Abby Lee Miller is opening up about the emergency surgery she underwent in April 2018, after it was discovered she had a mass infection putting pressure on her spine, which was causing her severe pain. She was then diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. ET’s Kevin Frazier sat down with both the former Dance Moms star and Dr. Hooman Melamed, who performed her life-saving surgery, and they talked about the emotional day and how she’s doing today.
Dr. Melamed performed the eight-hour surgery on 55-year-old Miller after her blood pressure started plummeting and he felt they couldn’t afford to wait any longer. Miller teared up while recalling the moments before she went under the knife, and revealed there was a moment she thought she had already died.
“I remember saying to the anesthesiologist, ‘Just tell me I’m gonna see you when I wake up,’ and he said, ‘I can’t tell you that, ma’am,'” she shares. “That’s when I knew, and then I heard [Dr. Melamed] say something that I didn’t know, he said, ‘Get the theater ready, I’m going in,’ and I didn’t know that the operating room was called the theater and I thought I died. I’m dead already. You know, I can still hear them talking.”
On his end, Dr. Melamed said he was determined to not lose Miller on the operating table.
“I was like, ‘You know what, not on my watch. It’s not happening,'” he recalls. “I said, ‘We’re going in.’ I called my wife, I said, ‘Honey, I’m not coming home tonight.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna be there all night. I’m gonna be operating. I’m not coming home tonight. This is not gonna happen on my watch. I don’t care what it takes. I’m gonna do whatever it takes,’ so I was optimistic that we were gonna save her. That’s how I always like to look at it.”
Still, Miller shockingly acknowledged that because of her difficult recovery, there are moments when she wishes she never would have made it. She underwent another surgery in September 2020 because of slipped vertebrae and severe compression of the nerves, as well as severe pain and foot drop, though experienced more health issues. She then had to go undergo another procedure to revise the loose screws in her back, and they put additional screws into her pelvis and placed bone cement in her vertebrae.
“This is weird but there are days that I wish that I would’ve died,” she says. “I know there’s people out there fighting every day for their lives, yes, but it’s been rough. It’s not easy to live in a wheelchair. It’s not easy, especially in California. It’s very difficult to be handicapped … that’s why I need to walk.”
These days, Miller is cancer-free, but she still experiences pain in her lower tailbone from being in a wheelchair and says she hasn’t been able to do the amount of physical therapy she needs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, she is able to walk now.
“I am walking, little baby steps, and I should be walking a lot,” she shares. “I can do about 150 steps before I have to take a rest and I don’t need to sit down, I just need to stop and rest. It’s mostly my arms because I’m putting so much weight and so much pressure into my arms to walk that I don’t trust my legs because I can’t feel the floor.”
The reality star later cried when talking about going through her recovery alone, noting that she doesn’t have 24-hour care since she can’t afford it.
“Just, you know, it’s a good day when you can bend over and get your pants on,” she says, getting emotional. “It’s rough. I have to save my tears for the car.”
Miller is currently living in a hotel so that she can call the front desk for help when she needs it.
“Sometimes I’ll, you know, I’ll hire a young girl or maybe a PT student to come,” she also shares. “It’s sad. I’ve been trying to get back to Florida to my house and my life there since March 13. And because of my doctors recommending that I don’t travel, that I don’t fly until I get the vaccine, until we know that it’s working safely, I’ve been quarantined here, alone, you know, in a hotel.”
But Dr. Melamed says he remains optimistic that one day Miller will be pain-free.
“I think the mental part is a big part,” he notes. “You know, she has screws into the pelvis, and those, we know, they can cause pain, we do know that. And that’s why sometimes at some point you go take them out. But I’m very optimistic. With proper, aggressive, continuous, like, good rounds of months of physical therapy, I think she’ll be an independent, talking and getting her life back.”
Miller says she would like to make a return to television, though behind the scenes.
“I have an amazing young adult show with a paranormal twist to it that is in the works, and I also have a new reality show, two shows,” she reveals. “One is more prison-related about what happens when you get out of prison, and it’s just killer, it’s amazing, the show. And there’s nothing like it on TV … and it would be incredible. And then there’s been talks of me coming back and doing a show with the [dance] students, no moms, but with the dancers themselves, the teenagers. … We’ll go at it, each other, they don’t need mom anymore.”
“I hope and I dream and I’m creative and I love the creative process,” she continues. “I love the costuming and the music and the choreography, I love that part of it all. And I think there’s still a niche for me, but who knows?”
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