Elizabeth Ayres, a 67-year-old from Australia, shares the story of how surgery helped her deal with lipedema, a chronic condition that led to an abnormal buildup of fat cells in her legs.
I glanced into the shop window and gasped at the sight of my own reflection. “Am I really that big?” I despaired, staring at the shadowy figure with wide, shapeless legs.
I could see I'd put on more weight. In desperation, I signed up to a weight-loss challenge and managed to shift 14 kg (31 pounds) in six months.
(Photo Credit: Now to Love)
I was thrilled, but I just couldn't seem to shift the pockets of fat around the tops of my legs. I'd shed 6 cm (2 inches) from every part of my body except there. Now, it just made the problem seem bigger! They felt tender, too.
"I give up," I sighed to my husband, Rex.
I put the weight back on and a few months later, suffered an infected mosquito bite on my foot that turned septic. After a stint in hospital, I visited an occupational therapist who took a look at my swollen legs. "You might have lymphedema," she said, explaining that a blocked lymphatic system could be to blame.
Tests confirmed it, but the therapist at my lymphedema clinic said the problem could be something more. "It might be lipedema," she said, explaining that abnormal fat cells build up in the legs and become resistant to weight loss.
Back home, I found an Australian lipedema support network online and learned there were thousands of women just like me. Some had opted for surgery to remove the excess fat, but it cost so much. I knew Rex and I couldn't afford it.
I put up with the pain until one day, a lady on the train refused to sit next to me. "Too fat," she muttered, moving farther down the crowded carriage. I was so rattled, I just sat there in shock.
Did she think I chose to be like this?
(Photo Credit: Now to Love)
Months later, I was at a lipedema Australia conference and met women who'd undergone the fat-removal procedure. Their quality of life had really improved!
"I can finally run after the grandkiddies," one said.
By then, I was struggling to walk and my knees had developed osteoarthritis. Once I was back home, I told Rex about the surgery.
"If it'll give you your life back, it's worth it," he said. "I just want you to be happy."
We worked out a budget to pay the minimum $30,000 for surgery and associated costs, and I booked it to have the excess fat removed across four different operations. All together, the doctors removed six liters (1.6 gallons) from my legs.
It's been two years since, and even though I'll never have “normal” legs, I've got a whole new lease on life. The lasting impact of the lipedema means I'll need to have both my knees replaced. But I have loads more energy for Rex, and I get to do the things we love.
By sharing my story, I'm hoping to create awareness about lipedema so that women who are suffering can recognize the condition and seek help.
You don't have to suffer alone.
For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.