For the first time in over 10 years, Tanya Angus has stopped growing. She is 7 feet 4 inches and weighs 400 pounds, and, for at least the past decade, has fought a life-and-death battle against acromegaly.
Now 33 years old and living in Las Vegas, Angus was a pretty, athletic, 21-year-old. She lived in Michigan, had a boyfriend, and worked as a supervisor at Wal-Mart. At the time, she was already fairly tall, at 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds. But at 22, she had grown three inches, her shoes no longer fit, her jeans became too tight, and her hands had become larger. She started worrying when she noticed that her face and head had become larger. Her bosses also noticed, and they fired her. Her boyfriend left her when his parents began asking if she was a man. Having nowhere else to turn, Angus moved back home to Las Vegas. Just one trip to a doctor confirmed that she had acromegaly.
Acromegaly is a long-lasting condition that affects 20,000 American adults, in which the pituitary gland malfunctions, causing too much growth hormone and body tissues that become larger. It is different than gigantism, because that occurs during childhood. Acromegaly occurs spontaneously during adulthood, and is not hereditary. The organs become larger, along with patients' size. Fluid accumulates in the body, causing stress on multiple systems; patients are more prone to cardiac conditions, diabetes and hypertension. Patients can also suffer from horrible headaches, arthritis, and swollen joints. Most famously, André the Giant, a French professional wrestler who appeared in The Princess Bride, suffered and died from the condition.
It is a condition with a slow onset; Dr. Laurence Katznelson, a professor of medicine and neurosurgery and the medical director of the pituitary center at Stanford University Hospital, and a medical advisor for the website Acromegaly Community, said to ABC News, "Patients don't present with, 'I am getting bigger.' You look at photos and their history over 10 years and you see it. But when we look in the mirror every day, we don't see the changes."
In 95 percent of cases of the condition, acromegaly is caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. Angus falls into that category, but her tumor is twisted around the carotid artery, making it inoperable. And other treatments have been ineffective. She has had radiation and three operations. One nearly killed her; another left her hearing severely impaired.
But over the past year, she has been taking a drug that has kept the levels of growth hormone within the normal range.
Still, Angus is so large that she no longer can walk without pain, describing it as if she feels crushed under own size. The only time that she does not feel pain is when she is in a swimming pool, where she can float.
But Angus feels optimistic about her treatment, and will be appearing in an upcoming documentary on the condition. She says that she feels buoyed by the encouragement of others, who send her letters about how she has inspired them.