November 29, 2022

Arielle’s Autoimmune Health Journey

Older woman with a soft smile and glasses

This is a firsthand account submitted through SWHR’s Share Your Story portal, as part of SWHR’s Women’s Health Perspective series.

I thought that I was perfectly healthy until age 54. I worked full time for 35 years in the technology industry as a programmer analyst, project manager, and system engineer.

One day at work I remember experiencing a sensation that I had never had before. It felt like a strobe light had gone off in my brain. I tried to push it aside and concentrate on the task at hand.  Eventually, the sensation subsided. I later described it to my physician, who diagnosed me with anxiety. Two months after the initial episode, I went to the emergency room with stroke-like symptoms and a severe headache. A brain computerized tomography (CT) showed an intercranial atypical meningioma that was causing hydrocephaly – an abnormal buildup of fluid in the cavities within my brain. Doctors sent me for a procedure, and I had a successful emergency craniotomy.

Two years later, I am doing pretty well overall. Since my headaches and surgery, I have been diagnosed with cervical cancer and an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s. I now receive an annual brain MRI to detect regrowth of the meningioma, which was causing the strobe sensation and fluid buildup in my brain. While the cancer diagnosis was difficult, the toughest women’s health issue for me has been my Hashimoto’s. It was not diagnosed by my physician, so I had to refer myself to an endocrinologist to receive the diagnosis.

I also occasionally have trouble with my eyes, but I don’t yet know whether the symptoms are thyroid eye disease or not. I am seeking feedback from an eye doctor.

I am sharing my story so other women understand how quickly our health can change and that sometimes being your own health advocate is a role that everyone, and women especially, may have to take on at some point. Trust yourself and persevere until you understand your underlying health issues.