Taking a deep breath, I quickly fastened the button on my jeans. But as soon as I relaxed again, the waistband cut painfully into my tummy. It felt like all my organs were being crushed.
‘I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,’ I moaned to my mum Shannon, 42.
We walked our dog every day and I went swimming a couple of times a week. Instead of losing weight though, my tummy was getting bigger – I could barely squeeze into my size-16 clothes.
Over the next few months, it started to look like I had a beer belly. But at only 16, I didn’t drink!
‘This can’t be normal,’ I said to my doctor.
‘You just need to eat healthily and exercise more,’ she said.
But I was already eating less than ever as I seemed to get full quicker. Still my belly ballooned and was covered in giant stretch marks.
I look pregnant, I thought, horrified.
Although it was impossible, there was no denying I looked like I was carrying a baby.
‘I think I’m going to have to buy some maternity jeans,’ I told Mum.
Soon I was a size 24 and my doctor continued to put it down to weight gain, but I knew there was more to it.
Then one night, when I turned from side to side, I felt something really strange.
‘I can feel something sloshing about!’ I told Mum and my dad Eamonn, 47. ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’ I said.
It was like there was an alien inside me! A year after my tummy had started to swell, I went to a different doctor and demanded an ultrasound. Afterwards, I was referred to a gynaecologist for the results.
‘You have a giant ovarian cyst,’ she said, showing me a picture on the screen. ‘It’s at least 30cm wide.’
‘It’s huge!’ I gasped.
She explained it was full of fluid and probably not cancerous. The reason I hadn’t been as hungry was because it had been pressing on my stomach.
‘I’m going to book you in for surgery,’ she said.
They’d have to cut right down my middle, but I didn’t mind at all. I was just so happy there was an explanation for my ‘baby’ bump.
‘I’m going to give birth to an alien,’ I joked back home.
Finally, on November 24, 2014, I was admitted to hospital for the op.
‘Please make sure you take photos for me,’ I asked the nurses beforehand.
I wanted to see what had been invading my womb all this time! When I came round, it was the first thing I asked about. Mum and Dad gathered around and we all gasped at the pictures.
The cyst weighed 8.1 kilos – about the same as a one-year-old child!
‘That’s insane! I can’t believe that was inside me,’ I laughed.
Looking down, my stomach was now flat. Back home, I tried on my whole wardrobe. With each dress and pair of jeans that felt loose, my confidence soared.
A few weeks later, Mum came with me to the gynaecologist for a follow up.
‘You have a very special type of cancer,’ she told me.
Mum reached over and grabbed my leg as we both sat very still. This wasn’t supposed to happen, I thought. My life was meant to go back to normal now.
‘I’m afraid the fluid inside the cyst was cancerous,’ the gynaecologist went on.
It hadn’t leaked, so they were fairly certain the cancer hadn’t spread. But because it was so rare, she said I should consider chemotherapy. I thought about it for a few days before coming to my decision.
‘I want to make sure it’s gone once and for all,’ I said.
So in January last year, I began nine weeks of treatment. It made me so sick and I lost all my hair.
‘I look like a massive baby,’ I said, distraught.
But at each appointment I remained clear of cancer. After everything I had been through, I was nominated for a surprise through the Make-A-Wish Foundation NZ.
I decided to get my beloved car pimped out. People from all over the community rallied together to redesign it. For the unveiling, I wore a fitted ’50s-style dress, belted at the middle, with no sign of the giant bump that had been there.
Looking back, I still can’t quite believe what happened. I’m so grateful to have my body back.
My ‘pregnancy’ photo shoot
Before the operation to remove my giant cyst, I had an idea.
‘Let’s do a pregnancy photo shoot!’ I laughed to my sister Angel, then 12.
I looked nine months along anyway, so we posed like mums-to-be. Standing behind me, she put her arms around my belly and we made heart shapes over it with our fingers. In another pose, I put my hands on my back and pushed out my belly.
‘The alien’s moving!’ I said, jiggling it about and laughing.
This story was originally published in that's life! Issue 35, September 1, 2016.