Chante Burkett, a lifestyle blogger based in New Jersey, is speaking out after having a 13-pound ovarian cyst removed from her body in June. Her story went viral after she shared several striking pictures on Instagram, along with a plea for women to advocate for their health.
Burkett, 33, told TODAY Health that she first started experiencing symptoms in December 2020. She initially had pelvic pain and some hardness in her stomach. At first, the symptoms were easy to dismiss, and when she went for a regular checkup in January, her primary care physician didn't seem concerned.
"They kind of just brushed it off, because they could see my weight had gone up, and that could be the reason," Burkett said.
In the spring, Burkett became more concerned: She was working out more and losing weight according to the scale, but her stomach remained round. Burkett went back to her doctor, who again told her it could be related to diet or be something simple like gas or bloating. In June, she finally went to urgent care after experiencing "so much pain" she "could not move."
"It was painful just to walk," Burkett recalled.
At urgent care, she was given a CT scan, which showed a large ovarian cyst, the "size of a watermelon," according to her Instagram post.
Dr. Jeannine Villella, the chief of gynecologic oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, explained that ovarian cysts are typically "abnormal growths" that can be either benign or malignant. Some may go away on their own, but others may require surgery or close monitoring. Villella, who was not involved in Burkett's care, also shared what symptoms women should be on the lookout for.
"Any kind of bloating, pressure, change in urine, bowel symptoms or early satiety that's present for two weeks should be evaluated," said Villella. "Any sharp pain, one-sided sharp pain associated with nausea or vomiting could be a sign of torsion (when the ovarian blood supply twists on itself due to the cyst) and could be a surgical emergency."
Burkett said that she was told she would need to have the ovarian cyst removed "immediately."
"It was very scary," Burkett said. "I didn't know what would happen ... Going in there knowing that I might have to have a hysterectomy or something could go wrong."
The surgery was a success, and the cyst was not cancerous. Burkett said on Instagram that she is now "fully in good health." She did have one ovary removed during the course of the surgery.
Burkett said that after she woke up from the anesthesia, she was shown pictures of the cyst. While she had known the dimensions of the 30-centimeter mass, it was "shocking" to see what that really looked like.
"I was like, 'Wow, it's that big?' I didn't really see how big (my stomach) was until I got to the ER. I just knew the dimensions, and that was it, but we knew it was huge and it was taking up my whole stomach," Burkett said. "The doctors were so, I guess, impressed. They were like 'Oh my goodness, it's not messing with your liver, your kidneys, just pushing everything around.' They took my phone and were like, 'We can take pictures for you!'"
"You could tell they were pretty impressed when they were taking this out, because they took a lot of pictures, and they took good pictures!" Burkett continued.
Villella said that it's unusual for a cyst to be as large as Burkett's, but some cysts will continue to grow if left untreated.
"Some of them will stop at a certain point, but if they continue to grow they can of course get to be very large," Villella said.
Burkett said that she hopes her story inspires other people, especially women, to advocate for themselves when seeking medical attention. She said that it wasn't the first time she had felt her concerns were ignored because of her weight.
"Advocate for yourself, talk with your family about primary health conditions (so) you can get a jump on and really advocate for yourself on them," she said. "Demand the proper tests and when doctors refuse, have them document that in your chart, and go get a second opinion. You know your body better than anybody else, so you have to take care of your health and make sure that your health is being taken care of."