It all started about a year ago. I stopped counting calories and strict macros to try to make my weight class for a powerlifting competition, and gained about 20 pounds over the course of three months. I thought, “Well, I’m eating a lot more, so that’s kind of normal?!” (Spoiler alert, it’s not.) I then noticed that all of my weight gain was concentrated in my stomach. Again, I thought, “Well, I’m getting older, weight gain in your middle section is kind of normal.” (It’s not.)
I started having lots of digestive trouble: bloating, excessive gas/belching, constipation. But I thought it was just an increase of not-so-good-food that I’d been eating. Keep in mind, I never ate a lot of fast food, but my diet wasn’t the basic chicken, egg whites, oatmeal, rice, veggie/salad diet I’d been eating for months. You know, I was eating some cereal here and there, a nice, juicy hamburger, a slice of pizza … basically I was eating like a normal person.
Like most people, I assumed my digestive issues had something to do with my diet, but I was wrong about that too. And the nausea. I woke up every morning incredibly nauseous, and brushing my teeth or eating had become a battleground. Oh! And I had to pee constantly. I couldn’t even walk the trail at my house (about 1.5 hour walk) without needing to go to the bathroom 30 minutes in, despite me going to the bathroom three times before I left the house. I thought it was because I drink a lot of coffee and coffee is a diuretic. HA!
I gained about 20 pounds over the course of three months. I thought, “Well, I’m eating a lot more, so that’s kind of normal?!” (Spoiler alert, it’s not.)
Then, a few months ago, I started to notice that my lower back hurt—a sort of dull, constant ache that never went away. I assumed it had to do with my frequent sitting in quarantine, or maybe just stress or tension from COVID and all of its related horrors. Then, my pelvis started to feel very heavy, like a lot of pressure weighing down on it. Shook to the core, I took a pregnancy test, and that came out negative. The pain in my lower back and pelvis started to increase to the point where the whole lower half of my body felt like it was on fire. It radiated from my lower back down to my hamstrings, and caused immense pressure in my pelvis.
Finally, I decided to go to the doctor. I went to my primary care physician, who performed a pelvic exam and said, “hmm … your uterus is abnormally large. I’m going to order an ultrasound.” I had an ultrasound, and when the results came back, I was truly shook.
Fibroids are incredibly common, especially in Black women. About 70 to 80% of women will develop fibroids in their lifetime.
I was diagnosed with fibroids—well, one giant, massively huge fibroid and about three or four much smaller ones. Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus and are incredibly common, especially in Black women. About 70 to 80% of women will develop fibroids in their lifetime, but the vast majority of those women never develop debilitating symptoms or even know they have them in the first place. According to UCLAhealth.org, there are three types of fibroids:
- Subserosal fibroids: These are the most common fibroids. They can push outside of the uterus into the pelvis. Subserosal fibroids can grow large at times and sometimes have a stalk that attaches to the uterus (pedunculated fibroid).
- Intramural fibroids: These fibroids develop in the muscular wall of the uterus.
- Submucosal fibroids: These fibroids are uncommon. They can grow into the open space inside the uterus and may also include a stalk.
The monster-sized fibroid I have is submucosal and about 11x9x12cm large—the size of a cantaloupe—while the smaller ones are intramural and are about 3 to 4cm each. My uterus is currently the size of an 18- to 20-week pregnancy.
The fibroid I have is the size of a cantaloupe. My uterus is currently the size of an 18- to 20-week pregnancy.
Common symptoms of fibroids include:
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Periods that last longer than a week
- Pelvic pressure/pain
- Increased and frequent urination
- Digestive issues including constipation, nausea, gas, and bloating
- Pain in the lower back that sometimes radiates down the legs
- Enlarged stomach
Despite me having pretty much every single symptom on this list, I never thought I had fibroids because my periods remained relatively normal. I never had heavy bleeding, and my periods lasted four-ish days and were never irregular. I’ve since learned the location, size, and type of fibroid can determine what types of symptoms you can experience.
Once I got my diagnosis, everything clicked. The pain? Just a fibroid slowly expanding my uterus to the point it had started to degrade.
Once I got my diagnosis, everything clicked. None of the things I’ve been experiencing for the past year or so is normal. I wasn’t just gaining weight—the fibroid had gone through a growth spurt. The frequent urination and digestive issues? Well, according to my OBGYN, the dominant fibroid is sitting at the back of my uterus, pressing against my bladder, colon, and rectum. The pain? Oh, well, it’s just a fibroid the size of a cantaloupe slowly expanding my uterus to the point it had started to degrade. It’s wild to think now that I had thought all of my issues were just the growing pains of inching toward my mid-30s. And as a woman, it’s ingrained in my soul to just suck up all of the uncomfortable parts of my body and brush them off as normal. It’s not!
After my initial diagnosis, everything has been a blur. I went to see my OBGYN (who’s also my surgeon), and there wasn’t even talk of “we’ll see about surgery in the future.” It went straight from “Okay, you have a big fibroid” to “Well, during surgery, this, this, and this will happen.” I literally scheduled my surgery appointment the same day I met with him. On August 26, I’ll be having an open myomectomy (which, basically, is a C-section) to remove the fibroids. Recovery is lengthy—anywhere from four to six weeks. To say these past few months have been a whirlwind is quite the understatement.
I’ll be having an open myomectomy (basically, a C-section) to remove the fibroids. Recovery is lengthy—anywhere from four to six weeks.
My biggest revelation during all of this is that, as women, we must advocate for our health. If something feels off, unusual, or if you have any sort of inkling that something might be wrong, I implore you to go to a doctor and get the help you need. I know I can’t go back in the past, but part of me wonders if I hadn’t ignored the very obvious signs that my body was growing a giant tumor, then maybe I could have had a less invasive surgery, or I could’ve caught it before it grew to the size of a cantaloupe. But I can’t do that, so all I can do is tell you to please, please be vigilant about your body and health. It’s so important!