Nicole is a twenty-nine year-old patient from North Queensland, who first suspected she may have Lipoedema in mid 2020. Nicole watched as her body ‘ballooned’ after coming off two medications and felt her legs get heavy, swollen and sore to touch. For several years prior to this however, Nicole had also noticed how sore her legs would get after sports, gym and deep tissue massage.
Nicole feels more education around Lipoedema would have saved her from years of under eating and over exercising. Despite her continued efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, she says her legs continued to bruise and swell. An avid sports lover, Nicole had to give up both netball and marathon training, due to feeling as though she was running with ten kilogram weights on each leg. “It was just too painful, and I had no idea why” Nicole says.
While awaiting blood test results for suspected low iron levels, Nicole came across a post on Instagram from someone who had recently been diagnosed with Lipoedema. Nicole recognised the symptoms described in the Instagram post in herself, including poorly defined calves, ‘cankles’, bigger thighs and a small waist. Nicole also noticed that regardless of how much she exercised, her legs and arms never changed shape. After being dismissed by a local specialist, Nicole had her first consultation with Dr Lekich in December 2020, who diagnosed Nicole as stage 1/early stage 2 Lipoedema.
Following Nicole’s Lipoedema diagnosis, her mum has also learned about the condition and believes she has it too. She has many symptoms, the most prevalent of which being the typical Lipoedema shape of larger thighs and a small waist.
Nicole began a strict conservative management plan after receiving her diagnosis, losing a total 6 kilograms of non-Lipoedema fat. Her plan involved a low – carbohydrate diet, wearing compression garments daily and utilising a compression pump, Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) therapy and gentle exercise such as swimming. In spite of her many efforts, Nicole felt her condition only worsened, and this began to take a toll on her mental health. As well as this, Nicole struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment while trying to explain what Lipoedema is to friends and family who had never heard of the condition. Nicole also felt invalidated by social media posts suggesting smaller women with Lipoedema should be grateful they aren’t bigger. “It’s important to make every woman with this condition feel valid” Nicole says “No matter what size they are”. Nicole subsequently opened her own Instagram account to share her journey publicly and raise awareness of Lipoedema, she says this experience has helped her to no longer feel ashamed.
In January 2022 Nicole underwent her first Lipoedema-extraction surgery on her lower legs, utilising a lymph-sparing technique that ensures the fat does not return, 1.5 litres of diseased fat was extracted by Dr Lekich. Nicole says she found the recovery following her first surgery better than she anticipated, and put this down to her hard work in the lead up to surgery, ensuring she was in the best possible health, finally paying off. She returned to the gym at four weeks post-surgery. Approximately twelve weeks after her first surgery, Nicole underwent a second Lipoedema-extraction surgery on her upper legs in April 2022, resulting in a further 3.5 litres of diseased fat being removed.
Nicole says for the first time in her life she now enjoys walking because her legs feel light, and she lives without the constant fear of progression of the disease. Nicole also says that her diagnosis and subsequent surgeries lifted a physical and emotional weight off her shoulders. “In a good way, I left a part of me behind in the hospital” Nicole says “and I walked out ready to begin a whole new journey”.