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In Memory: Kate Myers

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Kate (Fairley on the Cushing’s Help message boards)  was only 46 when she died on June 23, 2014.  Her board signature read:

After 2 failed pit surgeries and a CSF leak repair,
BLA on Sept. 11, 2008 w/Dr. Fraker at UPenn
Gamma knife radiation at UPenn Oct. 2009
Now disabled and homebound. No pit, no adrenals and radiation damage to my hypothalamus.
My cure is God’s will, and I still have hope and faith!

During her too-short life, she provided help and support to other Cushies.

Her National Geographic video in 2007

Her BlogTalkRadio Interview in 2008: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cushingshelp/2008/07/17/interview-with-kate-fairley

Articles to help others:

Kate’s Family Letter
Kate’s Packing Suggestions For Surgery
Kate’s Pituitary Surgery Observations

Kate’s bio from 2008:

Hi y’all! I will try to make this short, but there is a lot to say.

I stumbled across this board after a google search last night. Yesterday, I finally saw a real endocrinologist. I am 39 years old. I weigh 362. I was diagnosed by a reproductive endocrinologist with PCOS at age 30, but all of my symptoms started at age 22.

At age 22, I was an avid runner, healthy at 140-145 pounds and 5’7″. I got a knee injury and stopped running right around the time that my periods just….stopped. And by stopped, I mean completely disappeared after mostly regular periods since age 12. I was tested by the student health clinic at UGA, and referred to an obgyn for lap exploration for endometriosis, which was ruled out. I remember that they ran some bloodwork and ultimately came back with this frustrating response: We don’t know what it is, but it’s probably stress-related because your cortisol is elevated.

Soon thereafter, I gained 80 pounds in about 6 months, and another 30 the next six months. Suddenly, in one year, I was 110 pounds heavier than my original weight of 140. I recall my mom and sister talking about how fast I was gaining weight. At the time, I blamed myself: I wasn’t eating right, I’d had to stop running due to the knee injury and my metabolism must have been “used” to the running; I was going through some family problems, so it must be that I’m eating for emotional reasons related to depression. You name the self-blame category, and I tried them all on for size.

Whatever the reason, I stopped avoiding mirrors and cameras. The person looking back at me was a stranger, and acquaintances had stopped recognizing me. A bank refused to cash my security deposit refund check from my landlord when I graduated because I no longer looked like my student ID or my driver’s license. I was pulled over for speeding while driving my dad’s Mercedes graduation weekend, and the cop who pulled me over almost arrested me for presenting a false ID. These are some really painful memories, and I wonder if anyone here can relate to the pain of losing your physical identity to the point that you are a stranger to yourself and others?

Speaking of size, from age 24 to 26 I remained around 250, had very irregular periods occuring only a few times a year (some induced), developed cystic acne in weird places, like my chest, shoulders, buttocks (yikes!), found dark, angry purple stretch marks across my abdomen (some of which I thought were so severe that my insides were going to come out through them) which I blamed on the weight gain, the appearance of a pronounced buffalo hump (which actually started at age 22 at the beginning of the weight gain), dark black hairs on my fair Scottish chin (and I’m talking I now have to shave twice daily), a slight darkening of the skin around my neck and a heavy darkening of the skin in my groin area, tiny skin tags on my neck. I was feeling truly lovely by graduation from law school and my wedding to my wonderful DH.

At age 26, I ballooned again, this time up to 280-300, where I stayed until age 32, when I went up to 326. The pretty girl who used to get cat calls when she ran was no more. She had been buried under a mountain of masculined flesh. I still had a pretty, albeit very round, face, though. And I consoled myself that I still have lovely long blonde hair — that is, until it started falling out, breaking off, feeling like straw.

At age 30, I read about PCOS on the internet and referred myself to a reproductive endocrinologist, who confirmed insulin resistance after a glucose tolerance test. I do not know what else he tested for — I believe my testosterone was high. He prescribed Metformin, but after not having great success on it after 5-6 months, I quit taking it, and seeing him. Dumb move.

Two years later, at age 32, I weighed 326. In desperation, I went on Phentermine for 3 months and lost 80 pounds the wrong way, basically starving. I was back down to 240-250, where I remained from age 33-35. After the weight loss, I got my period a few times, and started thinking about trying to have a baby. Many ultrasounds per month over a few months revealed that I just wasn’t ovulating. I decided to put off starting the family when the doctor started talking about IVF, etc. It just seemed risky to me — my body, after all, felt SICK all the time, and I couldn’t imagine carrying a baby and it winding up to be healthy.

