I stood in front of the mirror staring at the loose skin hanging from my body. I knew I needed to get dressed quickly before my fiancé Luke saw me. ‘Meryl are you ready yet?’ Luke asked behind the closed door. ‘We need to get going and the kids are ready.’
‘Yeah I’ll be there in just a minute,’ I called back. I felt the panic start to build. Even after eight years together I could not handle him seeing me naked. All it would take was a simple turn of the door and he would see the wrinkles and folds – a 28-year-old trapped in an 80-year-old granny’s body. I looked like an OAP – all because a thyroid condition ate away at my body from the inside out.
My nightmare started when I was just a child. My weight would fluctuate constantly. My mum Corin, 59, initially thought it was growth spurts but brought me to the GP to get my thyroid tested. We had a history of thyroid problems in my mum’s family. But the tests came back negative.
Throughout my teens I jumped up and down in weight until I turned 16 and fell pregnant with my daughter Amelia, now ten, in 2004. I piled on the pounds and gained six stone – growing to a massive 20 stone. By 2005 I started having severe heart palpitations, sickness, exhaustion and black outs.
I was talking on the phone to my mum, explaining how I felt when she said, ‘Meryl we need to take you back to the GP. ‘This isn’t normal and I’m going to demand the doctor runs some tests. ‘We aren’t leaving until we get answers.’
‘Whoa mum, I wouldn’t want to argue with you,’ I laughed. ‘Let’s go then.’ After a few blood tests I was finally diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. I was put on prescription medication to try to regulate the gland, but over the next five months I continually lost weight. I lost over seven stone in just six months, which sounds great to most people. But because the weight dropped off so quickly the drastic change devastated my body. I was left with flabs of skin hanging from my tummy, arms and legs. And my boobs were awful.
I spent many days crying myself to sleep instead of enjoying being 18. Eventually I was referred to a specialist at Leicester Royal Infirmary hospital when doctors realised the medication wasn’t working. My specialist told me, ‘Meryl we need to perform a thyroidectomy as soon as possible. ‘If we don’t take the gland out, it is going to kill you.’ I burst into tears.
‘But I’m terrified of surgery. Is there any other way?’ I begged. ‘We have to do this to save you,’ he said. I was booked in for surgery and spent a week in hospital. When I returned home I thought my nightmare had ended. But it went from bad to worse. I was sent to another specialist who recommended plastic surgery, including a tummy tuck and breast enlargement, to repair the damage done to my body. But when I got a letter in the post from the NHS refusing my application for the surgeries I was distraught.
It stated my BMI was too high and to reapply after maintaining a healthy BMI for a year. Instead of wallowing, I set to work. I exercised and ate healthily, but no matter what I did nothing fixed the excess skin or my boobs.
It was 2006 when Luke, who was just a good friend at the time, became my shoulder to cry on. I was struggling with depression and anxiety. On my worst days I could not leave the house. One night I had such a severe panic attack my mum called 999 and I was taken to hospital. I was all alone when Luke, 28, walked in with flowers and a bunch of magazines under his arm.
‘I thought you could use the company,’ he smiled. ‘You being here means so much to me,’ I said. Luke sat by my hospital bed all through the night. That’s when I realised he was the kind of man I could fall for.
We started dating not long after and he was such a boost to my confidence. He had seen me at my biggest and my smallest point – and no matter my size thought I was beautiful. He also encouraged me to reapply for the surgery.
I tried again in 2007 but was rejected, despite my meeting all the NHS requirements. Luke and I got pregnant in 2008 and I gave birth to our twins Ella-Mae and Finlay. I applied again for abdominoplasty but was rejected a third time. ‘Why won’t they approve the surgery,’ I cried to Luke. They keep saying my case doesn’t set me apart from anyone else who wants the surgery. ‘I mean the NHS are funding boob jobs for women without anything wrong, but I can’t even get my deformed body fixed!’
‘It’s okay baby, you just have to keep trying,’ Luke soothed. ‘If I could afford the GBP8,000 for the surgery I would pay for it myself. ‘If anyone deserves it, you do.’
I knew paying for the surgery ourselves was out of the question. I was a full time mum taking care of our children and Luke was a lift engineer supporting our family on his income alone. And when I gave birth to my fourth child, Ezri-Rose in 2012 money only got tighter.
Luke convinced me to try to get the surgery approved by the NHS one more time in 2013. Even my doctors assured me they were certain it would be approved. But when the thin envelope arrived on the twins’ fifth birthday all my hopes were crushed. ‘Another rejection?’ Luke asked when he saw me curled up on the bed crying. I could only nod my head.
‘Baby no matter what they say I love you, skin and all,’ Luke said as he cuddled me. ‘I know it’s not what you want to hear but we have to be strong for our kids.’ I agreed so I got up and helped my twins have the best fifth birthday.
Despite the rejections, I haven’t given up hope. I’ve started fundraising hoping to raise the money I need for the surgery. I refuse to accept that even though I am in my twenties, I’ll have the body of a pensioner forever.
To donate please visit http://www.gofundme.com/7glplc?preview=1
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