An acupuncturist has had surgery to remove a 17cm tumour from her womb, which left her looking “28 weeks pregnant”.
Maria Christofi, 42, from North London, was diagnosed with a fibroid - a benign tumour in the womb - a decade ago.
After managing her debilitating symptoms without surgery, she was left carrying a mass that measured 17cm long and weighed the same as a newborn baby.
The fibroid had left Christofi with a large pregnancy bump that led strangers to assume she was expecting her first child.
After battling against the physical effects of her fibroid - which had worsened since 2014 - Maria made the brave decision to undergo surgery and, last month, she had the mass removed.
Now, finally fibroid free, she is looking forward to the future and is hoping to educate others by sharing her story.
“Looking at the photo of my fibroid was surreal, I never imagined it would actually be so large,” Christofi recalled.
“It was almost six pounds and had begun affecting my day-to-day life.
“But now, two weeks since my operation, it’s such a relief to no longer have my bump and explain why I look pregnant to strangers.
“I wish I had the surgery as soon as I was diagnosed.”
Christofi explained that, as a trained acupuncturist, she was keen to try and treat the fibroid naturally without surgery; using herbal medicines, acupuncture, a change of diet and exercises.
“Although they allowed me to continue with normal life for a decade with minimal pain and normal periods, they were not halting the growth of my fibroid,” she said.
“By the summer last year I looked heavily pregnant and it was no surprise when strangers began asking when I was due.
“Sometimes I would explain it was a fibroid, but it was happening so often that in the end I would go along with it and tell people a due date.”
Christofi was first diagnosed with a fibroid in 2007 and despite being offered surgery, she opted for alternative medicines instead.
“It was a big operation and at the time they offered surgery, my fibroid was only 5cm in length and I wanted to manage the problem naturally,” she explained.
“But by summer 2016 the tumour was huge and depending on my period cycle, very noticeable. It was also affecting my relationships as I was self-conscious.
“I was bending over some bed linen when a woman said ‘congratulations’ and asked when I was due.
“I had worked out that I looked up to 28 weeks pregnant at my worst but my bump fluctuated depending on the time of the month.
“The pictures of my bump before my surgery are when my fibroid was at its worst, my stomach size would fluctuate and it wouldn’t always look so large.”
She added that living with a fibroid was “exhausting” and she couldn’t be happier that she’s now rid of it for good.
“I’m also keen to start a family one day and I knew I couldn’t try while carrying a heavy fibroid,” she said.
Christofi opted to pay privately for her surgery and did a lot of thorough research beforehand.
“I had my surgery at Parkside Hospital and I avoided taking any hormone treatment as I knew that by striking my smaller tumours, it would be harder for them to be removed,” she said.
“I didn’t know if I’d managed to keep my womb until I had woken up after surgery but it was such a relief knowing my large tumour and the smaller ones had finally gone.
“Doctors had tried to shrink [it] by having a laser treatment called MRI-guided percutaneous laser ablation, three times, before my operation. And although it worked and took the pressure off my bladder in 2011, it quickly grew back.
“I wish I’d had my pregnancy bump removed through surgery a long time ago but I’m so relieved it’s over.
“I now can’t wait to feel myself again, start exercising and put the most difficult months of my life behind me.”
Offering advice to those in a similar position, she said: “The best piece of advice I could give anyone living with a fibroid is do your research and get it removed while it’s still under 7cm.”