I was misdiagnosed with a liver tumor at age 17. After years of depression and eating disorders, I found my passion in bodybuilding.

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Marta Horvarth ready to compete

Marta Horvath after she won the competition and got her wings.Courtesy of Marta Horvath

  • When I was 17 years old, a doctor told me the spots on my liver were likely tumors.

  • With a proper diagnosis at 32, I found my passion in weightlifting and bodybuilding.

  • This is Marta Horvath’s story, as told to Kitti Palmai.

When I was 17 years old, my parents took me for a thorough one-day medical checkup. It’s called a “manager screening” here in Hungary, where I’m from, and it involves all types of tests, from blood tests to an ultrasound.

The doctors at the screening said they found spots on my liver, first with an ultrasound and then with an MRI. They suggested it could be liver cancer. That’s where the suffering of the next 15 years started.

I took my tests to another doctor for a second opinion. He said it was a large hemangioma, a benign liver tumor, and warned against doing things like heavy lifting or falling over because it could cause a blood vessel to rupture. The only treatment doctors proposed was a liver transplant.

To be prepared for a rare fatal complication, I drafted a goodbye text to my parents on my phone.

I never imagined that 16 years later I would be not only competing as a bodybuilder but also winning the Ms. Olympia title in the Angel category of the 2018 Natural Olympia, a major bodybuilding competition. It was the best way to end the years of struggles caused by being misdiagnosed.

It took me many years to find out that the spots on my liver were not harmful at all.

I struggled a lot with the misdiagnosis

After that second opinion, I sought advice from more doctors, trying to find a less invasive treatment than a transplant. But the whole experience broke me. I was living in fear. My doctors wanted to put me on the transplant list because they thought that was the only treatment.

The mental struggles led to depression, followed by eating disorders, reflux, and other stress-related symptoms.

One day, when I was 22 years old, a specialist suggested a liver biopsy after my blood test came back with a hepatitis-like result — which I had been vaccinated against. I checked all my medications for potential side effects, and one clearly stated the possibility of the hepatitis-like blood-test result I had.

That’s when I started to question the diagnosis and trashed all my medications. Maybe it was partly youthful rebellion as a university student, but it had become too much for me to handle.

Not knowing what was wrong with me didn’t allow me to live fully

The next 10 years went by without doctors’ appointments, but deep down I felt it wasn’t right.

I loved all kinds of sports, from snowboarding to tennis, but I thought I shouldn’t be doing them. As a result of my eating disorder and stress, I lost a lot of weight.

I started looking into healthier food choices and doing light training at the gym. It was my way of escape.

At 32, I finally met with a doctor who changed my life. When I handed over my thick medical folder, the doctor calmed me by saying, “If truly this was your condition, do you think we’d sit here and chat right now?”

After getting an isotopic angiography, the doctor confirmed that the spots on my liver are like pigmentation spots — which could be hereditary, from birth control, or teenage acne medication — but are nothing serious.

It took me a couple years to really believe that I was healthy.

With my newfound well-being, my initial goal was to do a 220-pound squat lift. Shortly after hitting that goal, I was introduced to bodybuilding, and my first competition was on my 33rd birthday.

I’d gotten a taste, and within three years, I qualified for and won the 2018 Natural Olympia in Las Vegas as the first Hungarian in the Angel category.

Since then, I’ve become a nutritional coach, judged bodybuilding competitions, and help others prepare for contests. While the misdiagnosis took away years of physical activity, I’m grateful I get to compete in my newfound passion.

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