My adventure with polycystic ovarian syndrome
Yes, I said “adventure,” and I will explain my reasons for meticulously choosing this word later, but for now, I’ll start my story.
I have always been a soccer player, an elite athlete. I’ve played soccer since I was 4, picked up basketball and track in middle school, CrossFit for a short stint over the summer, sprinkled with YMCA classes and most recently, pure barre. I play both club and high school soccer, and though I do not intend on pursuing it in college, I love it more than anything. It’s not simply playing the game that I love, but being with my best friends, my teammates. I loved enjoying Netflix and junk food-filled overnight trips and pasta parties once a week before games to “carbo-load.” Little did I know, these were the very things destroying my body and contributing to my polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It turns out sugar, processed foods and carbs aren’t conducive for my athletic journey … who’d have thought?
My junior year of high school I started to gain weight at an unprecedented rate, and for no apparent reason. I had not changed my diet or my exercise routine. I ate very healthy (except for the pasta parties and overnight trips), but 80 percent of the time I ate clean, and this was a very frustrating time for me. I didn’t understand why I was gaining weight when I ate healthier than all of my friends and worked out just as much (if not more) than they did. I got the same generic response, “life’s not fair” and “everybody is different,” but I knew this was more than just being different. I lived in a constant state of being uncomfortable, bloated, gassy and stressed, and I wanted an answer to my dilemmas; I wanted a cure. My mom took me to see a holistic doctor in May 2016. The doctors there suggested I try out a “yeast cleanse,” a 21 day whole food cleanse. I did not break the cleanse once. I was so desperate for answers and relief I dedicated myself to this cleanse, taking the challenge head on. After completing the 21 day whole food cleanse, and reintroducing foods back into my diet, I found I had a dairy intolerance, as well as a number of other small food allergies. Despite sticking to this cleanse wholeheartedly, I was disappointed to find I did not lose any weight over the 21 days. This was not the point of the 21 day whole food cleanse, but it was a happy side effect that most patients experienced; I, however, did not.
I convinced my mom to let me take a metabolic test to confirm what I believed to be a turtle paced metabolism controlling my body. The doctor warned me before testing that my metabolic rate should be higher considering the amount of activity I engaged in and my healthy diet. I worked at a high intensity rate for extended periods of time which should have made me lose pounds like crazy, but was in fact doing the opposite. I now know this extended stress on my body may have actually been contributing to my weight gain. What we found was my metabolism was, as I expected, much slower than the normal person and it would be much harder for me to lose weight. In fact, 10 times harder for me to lose weight than the average person—yet another side effect of PCOS. I took this information in, but did nothing with it at this time.
In September, I finally saw Dr. McCann, an endocrinologist at Texas Children's Hospital. She looked at my symptoms and concerns and was able to determine I had PCOS. I’m still not qualified enough to give a good description of what PCOS really is, and I struggle to find words to describe it when my friends ask about it, but I’ll give it my best shot. PCOS is an endocrine disorder common among women in reproductive ages, especially in developed countries. However, there is no definitive cause, and currently no cure. This can be very scary for a teenage girl to hear; in fact, it can be scary for any woman to hear. To live our lives facing a disease with no known cause and no known cure can be a very daunting task, but then again, there are much worse diagnoses; I could be dying. I do not say this to take away the seriousness of this disease. PCOS is a big deal, but it is by no means the worst thing that could happen to you; there are ways of managing it and its symptoms.
Dr. McCann had me take an ultrasound to confirm her diagnosis. She looked at my ovaries and found multiple cysts, a telltale sign of PCOS, confirming what we both already knew to be true.
“But why did you name this an adventure?”
I am a firm believer in “your outlook determines your outcome.” By that, I mean I can look at the time from my diagnosis to today as “my struggle with PCOS,” or my “hellish battle with a frustrating disease,” and you know what, that’s what those months would be. It would be a struggle, it would be a hellish battle. What you think, is what will happen. I choose to remain optimistic, hopeful. I choose to look at my journey with PCOS as an adventure because I like the idea of a challenge, and perhaps because I have read one too many books and crave a little adventure in my life. I may not be fighting dragons, but irregular periods and weight gain is just as good, right?