Hannah is a 22-year-old former athlete and student in Spokane, Washington. Nearly four years ago she gained almost 100 pounds in the course of one year. Soon after, she began suffering from severe gastrointestinal issues, brain fog, and chronic pain. She’s seen more than six types of specialists, and no one has been able to diagnose her medical illness. In the essay below, she reveals the journey that led her to join the cast of Chasing the Cure, a new show that aims to crowdsource a diagnosis for patients like Hannah who are suffering from an illness without answers. Watch Hannah's story air on August 8 on TNT and TBS.
It all started my junior year of high school. I was an athlete on our soccer, basketball, and golf teams when I began gaining mysterious weight. I was as active as I’d ever been, but the number on the scale crept steadily upward. But when I went to see my doctor, they weren’t concerned. I was a “growing woman” and putting on weight would be my new normal, they told me. I kept training and playing on my teams, but the weight kept adding up. By the time I was a senior and ready to graduate, I’d gained 90 pounds.
The prior year, I was a size two weighing 120 pounds with six-pack abs. Something was up. The weight gain itself wasn’t what concerned me—I loved my body and all it could do—but as an athlete, I was also deeply in tune with my body. I knew something was really wrong, but no one, including my doctor, seemed to take my concerns seriously. Without a sense of medical urgency, I continued preparing for college as normal. I had earned a golf scholarship, which meant before joining the team, I’d need a full physical. At this point my primary care doctor had started some testing and found out my right thyroid was enlarged, but as I had no other symptoms besides the weight gain, I was cleared to join the team.
But from there, my health spiraled out of control. I soon developed GI issues so extreme I was forced to drop out of school. I had to use the bathroom constantly—more than 20 times a day—and it made attending class embarrassing. It got so bad, I would have panic attacks thinking about whether or not I’d have access to a bathroom. I started isolating myself at home.
I’ve been told, "This is a weight issue. Lose the weight and everything will be okay."
I felt like my body was no longer my own, my resentment towards my doctors growing by the day. This was definitely not a normal part of being a “growing woman.” I trusted them to help me, to figure out what was going on with my health, and I was told it’s normal. Gaining 90 pounds in a year and having to drop out of college due to illness is not normal. It’s nowhere close to a standard part of becoming a woman.
It’s been four years since I first started having symptoms, and I still have no answers. I’ve seen endocrinologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, and orthopedics. I’ve had colonoscopies and more blood tests than I can count. I’ve been told, "This is a weight issue. Lose the weight and everything will be okay. Eat celery—that will do it. It’s just anxiety and depression." I used to trust my doctors, but now each visit is heartbreaking because I already know they won’t know what to do.
My entire life is different simply because doctors didn’t know how to help me.
My mother and grandmother are the ones who’ve kept pushing for solutions and answers. I was very active in trying to find a diagnosis for the first two years, but at some point, it weighs you down. The constant pain, the doctors who might know and then don’t, the tests, the research—it’s a lot. I badly want a diagnosis. I wish I was living life like a normal 22-year-old, but I’m not. Going to the movies, walking around downtown, being active—I’d be doing all sorts of activities if I wasn't shrouded in pain. My entire life is different simply because doctors didn’t know how to help me.
So now I’m here, on Chasing the Cure—a live TV show dedicated to solving undiagnosed medical mysteries—seeking a diagnosis. I hope the show will bring a diagnosis, but if it doesn’t, I've made my peace with that and hope through me others can find the answers they’re looking for. Life isn’t what I expected it to be, but my friends and I still spend meaningful time together and I find strength in them and my family. I may not be able to do the things I want, like finishing college and getting a degree in criminal justice, but I have persisted in order to make things better for myself. I hope others will see they can too.
Follow Hannah’s journey—and hopeful diagnosis—on Chasing the Cure airing August 8 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT and TBS.
Originally Appeared on Glamour