Published: 09:35 BST, 18 July 2017 | Updated: 15:56 BST, 18 July 2017
A hairdresser has revealed how a credit-card sized tumour on her brain caused her hands and feet to change and grow every few weeks.
Lauren Bates, 26, from New Romney, Kent, spent years visiting her doctor trying to work out the mystery illness was.
It made it impossible for her to squeeze into her favourite jewellery and would often outgrow new pairs of shoes within just weeks.
Her GP eventually diagnosed her after scrolling through her Facebook pictures, as in her most recent ones she had an enlarged nose and excess facial tissue.
They found her bizarre growth, which saw her feet expand to a size 9, was caused by acromegaly - meaning her body produces too much of growth hormone.
The rare condition, made famous by Richard Kiel, hairdresser who played Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me, was triggered by a 7cm tumour on the pituitary gland.
Lauren Bates' feet and hands kept on growing due to acromegaly - a rare condition triggered by a 7cm tumour in her brain (pictured in hospital having surgery to remove the tumour)
It was discovered after she couldn't understand why every time she bought a new pair of shoes, she would have outgrown them within a few weeks
Ms Bates said: 'I was buying new shoes all the time, because my old ones were too tight.
'I couldn't understand it at all. I thought your feet would stop growing when you reached adulthood, but mine just wouldn't stop.'
When did it begin?
Although doctors believe the condition began when Ms Bates was around 16 or 17, she first noticed something was wrong around her 18th birthday.
She added: 'My grandad Frank got me a really nice ring for my 18th birthday but, within weeks, I couldn't get it on.
'I had to buy shoes all the time as well. I was putting it down to things like it being hot and my hands and feet swelling.'
Slowly, her feet grew from a size six when she was 17 to a size nine when she was 24 and other symptoms started to plague her life.
But despite suffering from intense migraines for months, she managed to finish her hairdressing course.
Ms Bates was also struggling with her weight, going from a size 12 to size 16 in a few years, despite exercising almost every day and eating a low-fat diet.
Ms Bates also found it impossible to squeeze her favourite jewellery onto her fingers
Her feet expanded from a size six when she first noticed symptoms as a 17-year-old, to a size nine just seven years later because of acromegaly (pictured with her medication, as she became the first person in the UK to be prescribed Pasireotide for acromegaly)
The rare condition, made famous by Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me, was triggered by a 7cm tumour on the pituitary gland
She said: 'I weighed too much, but I was exercising all the time and barely eating anything. The weight just wasn't coming off.
'That was due to the condition, but I didn't know that. I was at the age where I wanted to look nice but no matter what I did, it wasn't working.'
Change of scenery
Then, turning 22 and still struggling for answers, she decided she needed a dramatic change of scenery.
I thought your feet would stop growing when you reached adulthood, but mine just wouldn't stop
Lauren Bates, 26
She gave up her job and decided to go travelling for 18 months in the belief that doing something different may help.
But her condition gradually worsened, and six months before the end of her trip she decided to return home.
Upon her arrival back to Britain, her mother, Elaine, 52, was shocked and said she didn't look the same and wasn't acting right.
Her mother took her back to the GP and together they tried to explain everything that was happening.
A blood test showed high levels of the pro-lactin her blood and she was referred to an endocrinologist at Buckland Hospital, Dover.
Just a few weeks later, in January 2015, Ms Bates sat down with the specialist for the first time.
A brain scan shows the size of the tumour before it was removed during multiple surgeries
Ms Bates was also struggling with her weight, going from a size 12 to size 16 in a few years, despite exercising almost every day and eating a low-fat diet
Bizarrely, she was diagnosed after a consultant compared her Facebook snaps going back to 2007 and noted in more recent pictures, she had an enlarged nose in her face (pictured after her first surgery in March 2015)
When he asked to see an old picture, she scrolled through her Facebook profile photos with him.
Ms Bates added: 'He immediately said, "Have you ever heard of acromegaly?" I had no idea what it was but, as he listed off the symptoms, I said I had every one.'
Scans showed that she had a tumour on her pituitary gland that was causing her to produce too much growth hormone.
The tumour was much bigger than those in most other people with the condition, and had grown around her brain and optic nerve.
'I was frightened'
She said: 'They told me I was going to need to have brain surgery and I was frightened.
'But they also said I was lucky to be alive, so I wanted to have it as soon as possible.
'They told me they wouldn't be able to remove it all but they could de bulk as much as possible. '
Just two weeks later, in March 2015, surgeons at King's College Hospital, London, removed the bulk of the tumour through her nose.
In April 2015, she had another operation, this time open surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible from the more delicate areas of her brain.
Surgery was followed by four weeks of radiotherapy at St Thomas' Hospital, London (pictured)
WHAT IS ACROMEGALY?
Acromegaly develops when the body produces too much growth hormone.
This leads to excess growth of body tissues over time.
It can cause abnormally large hands and feet, large facial features, an enlarged tongue and abnormally great height.
It is caused by a tumour on the pituitary gland.
Most patients can be successfully treated - brain surgery will what not to wear hairdresser often return hormone levels to normal.
When the tumour is too large to be removed, medication can often help normalise hormone levels.
Source: NHS Choices
Then a third operation in May 2015, left her with just 1cm of the tumour remaining.
Surgery was followed by four weeks of radiotherapy at St Thomas' Hospital, London and she became the first person in the UK to be prescribed Pasireotide, for acromegaly, which helps to stop the tumour regrowing and keeps her symptoms at bay.
'It has helped'
Ms Bates added: 'It has helped massively. My headaches have been reduced really well and I have been able to start going back to work as a hairdresser part time.
'The medication has really helped will all of that. I will have to keep taking it long term.'
However, the condition has caused some long-term damage - and it will take a long time for her hands and feet to return to their normal size.
Ms Bates, who also lost the sight in her right eye, said: 'It is hard but I think other people are affected much worse and I feel quite lucky.'
This year, Ms Bates has met with other sufferers of acromegaly to support each other and discuss how it affects them.
Acromegaly sufferers are supported by UK-wide patient support charity the Pituitary Foundation. They say symptoms like headaches, nausea, poor concentration, irritability, tiredness, problems sleeping, lack of appetite, sexual and fertility difficulties, depression, increased thirst and excessive urination could be a sign of a problem.
The charity says anyone with recurring symptoms should look for more detail and support on their website www.pituitary.org.uk and ask their GP to consider a pituitary problem.
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