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Thursday, January 17, 2013
The one word that changed everything: 'Pregnant'

By Shannon Miller

This past Sunday marked two years to the day since I had surgery to remove my left ovary and a baseball-sized malignant tumor due to a rare form of ovarian cancer. My husband, John, and I made the incredibly difficult decision that day to be as aggressive as necessary to remove any cancerous cells, even if it meant I could no longer have children.

We found out after surgery that I had been lucky -- they caught it early, and the cancer hadn't spread. But the contrast between those emotions then and now, two years later, couldn't be greater.

This past September, I took a pregnancy test, just like I had been doing almost daily for a couple of months. I had grown used to seeing "not pregnant" each time I checked, but I couldn't help myself; I remained hopeful and felt blessed for the possibility of another child. Then, one day, for whatever reason, I forgot to go back and check the results. It wasn't until late that afternoon I saw the test still there, sitting on the counter.

I went to go throw it away, but immediately stopped. It was positive! I was sure the test must have malfunctioned because I had waited so long, so I took another one right away.

The one word on the second test changed everything: "Pregnant."

I ran to hug my almost 3-year-old son, Rocco, while frantically dialing John at work. I was so stunned and so happy. It had been just over a year since my chemotherapy treatments had ended. And although I was now cancer free, my doctors were cautious about my odds of having another baby since one of my ovaries had been removed and the chemo could have caused damage to the remaining one.

But, there I was, standing in my house, with two positive pregnancy tests. A few days later, we confirmed it officially at the doctor's office.

Now, I'm four months along and can't stop pinching myself -- we have a baby arriving at the end of June! We finally told Rocco last week because we just couldn't quite believe it ourselves and wanted to be very careful about telling him anything too soon. He loves the Berenstain Bears, so we told him he'd be getting his own Sister or Brother Bear. His response: He wanted all the bears. (Thankfully, we've checked this off the list -- I'm definitely not having twins or more). Now, Rocco walks around asking if he can help his Brother Bear put a seatbelt on, and when exactly Sister Bear is arriving. I guess you could say he doesn't completely understand.

All in all, I'm a little more relaxed with this pregnancy. During the last one, I read every book there was to read; this time, I trust myself a bit more. Before Rocco, I had never even changed a diaper, and now I've got thousands behind me!

I'm so excited to meet this new little one and find out what personality he or she is going to have. Rocco is very easygoing, smart, helpful and a good sleeper and eater. It was a great way to ease us into parenthood. Who knows what the future holds with Baby No. 2! We pray for a healthy and happy child. Above all, we know this child will be showered with love.

Looking back on it now, there were certainly low moments during the cancer diagnosis and treatment, but there was also a silver lining to it all. I'm more confident as a person than I have ever been. I was always self-assured as an athlete, but very shy off the gymnastics floor. Now, the confidence I had in gymnastics shines through in my everyday life. I believe that once you face down cancer, you can kind of do anything. I don't get embarrassed about much anymore, either. I mean, I've already been bald on national television. I am also thankful for the opportunity to, in some small way, use my voice to help others through their own health battles and help women make their health a priority.

The lessons I learned in sports have truly carried me through this journey. Goal-setting, relying on others, keeping a positive attitude -- I learned all of this in gymnastics and it helped me separate myself emotionally from the cancer. I just said, "OK, this is something we have to get through. How should we attack it?"

Those same lessons have helped me in running a company and even in motherhood. Every day, I say to myself, "What do I really need to get done today?" I write it out and get to work. I know things aren't always easy and we are constantly handed new challenges. I've come to see these obstacles as an opportunity to utilize all those life lessons I learned as a teenager and relearn every day as an adult. We can amaze ourselves with the strength we have when we rise to conquer these new challenges.

Shannon Miller won seven Olympic and nine World Championship medals -- the most of any American gymnast. She founded her own company, Shannon Miller Lifestyle, in 2010, and also works as a gymnastics commentator and analyst.