At age 35, I ballooned again, this time significantly — from 240 to 320 in the space of 6 months. Another 45 pounds added by age 37, so that’s 125 pounds in two year. I’ve remained between 345-365 for the last two years, depending on how closely I was following my nutritionist’s recommended 1600 calorie per day diet….which was not all the time.

Which takes me to last year. I went for a physical because I wasn’t feeling well, kept getting sick, had a lot of fatigue, weird sweating where my hair would get totally drenched for no reason. At this point, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, hypothyroism (which has now been modified to Hashimoto’s thyroidis), high cholesterol (although this was present at age 30 when I got the PCOS diagnosis). I went back to my repro-endo, and resolved to make myself stay on Metformin this time. All last year was a series of monthly blood work and attempts to lose weight with an eye toward trying to get pregnant this year. By the end of the year, I was successful in taking off only 20 pounds, and my repro-endo (always with an eye toward fertility and not health), really pushed me to give up on losing weight at that moment and to start taking Clomid. Or else, he said. The words that broke my heart: this may be your last chance.

So, skip forward to January 2006. My ovaries are blown out and they are clear — no blockages. I get cleared to start fertility treatments. My husband undergoes his own embarrassing tests. I think we have an agenda here, but my mind was chewing on serious concerns that I was simply too unhealthy to be considering trying this. That, and I felt it would be a futile effort.

By the way, more than a year on the Metformin with no real changes to anything. Why doesn’t my body respond to it like other people with PCOS?

Then late March, I started experiencing extreme fatigue. And I’m not talking about the kind where you need to take a nap on a Sunday afternoon to gear up for the week ahead (which I’d always considered a nice indulgence, but not a necessity). I’m talking debilitating, life-altering fatigue. It didn’t start out right away to be debilitating — or maybe I just made the usual excuses as I always do relating to my health: I’m still getting over that flu/cold from last month. I just got a promotion at work (though I note a greatly reduced stress and caseload now that I am a managing attorney. My weight is causing it. Whatever.

I let it go on for a full two months before I started to really worry, or admit to myself that my quality life had taken a serious downward turn. You see, despite my weight and my scary appearance, I have always been the “director” type. By that I mean that last year, I worked with two other women to direct 100 volunteers to start a summer camp for inner city kids, and I had enough energy to run this ambitious new project and to film, produce and edit a 30 minute documentary on it by the end of the summer.

In contrast, I had to take a backseat this year. I basically sat in a chair and answered the questions of volunteers, made a few phone calls here and there, and was simply a “presence” in case something major went wrong. Such a major change from the year before, where I was running the whole show 14 hours a day and loving it.

But I am getting ahead of myself. (Is anyone still reading this? I must be narcissitic to think so….yet, I wonder if anyone else has gone through a similar progression….)

Back to May. After two months of this fatigue, I change to a new primary care physician and get a whole workup: blood, urine, thyroid ultrasound, cardiac stress test, liver ultrasound when my enzymes, which had been slightly elevated, were found to have doubled since January. Appointments with a gastroenterologist, and FINALLY….a REAL endocrinologist. Ruled out any serious liver problems (and my levels, surprisingly, dropped back to the slightly elevated level in a space of 3 weeks and no treatment).

Yesterday, I heard a word I’d only heard spoken once before in my life: Cushings. Way back when I was 22 and had started gaining weight so rapidly, I had a boyfriend who worked the graveyard shift at the local hospital. He spent the better part of a non-eventful week of nights pouring over medical books in the library. He excitedly showed me the pages he’d photocopied, which had sketches of a woman with a very rounded face (like mine), striae on her stomach (like mine), abdomenal obesity (like mine) and a pronounced buffalo hump. Although my former boyfriend was just a college student working his way through his music degree by earing some money moonlighting as a hospital security guard, he was the first one to note all of these tell-tale signs.

When I got my diagnosis of PCOS, I remember discounting his amateur diagnosis, and I never thought of it again.

