I Had a Massive Fibroid Removed at 21 and Learned to Never Ignore My Body Again

Lucia Bailey details fibroid diagnosis and removal.
Lucia Bailey
Lucia Bailey

I was 21 and sprawled across a twin-sized mattress when I felt a slow, steady pain slither its way up my left side. On my feet, the throb was much worse, a splitting ache that started in my abdomen and ran down the side of my thigh into my calf and landed in my feet. I doubled over, holding onto my stomach while I limped out into the living room. I hobbled to our couch, sprawling out across it. My roommate glanced up at me, popping out one of her headphones.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"It's like my ovaries hurt, but it's not cramps." I said.

"Hmm. Okay, let me Google."

The search was futile and soon the pain left me as if it was never there to begin with. The ghost of it lingered though and something about it, something I couldn't place felt wrong to me. The echo stayed with me like a bad hangover, the taste of it lingering days after.

I went to the University medical office, a dingy beige room in the basement of our city college. I sat with a paper gown and mismatched socks, the nurse on staff looking utterly bored as I explained the symptoms.

"It's just cramps," she stated.

"Okay, but it feels different than any of those pains." I explained, frustration peeking through. After an internal exam, she could find nothing wrong and finally I wondered if maybe I was being dramatic. I ignored the small echoes of discomfort and went about life.

Months later, I felt the pain again. This time though, I was out of my dorm room and living in a studio in Midtown when a splitting pain attacked my left side. I grabbed onto the bookcase as my other hand fell to my stomach instinctively. My then-boyfriend ran to my side, encouraging me to make a doctor's appointment.

Getting Diagnosed

When I finally went to see my gynecologist for an examination, I was told that she didn't feel anything and thought the pain was simply from cramps or an ovarian cyst, which often go away on their own. She didn't seem convinced there was anything to worry about after the exam but called in an ultrasound to be sure.

About a week after the test, I was walking into a Barnes and Noble when I received a call that they found something and recommended me to a gynecologic oncologist for further examination. It was at this appointment that the oncologist told me that she'd never seen a tumor this big in someone so young and it not be cancer.

She grabbed a box of tissues from behind her as she uttered the words, sensing my oncoming tears and went on to explain that I could need a hysterectomy if it was cancerous, which she strongly believed it was, and had spread. The only way they would know exactly what it was, though, would be through surgery.

I went home afraid of my body and the extrinsic thing inside of me. I was more scared though of knowing that even as they put me under anesthesia, I'd still have no idea what was going on until I woke up.

I sat in a bath that evening, watching numbly as water trickled up over my thighs, dipping over my stomach before receding. I stared hard attempting to see where the tumor was, but everything looked as it always had. All my life, I had been unsure about kids, falling into the 50/50 range. When I sat there, watching the water, I felt like crying, not because I wanted them, but because I wanted the choice.

My mother, a firm believer in second opinions, forced me to see another surgeon a few days later who was the first to say it could be a specific kind of tumor, known as a fibroid. These tend to be noncancerous, which was reassuring, but I'd still to have surgery to confirm. We scheduled the surgery two weeks later.

Moving On After Surgery

I opted for an incision similar to a C-section, but upon waking up from surgery, I learned that the fibroid was larger than my care team originally believed and they had to cut through the left side of my abs to remove it.

The full recovery took about two months. The first time I stood was filled with such excruciating agony that I thought surely my stomach was splitting in two. It took weeks to walk by myself and even more time to be able to stand up straight without being in pain. Even after surgery my mind wasn't at ease because I was waiting for the fibroid analysis to come though. When I finally learned the fibroid was benign, I felt both a sense of relief and anger. On one hand, I'd put the last of my worries to rest. But on the other hand, I was upset with myself for not listening to my body sooner and for allowing others to dismiss my pain even when I knew better.

Women are chided for articulating their pain, told it is imaginary or that it is normal. But this experience reminded me that the act of listening to oneself is invaluable. I do believe that women, especially when it connects to our reproductive health, have an intrinsic knowledge and that we should listen to our bodies regardless of what others say. We will always know them best.