Editor’s Note: Laura Weems Ybarra, a former classmate and fellow alum of the PRSSA Bateman Case Study Competition and LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, is one of my closest friends from my time at LSU. An Army wife and PR professional living in Austin, Texas, Laura was recently diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma and has been kicking cancer’s butt ever since. Laura blogs about her own test of fortitude over at www.TheLymphomaLetters.com. Be sure to visit and join Team Laura!
This is a guest post syndicated from The Lymphoma Letters.
I just had my fifth chemo treatment out of six yesterday, and I’m feeling okay all things considered. My fourth chemo treatment probably went the best out of all of them so far, and I was able to work an unprecedented four days last week and three days this week! I’ve also received approval to telecommute, so that should help me put a few more hours under my belt and keep my brain more active.
In other news, how about those Olympics? I’m completely obsessed. Not as obsessed as my good friend over at www.ParkerWishik.com, but so obsessed that I’m inspired to dedicate my whole entry to this topic today. Instead of focusing on the amazing achievements demonstrated by Olympians such as U.S. all-around golden gymnast Gabby Douglas (love her!) and record-breaking U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, I wanted to focus on a few Olympians that have claimed victory over cancer. I mean seriously, how awesome is that? I know at a time when I feel like my body is rebelling against me and it takes all the motivation I have to walk down the block, its amazing to see these cancer-defeating Olympians go on to achieve what other, completely healthy people only dream about. I think being sick during the Olympics has been a huge blessing and has really helped me evaluate what I want to achieve physically during and after treatment.
Some nice folks at the American Cancer Society helped me compiled a list of current Olympians who have dealt with the Big-C.
One of the most notable is Jake Gibb, a U.S. beach volleyball player, who is both a two-time Olympian and two-time survivor of skin and testicular cancer. U.S. swimmer Eric Shanteau, a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, also defeated testicular cancer and is very involved in cancer awareness now. He cites his cancer as one of the reasons he keeps competing; he wants to set an example for other cancer survivors out there. Petr Koukal, a Czech badminton player, also overcame testicular cancer to compete in this year’s Olympics in London.
U.S shooter Matt Emmons, a 2004 Athens Gold Medalist and 2008 Beijing Silver Medalist in the prone position, successfully battled and won against thyroid cancer in 2010 and is back for his third Olympics. As a fellow shooter myself, I really love Matt’s story because his career is full of highs and lows, and he has a great attitude about it. Emmons’ philosophy is that it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes – your dream is still there and is still achievable – but at the end of the day there’s more to life than sports. I think it’s an attitude we can all learn from, whether it’s athletic, academic or professional setbacks we’re obsessing over.
Some former Olympians have also battled the Big-C.
This almost goes without saying, but to start with famous U.S. cyclist and fellow Central Texan Lance Armstrong placed 14th in the 1992 Olympics. In 1996, he discovered he had Stage III testicular cancer that spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. He not only survived, but went on to become a seven-time Tour de France champion. He also founded Livestrong, a charitable foundation that has become a tremendous resource for cancer patients around the country and world, including myself. Obviously he’s been marked by controversy in recent years, but no matter how I feel about him personally, I think his story still serves as an inspiration to many, and he’s done a lot to help the cancer community.
Scott Hamilton participated in the 1980 Winter Olympics and won gold in men’s figure skating in 1984. He also went on to found and perform in Stars on Ice, which is how I know him from my childhood. I was completely enthralled by his signature back flip. What makes his story even more impressive is that he survived both testicular cancer and a benign brain tumor on his pituitary gland. In this video from I am Second, he discusses how he actually considers his health problems blessings because they shaped who he is as a person. I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet with my own diagnosis, but I will say it has taught me an appreciation of how many blessings I do have.
Last, but certainly not least, is this blog post’s only female spotlight: Shannon Miller. If you know of any other female cancer-surviving Olympians please share! Shannon was one of my idols growing up and I find her a great inspiration today as well for different reasons. While most female gymnasts are lucky to have one shot at the Olympics due to grueling training requirements and a young peak age for the sport, Shannon competed in two and became the most decorated American gymnast ever. She earned the all-around individual silver, beam silver, floor bronze, bars bronze and all-around team bronze in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. She also famously lead the “Magnificent 7” to Team USA’s first defeat over Russia in female gymnastics for the all-around team gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a victory that I’m sure is seared on every 20-30 year old woman’s brain. She also landed the beam gold that year. Shannon went on to become a law school graduate, entrepreneur, wife and mother. She also became an outspoken, cancer-surviving advocate for women’s health.
Shortly after Shannon launched Shannon Miller Lifestyle & Fitness in July 2010, she was diagnosed with a rare germ-cell cervical cancer known as “the silent killer” in January 2011. She subsequently had a baseball-sized ovarian tumor and ovary removed, and underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy. She bravely and openly documented her illness through her website, blog and media interviews. She’s partnered with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition to create awareness and encourage early detection for cervical cancer through PSAs. She also wrote an eBook called Competing With Cancer that is downloadable free from her website. I could go on and on about how much she has done for women’s health in recent years, but I’m sure you can find that information for yourself.
The common thread among these great Olympians is they didn’t let their cancer stop them from achieving further greatness. They used their disease as an opportunity to continue to inspire others. I hope you feel as inspired by them as I do.