Why is Abby Lee Miller in a wheelchair? Her story from being diagnosed with cancer to learning to walk again

Abby Lee Miller

Abby Lee Miller has been in a fair amount of controversy over the last few years from being convicted of financial fraud to allegations of racism. In what seems to be a twist of fate, the ‘Dance Moms’ star is now in a wheelchair.

Shortly after her return from prison in early 2018, Miller’s rapid deterioration of her health proved to be more serious than anticipated. Soon enough, her body lost the ability to stand or walk.

Key Takeaways

  • Abby was temporarily paralyzed after being diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma in 2018.
  • She remains wheelchair-bound despite being cancer-free since mid 2019.
  • Abby is learning to walk again by undergoing physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

In early 2018, Abby underwent an emergency spinal surgery which initially paralyzed her from the neck down

Abby Lee Miller shared a photo with her fans that reveals some of what she’s gone through in 2018 (therealabbylee /Instagram)

On April 17, 2018, Abby Lee Miller, at 51 years old, underwent a four-hour-long emergency spinal surgery in Cedar Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital in Los Angeles when an infection in her spine left her paralyzed from the neck down.

After experiencing severe neck pain and weakness in her arms, Miller was admitted into the emergency room. Renowned orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Hooman Melamed performed her surgery. He recounted the story to People, saying that her CT scan revealed an infection that had spread from the bottom of her neck to the lower part of her back.

“Over the next two days, her condition started deteriorating, Not just her pain, but her weakness started getting worse. In the span of 24 hours, which was something that I have not seen, her condition rapidly deteriorated. She was completely paralyzed from the neck down,” he said.

Miller went into surgery for a multi-level laminectomy (a surgical operation to remove the back of one or more vertebrae) to relieve the pressure on her spinal cord.

“If we didn’t do something, she was going to die. Her blood pressure was bottoming out. She was not doing well,” he added.

Abby was later diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a from of cancer of the lymphatic system

Abby Lee Miller
(therealabbylee /Instagram)

While doctors initially thought that Millers’ predicament was caused by a spinal infection, Dr. Melamed later diagnosed her with Burkitt lymphoma which is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, reported a follow-up article on People. He further elaborated that he had “no idea” why her health deteriorated so quickly and said that it was a highly unlikely situation for Miller to be in. He explained;

“There could be a million reasons of this. Normally, you see this in someone who is compromised, if they have diabetes or [are] a smoker or [have] heart problems, but that’s not really her. She has a very well controlled diabetes, actually her numbers are in the pre-diabetic range so to see something like that, it is extremely unusual.”

Making a slow recovery following the surgery, Miller soon regained motion and sensation around her arms and could feel her body. On April 21, a few days after the surgery, she made a public statement on Instagram regarding her diagnosis;

“So much gratitude and love for those who listened, those who looked deeper and those who leapt into action. So much more I wish I could say……about how quickly your life can change at the hands of others.”

Abby remains wheelchair-bound despite becoming cancer-free a year after her diagnosis

Abby Lee Miller

In April 2019, on the first anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, Abby made an Instagram post featuring a photo of her post-surgery scar with a caption detailing the events of her treatment. She wrote;

“One year ago today, I underwent emergency surgery for an infection in my spine. This mass/tumor choking my spinal cord turned out to be Burkitt Lymphoma. I endured ten rounds of chemotherapy. Another spine surgery was needed & I have one more still to go.”

She also stated that she struggled through “months of physical therapy to learn to sit up again, to crawl and walk”. But one of the eye-opening statements she made was about the incompetency of some of the earlier doctors who failed to recognize her symptoms despite her coming twice to the ER, as she wrote, “Why didn’t somebody listen to me, the patient?”.

On the other hand, she thanked the health workers who successfully diagnosed and treated her, saying, “I finally found the right team that’s why I lived to tell my story, I have a lot to say! Thank you to all wonderful top-notch professionals who continue to help me heal”.

Moreover, in late May 2019, she declared in an interview with People that she was free of cancer and was appreciative of the help and treatment she received, especially from strangers on whom she relied in her daily matters;

“The cancer is completely gone. I’m more than grateful. I’m thankful…I must say ‘Thank you’ a hundred times a day because I have to rely on strangers; someone to open the door, someone to get the hanger off the rack at the department store, someone to pick up my phone if I drop it. How am I supposed to get it? I’m very grateful and thankful to strangers that have been so kind.”

Abby is undergoing physiotherapy and rehabilitation and is learning to walk again one step at a time

Abby Lee Miller

Although Miller is mostly bound by a motorized wheelchair at the moment, not all hope is lost as she has been learning how to walk again. With the help of physical therapy and rehabilitation, she was able to move her feet while sitting in her wheelchair.

“If I can move, I can stand. I’m supposed to stand three times a day for twenty minutes. I can take a right step because I can put my weight on my left knee, then when I take a left step, my right leg just crumbles because I need a knee replacement,” she told People.

Over the next few months, Miller’s progress was visible after her knee surgery as she surprised the audience on The Doctors show by standing up and taking a few steps forward on her own for the very first time in public. Her oncologist, Dr. Lawrence Piro said that every piece of health-related evidence pointed towards her recovery as he elaborated;

“We’re in a position where her spine is stable so that’s an important part of recovery. Secondly, the surgery happened very quickly, so the time of pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves was as minimized as possible…But I think that the most important ingredient in her recovery is her own ability to work at rehab. Three weeks ago, we replaced her knee so that would stop being an impediment to standing, bearing weight and walking.”

By 2020, Abby’s progress allowed her to transition from walking to turning on her feet as seen in her Instagram. She posted a video on January 29, captioned “Turning? Not exactly the technique I taught in my studio to all those kids”, where she said “Check out my turns” and took a turn with the support of the railings in front of her.

Abby has been open about the mental and physical struggles she faced during her illness and also talked about her everyday difficulties in a wheelchair

Abby Lee Miller

It was no surprise that the first few months following Miller’s diagnosis and paralysis were filled with depressing thoughts and little hope about her ability to make it. According to Women’s Day, in a special episode before the premiere of ‘Dance Moms’ season 8, Abby talked about some of her lowest moments when she was ill.

“I wanted to die. I felt like I had no reason to live…If I can’t walk, then I can’t live,” she said.

However, Miller overcame her dark phase in life as she mentioned that her determination to survive cancer came from a place of wanting to work and feeling that there was more to do in her life. Her goal of being an executive producer, creating new shows, and the prospects of financial security from working kept her motivated through harrowing sessions of chemotherapy and surgeries.

Nonetheless, Abby still faces difficulties with her health as she confessed in an exclusive interview with Entertainment Tonight in 2021 that there were times when she wishes she hasn’t survived her ordeal.

“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,” she said.

But Abby remains optimistic about regaining her ability to walk as she says; “I am walking, little baby steps, and I should be walking a lot. 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.