Sophie Gill, 30, Mackay, Qld
I groaned as I fastened the clasp on my pants. They were so tight! At 23 years old, I was fit and healthy, but I still dreaded getting dressed in the morning. That's because I just couldn't seem to shift the weight around my middle.
Like many women my age, my tummy was a problem area. I was constantly trying new diets to beat the bloat - but it wouldn't budge.
Everyone seemed so sure it was a baby!
At 170 centimetres tall and 80 kilos, I just tried to brush it off as a beer belly. I had always enjoyed a drink, and I knew I was guilty of going overboard sometimes. Couldn't women do that too?
But a month later, even getting in and out of the car became a struggle and my back started to ache. 'When are you due, love?' a man asked while I was working as a shop assistant one day. Furious, I glared at him before racing to the back of the store.
'It's just puppy fat', I reasoned with myself. 'Don't beat yourself up about it.' A week later, as I grumbled about my weight to my girlfriend, Michelle, she turned to me with a wry smile. 'Are you sure you're not pregnant?' she asked. 'That's not possible,' I said with a laugh. 'It would have to be an immaculate conception!'
But we both agreed that my tummy had got much bigger and harder in recent months, so I decided to get it checked out. My kidney area had also been uncomfortable when I slouched. Visiting the doctor the next week, I explained my symptoms. 'It looks like you're eight months pregnant,' she told me with a worried look. Sending me off to have an ultrasound, the possibilities swirled in my mind. Everyone seemed so sure it was a baby! I was sure I wasn't pregnant - but what could it be?
The moment the image flashed up on the screen, the nurse had an answer. 'You've got a very large cyst on your right ovary,' she told me. I tried to stay calm as I looked at the mass on the screen. 'How big is it,' I asked her. 'The size of an orange?' 'More like a football,' she replied, explaining that they would need to operate soon.
When I rang my mum Lynn with the news, she was worried. What if it was cancerous? But I remained calm. Surely it couldn't be too dangerous if I wasn't in any pain? I was booked in for surgery just three weeks later, as the discomfort meant the cyst was pressing on my other organs. If it got any bigger, there was a possibility it could damage my bowels and other ovary.
As I was wheeled into the theatre for my op, I could only hope I came through it safely. Waking from the four-hour procedure, I felt incredibly sore and groggy, but my surgeon told me it was a success.
'The cyst weighed 13 kilos,' she said, showing me photos. 13 kilos! I couldn't believe what I saw. The surgeons had removed my right ovary, which was badly damaged, but fortunately tests revealed the cyst was benign and I'd make a full recovery. I felt incredibly lucky.
Ruling out polycystic ovary syndrome, doctors told me that the cyst could have been there since birth and only recently started growing quickly.That explained why I'd been looking slimmer from dieting but not losing any weight when I stepped on the scales.
I know it seems incredible that I could have let the cyst get so big without going to see someone about it. Looking at the photos, even I find it hard to believe. But it grew quite gradually and I must have been in denial about it.
While my full recovery took a few months, I was thrilled to be able to fit into my old clothes. And needless to say, I felt like I'd earned a break from dieting after shedding a hefty 13 kilos literally overnight.
Looking back now, I can see how quickly my cyst could have turned deadly. I ignored the warning signs and I hope my story will encourage other women to see a doctor and get themselves checked if they think something is wrong.
I now proudly show off my flat stomach - scar and all!
Originally published in that's life! Issue 36, 2013.