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#WCW: The Fibroid Diagnosis That Almost Took Down an Olympic Athlete

Posted on June 30, 2021

You'd think that everything comes easy for Olympians, including getting a fibroid diagnosis. After all, when we think about Olympic athletes, we think about strength, dedication and perseverance. And all three of those words aptly describe Tianna Bartoletta, a two-time Olympic athlete with three Track & Field gold medals to her name. Stiff competition from around the world couldn’t stop her from coming out on top in sprinting or long-jump events. But an undetected-fibroid tumor nearly ended her career…and possibly even her life.

Unfortunately, she's not alone in her experience. Because your official fibroid diagnosis comes after reviewing your symptoms and receiving a physical exam. Then, if your provider believes fibroids are responsible for your symptoms, you may need an ultrasound as well as blood work or urine analysis to confirm what's going on.

But remember what we said: your diagnosis journey begins when you describe your fibroid symptoms to a caregiver. Sadly, many women overlook their concerns, and that can lead to major complications and delayed diagnosis. Even for Olympic athletes. Don't believe us? Just check out our Woman Crush Tianna's incredible, adapted from the version she shared on her personal blog.

First Signs of a Problem

Tianna reports that her journey began with a mandatory drug-screening for athletes. Rather than finding illicit drugs in her system, Tianna’s screening revealed that she was severely anemic. When she went into the hospital for treatment, the elite athlete told her doctors about her suspected source of the problem. Recently, she’d gone from having short, light periods to cycles that were extremely heavy and lasted 14 days!

Her doctors took in this information, gave her some iron infusions and sent her away…with a diagnosed thyroid condition! The iron infusions gave her more energy, but she was still having heavy periods. And it wasn’t until a disappointing performance at the U.S. Nationals, plus a fainting spell at the hospital, that doctors finally discovered the cause of her problems. You guessed it…a giant fibroid was taking up almost all the space in her uterus.

As Tianna tells it, “I’m back on the table now in the ultra sound room. The grainy black and white picture is displayed on a monitor mounted on a wall in front of me. If I didn’t already know I wasn’t pregnant I would have been alarmed. Because there was something there. Occupying a large area of my uterus. A fibroid tumor.” Now that she finally knew the source of her problems, it was time to seek treatment.

Surgery is the Only Option

Because Tianna’s diagnosis was so delayed, and because she’d lost so much blood, her fibroid had to come out right away. She was scheduled for emergency surgery the same day as her diagnostic ultrasound. And she remembered that her mother had also dealt with fibroids—but with a dramatically different outcome.

“My mother has gone through the same thing, with the exception that when she did it the recommendation was a hysterectomy-which she got,” Tianna reflected. Fortunately, though Tianna did need surgery, she opted for a fertility-sparing myomectomy (even though that means her fibroids may return.)

Unfortunately, Tianna is just one of many African-American women struggling to deal with fibroids. In fact, women of color are three times more likely to develop these non-cancerous tumors as compared to white women.

So, that’s the bad news, but here’s the reassurance: women today have more options than ever when it comes to treating fibroids. With an early diagnosis, surgery is often avoidable. And women are free to explore less-invasive options like Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE.) The key, however, is to learn the fibroid symptoms (like pelvic pain and long, heavy periods) so you find the tumors before you reach a condition like Tianna’s.

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