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Dawn’s story: "I want to help people with fibroids see the light at the end of the tunnel"

After six years of pushing for appointments and scans, Dawn, 40, finally got the right diagnosis and treatment – now she’s on a mission to help other women do the same.

Photo of a young black woman in black and white in front of many words describing periods such as painful, flooding

Here, Dawn shares her story as part of our “Just a Period” campaign.

“I started my period when I was 14, and they were always heavy and painful. My mum had heavy bleeding too, so I always thought it was just hereditary.

The doctor put me on medication, but I didn’t react well to it. So, my mum just gave me paracetamol. And that was it all through my teenage years and 20s.

Fast forward to me at 32 and I was managing the legal department of a company.

I had stabbing pain on my side. I went back, and – again – [my doctor] said “it’s just your cycle”. But I thought: no."

I started to have pain on my left side, and it didn’t feel normal. It linked it to my menstrual cycle and stress, as my period felt like it was out of whack. After a few weeks, I went to the GP and he said it was probably down to my cycle. I left with paracetamol.

A week later, I still had stabbing pain in my side. I went back, and – again – he said “it’s just your cycle”. But I thought: no.

I arranged an appointment with another doctor, and she said (quite blasé!) that it was probably a cyst on my ovary. She arranged an ultrasound, and that’s when they found two fibroids.

I’d never heard of fibroids. I saw my first doctor again and he said they’re nothing to worry about and very common. If the pain persists, to try Ibuprofen.

Looking back now, I should’ve pushed more for better treatment. But he was my doctor, he said it was normal and common. So, I listened.

I’d go to the toilet, put in a tampon, stand up and feel a gush, and think ‘here we go again’."

Over the next six years, I developed other symptoms. The pain in my left-hand side got worse and moved into my right side. I had very heavy, painful, clotted periods. I had sciatica-like pain in my butt cheek and my stomach started to protrude. I was nauseous, going to the toilet a lot.

As a lawyer, I’d be in court and need to go to the loo all the time. It was so difficult to navigate. I’d go to the toilet, put in a tampon, stand up and feel a gush, and think ‘here we go again’.

The doctor kept saying it was all normal, but it didn’t feel like it.

By this point I’m 38. One day I was talking with a colleague about everything I’d been through. They reminded me we had private healthcare through work, so I saw a specialist gynaecologist.

They said they’d found “at least” six fibroids – one was the size of a grapefruit! Because I had so many, and some were very big, I needed an open myomectomy (a type of surgery to remove them).

In surgery, they found 18 fibroids, and removed 16 of them.

The doctors left two to preserve my uterus. Because, in the background of all of this, I was also trying to have a baby.

We were struggling at the time, and my bloated belly was often mistaken for early stages of pregnancy. When you’re trying for a baby, being told you might be expecting (but you’re not) felt really triggering.

The doctor said I had fertility issues because of my age, but I fell pregnant straight after my surgery.

Do your research. That way, when you go to the doctors, you can tell them your symptoms and what it could be."

Having my daughter feels like my circle is complete.

Now, I speak out about fibroids on Instagram and have created an amazing community of women going through the same experiences. I hear from these women, living with fibroids, and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I want to advocate and educate people.

You don’t know what you don’t know – these women need to be seen by specialist gynaecologists.

I tell ladies, do your research. That way, when you go to the doctors you can tell them your symptoms and what it could be.

I find it astounding to think of my periods then and now. Heavy periods are common, but they’re not normal. I suffered for years and used to plan my life around them.

Now, my periods are [much better]: next to no pain, light and short.

Don’t be told your symptoms are “just a period”. For information, advice and support, visit our periods information hub

If you have any concerns or symptoms, always speak to your doctor.

Support available

If you have been affected by fertility issues, there is support out there. Visit our information page, to find out more.