SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (KTVU) - After years of debilitating pain and no answers to what was causing her suffering, a Tennessee mother of three is 20 pounds lighter and on her road to recovery.
Three weeks ago, doctors removed a massive, 20-pound cyst from 32-year-old Ashley Walden's abdomen.
Walden said she first began noticing something was wrong back in 2014. She made multiple visits to the ER, but each time doctors would tell her she was fine.
"...they literally would tell me nothing was wrong with me and to go home and sleep it off," she told KTVU. "Everyone kept telling me, even my husband and family, that maybe it was scar tissue or something from one of my previous C-sections."
So without any answers Walden kept going until the pain got so unbearable, it was affecting her everyday life.
"... the pain had began to spread to other places... I decided someone somewhere had to help me before something bad happened," Walden explained.
That's when she turned to Dr. Shana Dowell of Vanderbilt Center for Women's Health, where her office ordered tests and finally found the cause of her ailment. The tests revealed a large ovarian cyst.
While Walden found some peace in knowing there was a medical reason for her suffering, she said she felt like there wasn't much she could do.
And doctors were hopeful it would resolve itself. That was about three years ago.
A working mom with three kids, her hands were full, especially with her eldest who had special needs after he was severely burned back in 2011.
"I had to put myself on the back burner to be the momma he needed for his care," Walden said.
When the cyst did not resolve itself and Dr. Dowell explained to her that surgery was necessary, Walden's immediate concerns turned to the strain it would put on her family.
"I had gotten so far in debt that I didn't have an option to have surgery... We lost everything we had when our son got hurt, I mean everything. I couldn't do it again so I kept putting off the surgeries," Walden explained.
The cyst's growth showed no sign of slowing. By late last year, it was in fact getting larger at an exponential rate. By last April, Walden said she looked like she was 8 months pregnant. People, even some family members were convinced she was expecting.
The extra strain on her body forced her to quit her job.
The situation just kept getting worse for Walden. When the bills began mounting out of control, she had to find another job, one that was less physically demanding.
It all came to a head when she returned home from work one day and collapsed, hitting the ground writhing in pain. "I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't get off my couch," she said.
Walden again turned to Dr. Dowell's office seeking help. It was then that she received words she said she'll never forget.
"She said this cyst is massive and held her hands out showing me how large. She said you need surgery or you're going to die," Walden recalled being told. "I left her office crying and cried all evening because I didn't want to die, but I couldn't afford any of this to be happening."
Dr. Dowell said that the fact that Walden had put off getting surgery led to a dire situation. The cyst was affecting her life to the point she could hardly move. "...it kept growing and at some point it can affect other organs as well," Dowell explained to KTVU.
It was the thought of her family and how much her children needed her that prompted Walden to finally decide to go through with surgery.
"I had to think about my kids and what would they do without me," she said.
The procedure took place on Sept. 10. Photos show the huge 20 pound mass that was removed from the patient.
The surgery was successful. But the road to recovery has so far been difficult for Walden. While her doctor has reassured her that she is making good progress, Walden said she is frought with stress and anxiety, worried she is not healing fast enough.
"Everyday is a struggle not only physically, but emotionally and financially as well," she said.
Amid the stress, there is also gratitude. Walden said her 10-year-old daughter has been a godsend. She said her child had to grow up pretty quickly as she has cared for her during her recovery as well as the rest of her family so her husband could continue working.
The child has had to miss school to take on the duties of cooking and cleaning and helping her special needs 14-year-old brother and their 7-year-old little sister.
"This whole time my 10 year old daughter stepped up and helped me every step of the way," Walden said with gratitude, as she looked to the future with hopes for a new beginning.
"I pray every night, and the lord above has got to have big plans for my family considering everything that has happened to us," Walden said. "The last 8 years has been a battle."