Until yesterday, when my new endo asked me if anyone had ever tested my cortisol or if I’d ever done a 24 hour urine test. I said no, and he started writing out the referral form along with like 15-20 different blood tests. And although we’d started our appointment with him telling me he agreed with my repro-endo’s encouragement to go ahead and try to get pregnant if I can, by the end of the visit, he was telling me not everyone is meant to be a parent, there is always adoption, etc. The only thing that happened during the appointment was that I gave him my basic history of weight gain, described the fatigue, and let him examine my striae, buffalo hump and legs (which were hidden under a long straight skirt). The question about the urine screen and corisol came after this physical exam, during which he was taking lots of notes.

Then the word, which was not spoken directly to me but to his nurse practioner as I was making my two-week appointment in the reception area outside the examining room: “She looks classic Cushings. I’ll be interested to get those results.”

Cushings. Cushings. No– that’s not me. I’m not that weird-shaped, hairy, mannish-looking, round-faced, hump-backed creature my boyfriend had shown me a picture of 16 years earlier. I have PCOS, right? It’s just my fault. I don’t eat right. If I’d just eat better, I wouldn’t be 2.5 times my weight in college. Right?

I quickly came home and did an internet search. Within an hour, I was sitting in front of the computer, reading some bios here and BAWLING, just crying some body-wracking sobs as I looked at the pictures of the people on this board. Here, here (!!!!) is an entire community who has the same, wrenchingly painful picture-proven physical progression that I went through. The same symptoms and signs. Words of encouragement — of….hope. I didn’t feel scared to read about the possibility of a pituitary tumor — last year, I had a brain MRI of the optic nerve because of sudden vision irregularities, headaches and shooting eye pain. The MRI showed nothing, but then again, the image was not that great because I had to go into the lower-resolution open MRI due to my size.

I have no idea whether I have Cushing’s Syndrome or not, but these are my first steps in my journey of finding out. After living my entire adult life with an array of progressive, untreatable, brushed-off symptoms (and years of self-blame for depression, obesity, becoming so unattractive), there was a major “click” as I read this site, and a sense of relief that maybe, just maybe, what I have has a name, I’m not crazy/fat/ugly/lazy, the PCOS diagnosis, which has gotten me nowhere is incorrect, and I might have something TREATABLE.

So, without going so far as to say I hope for a diagnosis, I am hopeful for some definitive answers. If my urine tests are inconclusive (and my doctor only ordered one and no serum cortisol tests), I am going to fly out to L.A. and see Dr. Friedman for a full work up.

And, I’ll keep you posted.

Thank you for posting your stories, which have encouraged me to advocate for myself in a manner and direction, which this time, may be fruitful.

Be well, my new friends,
Kate

p.s. I will post some pictures this week after I scan some of the “after” one….I try to avoid the camera at all costs. I’m sure you understand just what I’m talking about, and for that, I am truly grateful.

 

Catherine B, Pituitary Bio

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I’ve had random symptoms off and on for years (almost two decades now, from about the age of 15) but didn’t realize they were related to illness, or that I had one overarching disease causing them all.

Looking back, the onset of my disease was in my teen years.  I gained more than 60lbs in roughly a year’s time without changing diet or activity level.  I developed stretch marks that ran from my knees to my elbows (and everywhere in between!).  I started losing my once-thick hair.  I developed horrible acne.  I went from being an early morning riser to staying up late at night because I was wide awake, and waking often throughout the night.  I went from being happy overall to being anxious and depressed for no apparently reason (and medication had no effect on either).  I was told it was either all in my head or all my fault (by varying people, some directly, some implied) and I internalized that and just assumed I was too lazy and had bad genetics…  I TRIED to exercise but would feel so sick afterwards that I couldn’t make any gains, I joined a gym and put myself on a diet in high school but none of it made any difference.  When I brought up my symptoms to doctors, they could never put it together, often blamed me for them (Just diet and exercise and it’ll go away), and sometimes treated me like I was just plain crazy.  I still don’t go to doctors unless I have to because of those experiences.

After getting married, I had had some complicated pregnancies…but it was more than that.  I would get flank pain and drop into “lows” that I didn’t understand, complete with feeling cold, diarrhea, weakness, exhaustion, nausea, loss of appetite, and extreme weight loss (muscle loss, more like it).  I had high cardiac output but low blood pressure and a high pulse rate.  I’d go into tachycardia (140 bpm +) for NO apparent reason and had all kinds of cardiac monitoring done.  My blood pressure was labile, but usually low, and still I’d end up with severe complications. Breastfeeding wasn’t going well despite the “mechanics” and flow being there…my babies were never satisfied and I always felt sickly.  The differences were drastic (but a bit graphic to share here publicly).  I seemed to get pregnant at the drop of a hat (opposite of the norm for Cushie women), but my body seemed unable to deliver on it’s own.  My body just didn’t react like it should to anything.  I even once had an episode post-partum that now I know was likely some mixture of adrenal insufficiency and/or my hypoaldosteronism.  I was left alone to sleep it off (just thinking about it now scares me), but I didn’t know any better at the time.

