Exercise helped Andrea Imafidon become more fearless.

Not long after she turned 30, Andrea Imafidon started having incredibly heavy periods that left her so lightheaded and dizzy she could barely leave the house for a week or two each month. But when she went to her primary care doctor, he shrugged it off as normal. A second doctor told her she had chronic constipation. A gynecologist told her she had an underactive thyroid but that her levels of thyroid hormone weren’t low enough to treat. Another gyno prescribed birth control pills to “balance her hormones.”

“Nothing they told me was helpful, and I started to get badly depressed,” says Andrea, now 34. “I wasn’t able to complete simple household chores, like cooking and cleaning, without taking breaks, I woke up in the morning feeling exhausted—and I often needed several naps to make it through the day. I basically gave up socializing, and I had to quit two jobs in a row—I was a marketer for a nonprofit and then a director of social services—because I had so many days I couldn’t make it to work. The whole experience started eroding my self-esteem. I felt like I wasn’t capable of being a normal human being, and I had a lot of self-doubt. I thought maybe I was going crazy.”

Getting stronger, inside and out

Finally, Andrea saw a new doctor, who diagnosed her definitively with hypothyroidism—a low thyroid condition that can cause fatigue—and suspected she might have fibroids. An ultrasound confirmed the diagnosis. “One fibroid was as big as a grapefruit, and blood tests showed I was dangerously anemic, too,” she says. “My doctor put me on thyroid medication and iron supplements and that helped my energy enormously.”

Feeling better, she started a more intensive weight training regimen with a personal trainer. “Working out increased my energy even more and gave me a sense of accomplishment that began to slowly turn around my feelings of low self-worth,” she says.

She still needed treatment for her fibroid—and her gynecologist told her the only option was a hysterectomy. “I was only 33 and still wanted to have kids,” she says. “I was devastated.” But now that she was stronger physically, she felt confident enough to take a stand.

“I told my doctor I wasn’t going to follow his recommendation until I’d explored other alternatives,” she says. She and her husband began researching fibroid treatments and learned that laparoscopic surgery, which would allow her to keep her uterus, was an option. They sought out a surgeon in Boston, where they live, who told her she was a good candidate.

By the time she had surgery at the end of March this year, Andrea was exercising six days a week—incorporating yoga and Zumba, along with several days a week of weight lifting. “My endurance increased, my emotions stabilized, and I felt strong enough to socialize again,” she says.

“Exercise helped me become more fearless and make tough health choices that were right for me,” Andrea adds. “Weight-lifting, in particular, helped me see that I was far stronger than what I was telling myself. I’m such a big believer in the power of exercise that I’ve decided to become a fitness coach.”