In 2013, I started working with a personal trainer to lose weight. I didn’t lose pounds, but my body definitely was feeling stronger, I had more energy and I enjoyed exercise. But about three months in, I quit because I was experiencing a severe dip in energy. I felt like I was being lazy or perhaps discouraged because the muscle I was developing weighed more than the fat I was burning.
After a year enduring the fatigue, I figured it was time to ask my doctor what was going on with my energy levels. My primary care physician ran some routine labs and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. “We just really need to get you on a weight loss program.” I didn’t disagree, but as someone who has been overweight as a child and through adulthood, I had never experienced anything like this before. I pleaded with her to consider something else besides just, “lose weight.”
My labs showed a slightly elevated high white blood count and she referred me to a Hemotologist/Oncologist. He asked some routine questions then said plainly, “I could do a bone marrow biopsy but really, this high white count is because you’re morbidly obese. Obese people have chronic inflammation which causes a high wbc. When your body has to reproduce white blood cells at that level, it can cause fatigue. So, lose the weight and you’ll feel better.”
Unsatisfied and full of frustration, I tried to exercise. My sister/roommate/bff bought a treadmill just for me. I could barely do a slow five minutes before needing to sleep for a day.
Two years later, after seeing more specialists saying “lose weight,” I ended up in the ER from extreme abdomen pain. It turns out I several large, solid cysts on my ovaries. I was referred to my gynecologist. My gynecologist immediately referred me to a Gynecologist/Oncologist due to the size and placement of the cysts.
The Gynecologist/Ooncologist had told me I had dermoid cysts that were benign and uncomfortable more than anything. My ovaries seemed healthy and I was too young for it to be cancer (32 at the time), but they needed to come out. However, she refused to do the surgery until I lost half of my BMI. “Take a pill, get gastric bypass, I don’t really care. I can’t operate on you like this.”
I was shocked, stunned, angry, and defeated. I weighed about 380 pounds at 5’6”. I wasn’t petite, but I didn’t feel like my weight was preventive for surgery. I voiced concerns about torsion (when your ovaries twist, losing blood supply and die). I voiced concerns about the terrible symptoms I’d been living with for two years (pain, fatigue, and constant, never ending nausea).
“You’re nauseous? Great! That means you’ll eat less.”
This woman didn’t know anything about my body, why I gain weight or what methods are the most successful to lose weight for me. She made judgments from looking at me, rather than focusing on why I was there and what help I needed.
I left and cried the angriest tears I’ve ever cried. My sister gently said we could do more. Just to try a little harder to lose weight.
Six months of counting calories and attempting to exercise, I was admitted to the ER. I was in the worst pain of my life; no amount of pain meds could make it go away. The doctors also couldn’t see the cysts via ultrasound anymore. I was admitted for emergency surgery. The cyst removed from my right ovary was the size of a soccer ball (I saw the picture the surgeon took). My right ovary had twisted twice, died, and was rotting inside of my body (likely contributing to my chronic nausea). They were able to save part of my left ovary after removing several smaller cysts. The cysts were not dermoid, they were borderline cancer.
It’s a shitty thing to feel vindicated about. Yes I was fat, but something else was also wrong with my body. I recovered fine – there’s a large vertical scar on my stomach, but I kinda dig it. I felt like I was becoming myself again, slowly but surely, until I didn’t.
Similar symptoms resurfaced the following February. I followed up with the doctor that performed my surgery, who replied that my body was still healing, to focus on weight loss, and check back in soon. Soon, we found a new growth on my left ovary. She didn’t want to take any chances and referred me back to Oncology. I asked to see an alternate doctor in the practice, for obvious reasons, and the office refused, despite my doctor referring me specifically to them. They said I wouldn’t get treatment unless I would see the same Oncologist. They just don’t “switch patients.”
I decided to stop this cycle. I was literally paying these people to help me in my health and wellness journey. I switched health care providers to UCSD Medical Center. The treatment I had was like night and day. The Oncologist who saw me acknowledged my weight and was able to address the issue of my 1/4 of an ovary and whatever was growing on it. I was scheduled for surgery within a month. But it was too late – my left ovary was not salvageable. While prepared to lose my ovaries two years prior, it hit me in waves that I cannot have children. I wasn’t planning on children or even marriage, but I wasn’t planning on a lot of things that are now a part of my life and bringing joy daily.
I am receiving the best medical care now (I am going through menopause at age 34) and my new Hematologist is working on getting to the bottom line reason as to why my white blood count remains high. She does buy the inflammation diagnosis.
So much of our society, not just the beauty industry, tells women that you’re not worthy of [fill in the blank] unless you look a certain way. Love, a promotion, a voice, a chance, decent medical care included. I allowed myself to see my body as those doctors did, as something to immediately beat into submission regardless of what my body was trying to tell me.
Today was the first day I’ve been able to go outside for a walk. I feel full of energy for the first time in years. And while I may avoid playgrounds and baby pictures on Instagram, I’m excited to see what the future holds for me and my amazing body.