Tumour scare for personal trainer whose weight rose by 30lbs
Betty Doyling suspected there was something going on with her body but attributed it to age.
The weight was piling on and there was a bit of discharge when she did a breast self-exam.
Covid-19 interrupted her plan to see the doctor. When she finally made the trip, close to two years later, she was told she had a prolactin adenoma – a milk-producing tumour that would have a negative impact on her health unless it was removed. She was shocked.
“It is definitely benign – that’s what the doctor started with,” said Ms Doyling, who shared her story in hopes of alerting others to the warning signs. “It is definitely benign; you do not have brain cancer.”
Prolactin-producing tumours are said to exist in five to ten per cent of the adult population, usually with no side effects. They develop in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ behind the eye, and are classified as microadenomas if less than one centimetre in size and macroadenomas if, like Ms Doyling’s, they are one centimetre or greater.
“I guess the most concerning part about it is the tumour can smash the optic nerve which can cause tunnel vision; you can even lose your sight for a period of time,” said Ms Doyling, a personal trainer who writes a bi-weekly exercise column for The Royal Gazette.
A fortnight ago she was prescribed a pill to take every week for the next two months. She is hopeful that it will work.
“I was very thankful that I went [to the doctor] and they noticed it right away,” she said. “Hopefully all of this works. That’s the main reason I put it out there just to make sure people are aware of their body. I feel if I would’ve done it – and I’m not blaming myself for the tumour – but I do feel maybe if I would have mentioned [my concerns sooner], maybe it might have been [a microadenoma], a little bit smaller.
“The discharge was there but it wasn’t spilling out on its own so I didn’t really think about it. I was just like, maybe I’m getting older; maybe it’s just something that happens. So I kind of just left it. There were no lumps and I had my mammogram and everything was cool so I was like, maybe it’s nothing.”
The weight gain was the real trigger for Ms Doyling. Although she attributed some of it to all the baking she did during shelter-in-place she did not understand why she felt so much heavier when exercise was a regular part of her routine.
“Over the last year I kept wondering, what’s going on here? My husband was like, maybe you should just add another day [of exercise]. I don’t want to work out to lose weight. I just want to work out because I like it, because it’s fun, it’s healthy, it adds strength, it’s functionality as you grow older. That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to chase calories when working out.
“I decided to give myself a couple months and really kind of dial in, make sure I was recording my food; make sure I was getting my workout in.”
Despite all that, the pounds did not fall off. Also odd was that the weight seemed to be gathering in her lower tummy when she typically gained it in her “hips and booty”. At her physical, she was surprised to learn she had gained 30lbs since her last visit.
“I was like, ‘wow’. I could account for maybe five or six pounds of muscle build because I was still lifting weights and training – but not that much.”
Ms Doyling had a couple of blood tests through which her GP doctor noted a high level of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. A subsequent MRI showed the macroadenoma pushing on her optic nerve.
A specialist prescribed a weekly pill which causes a headache as a side effect.
Her sight has not been affected so far, Ms Doyling said.
“I did go to have an eye exam recently and my prescription changed but I can’t really say if it was related,” she said.
“If I wouldn’t have gotten my well-woman’s check up I probably would have delayed it a little bit longer and don’t know what would have happened from there.
“It can just grow and grow and smush your optic nerve. It can also stop medicines from working. I think there is a pathway in your brain where medicine can reach your pituitary gland however it can be blocked off by the tumour. So you don’t want it to keep growing. That’s why they give you the medicine immediately, to shrink it and that way it doesn’t press on anything nearby.”
An MRI in a few weeks’ time will determine whether or not the medicine is working. Surgery is another option if the tumour is the same size or larger.
Another worry for the trainer was the possible impact on her business.
“I don’t want to seem like a trainer that needs a trainer,” Ms Doyling said.
“I want to have it together for my clients because I want them to trust me and know that I can get them to where they desire to be. If they just see me picking up weights …. I don’t see that’s very inspirational. People go to trainers because they see their bodies and say I want to look like them. If they see me changing negatively they [likely will go somewhere else].”
As such, she is relieved that her doctors have told her that once the problem is corrected the pounds should disappear.
“I remember a friend of mine saying once you turn 40 you get this stubborn weight gain and you can put on 10lbs and you can’t do anything with it. So I was thinking maybe that’s me; maybe that’s what happens.
“Hopefully I will see some change. That’s what keeps me taking the pills. I was talking to another lady [who had the same problem] and she had gained 100 pounds. It took a while before her doctor diagnosed [the problem]. She kept going back and they kept telling her maybe it’s just depression, so they kept giving her meds for that. So it was good that my doctors were proactive. I guess also, since I didn’t have any pre-existing conditions, it probably makes it a little easier but I was very thankful about that.”