Elizabeth Sullivan’s lifestyle has always been centered on physical health and fitness. A former bikini model of 10 years, the 37-year-old now runs her own marketing company, The Sullivan Agency, which provides professional promotional models for events nationwide. She has always maintained a regimented workout schedule, including a variety of high-intensity workout classes, cardio, and weight lifting.
However, Elizabeth started noticing changes to her body in early 2019. “I was always fit and in good shape, and then suddenly I’m looking nine months pregnant,” she explains. She then had excruciating abdominal pain that sent her to the emergency room. What she originally thought was appendicitis turned out to be a much more severe diagnosis: acute endometriosis accompanied by 14 pounds of fibroid tumors that were spreading to her organs.
Elizabeth was devastated not only by her diagnosis but by the treatment plan that most doctors recommended: a full hysterectomy. Although 1-in-10 women suffer from endometriosis, this disease is largely underfunded and underresearched, leaving women with fewer specialists and treatment options. “I was heartbroken that a hysterectomy seemed like my only option. I thought I would never be able to have kids,” she says, recalling both the physical and mental toll of the diagnosis.
Against all odds, she was able to find a doctor willing to perform a grueling eight-hour surgery to remove the tumors. “I’m pretty tough. I was in a bad car accident that broke several bones and left me blind in one eye, and the pain from the tumors and their removal was worse than that,” Elizabeth says.
Despite the difficult road to recovery, she was determined to push through the pain and defy her doctor’s expectations. “They said I had to have a hysterectomy, but I found a different option. They said I could go home from the hospital when I could walk, so I took my first steps the day after surgery. They said I wouldn’t be back at work for months, but I was working Music Fest on a golf cart two weeks later.”
Elizabeth was also determined to get back into her fitness routine. But this comeback was daunting; she had to take a full year off from the gym post-op and experienced anxiety and self-doubt about transitioning back. She credits One Breath Meditation with helping to ease anxiety. “Traditional meditation didn’t work for me. I couldn’t shut my mind off,” Elizabeth explains. “A friend introduced me to the concept of One Breath Meditation, and I connected with the idea that when shit hits the fan, you don’t always have 30 minutes to sit quietly and de-stress.”
One Breath Meditation focuses more on breath work versus clearing the mind, and it’s centered on the idea that if you correct your breathing, your mind will follow. “One Breath Meditation took away those little negative voices that we sometimes have telling us that things are too hard or we should give up,” Elizabeth says. “Focusing on my mental health gave me the motivation to set small goals and keep going each day.”
After focusing on mentally recovering from her health scare, she began to work physical fitness back into her routine through yoga classes at ZenStudio Fitness in East Memphis. She says the ZenStudio instructors played a huge role in her bouncing back, remarking that they pushed her do her best but were also understanding of her limitations.
Elizabeth recently hit a huge milestone: the one year anniversary of her endometriosis diagnosis and subsequent surgery. Her current workout routine still begins with One Breath Meditation, and alternates between spin and yoga classes at ZenStudio and treadmill and light weights at her home gym.
“I may not be exactly where I want to be fitness-wise right now, but I’m much better off than I was a year ago. I push myself every day, and I’m so proud of all the progress I’ve made.” She hopes to be a source of inspiration to other women diagnosed with endometriosis or any other health issues. “To any other women struggling right now or feeling down on themselves—I promise, you can get through it.”
By Lucy Harrison
Photo by TIndall Stephens