular healthcare system, North Shore-LIJ delivers world-class clinical care throughout the New York metropolitan area, pioneering research at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and a visionary approach to medical education, highlighted by the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. North Shore-LIJ cares for people at every stage of life at 15 hospitals, long-term care facilities and more than 200 ambulatory care centers throughout the region. North Shore-LIJ’s owned hospitals and long-term care facilities house about 5,600 beds, employ more than 10,000 nurses and have affiliations with more than 9,400 physicians. With a workforce of more than 43,000, North Shore-LIJ is the largest on Long Island and the third-largest private employer in New York City. For more information, go to www.northshorelij.com.