Then about 3-4 years ago I hit this point where I just had the feeling that if I didn’t get whatever was going on under control, I’d end up with something more permanent and dangerous (like cancer or diabetes).  I still got seemingly random symptoms but I had too many of them, and they were getting worse.  I also started to notice that my good days and bad days seemed to come in cycles.  3 days, 3 weeks…I’d be good for a while, then worse for a while, then good for a while.  I had already eaten “clean” and kept myself active, so I decided to try “nutritional balancing therapy” and started taking a karate class multiple times a week (burns TONS of calories, fyi).  They ran some tests for various vitamins/minerals, and said I had adrenal insufficiency.  The diet I was put on was a higher fat (good fat), higher protein, TONS of veggies diet (basically we just cut out my grains/starches and added in more fat) but between the diet and the exercise, I became so ill I couldn’t get off the couch for about 4 weeks.  I had to give up both and it took some time to recover, but I never got back to where I had been, not even close.

I started studying the natural healing term “adrenal fatigue” and came to the realization that I had done everything to correct AF but was still going downhill.  I had tried supplements, diet (years of it), everything.  I became pregnant unexpectedly and was active, even tap-dancing with a major part in a musical at 20 weeks pregnant.  I would have these ups and downs that seemed random, but when I finished the musical, I hit a new low and never seemed to come back from it.  I just became more and more exhausted.  To the point that certain days I could *feel* the energy it took to hold my head up to watch a movie with my kids.  The CNM and OB both said I was just depressed and upped my dose of Vitamin D.  They wanted me to go on antidepressants, and I refused.  I knew the difference between not wanting to do things and not being able to do them. I called a doctor that specialized in Adrenal Fatigue in California after having read through his website, and he basically said that I would continue to get worse, but that he wouldn’t treat me because of my pregnancy.  No help, no suggestions, he told me “come see me if you make it out alive.”  I obviously needed outside help from a true expert.

I had joined an Addison’s support group online about this time, and they helped me learn a lot about AI and Addison’s, about symptoms, testing, about Hashimoto’s, etc.  I am SO grateful to these women who supported me and taught me much.  They never questioned if I was just depressed or if I was really sick, and they were so kind they WERE the sanity that I needed so desperately.  I was getting nowhere with local doctors, my husband believed me and was as helpful as he could be, but it was taking a big toll on us, and when we asked for help from our local church leaders with cleaning our home because I no longer could do it (and my husband was so overwhelmed doing everything by himself), we were threatened as a family and refused help.   I was desperate; I was hurting.  My whole family was struggling because of this disease and the treatment (and lack thereof) we’d received from doctors and so-called friends.

These Addisonians had been talking a lot about one specific endocrinologist that specializes in pituitary disorders (who also happens to be in California).  In complete desperation, I emailed him, knowing the chances that he’d take me or that I could even get in to see him before delivery (due to travel restriction based on gestation) was unlikely.  But I was scared of what a delivery with untreated Addison’s might bring (I knew the stats and knew I didn’t trust the local OB), so I emailed explaining my situation and sent my current lab work (I had to go to my GP because my OB wouldn’t even test my thyroid or iron!).  I knew it sometimes took weeks to get a response or get in to see this doctor 3 states away, but I sent the email on February 8th, and heard back via email that same night from his office lady.  She was sure he could help me, and suggested I schedule an appointment right away, and was waiting to hear back from him directly.  He responded that he did see something amiss in my lab work, and I was scheduled for an appointment and buying plane tickets.  My appointment was on Valentine’s evening and a friend flew with me because I was too weak to do it alone, and because my brain was too foggy to feel comfortable understanding and responding to everything in the appointment, not to mention I was super pregnant with my 6th child!

I went in SURE I had Addison’s Disease, or at least a form of adrenal insufficiency, and even tried to argue that fact.  I came out with a LOT of testing for Cushing’s Disease.  It was, in fact, the low cortisol periods that I was noticing, but it was being caused by periods of high cortisol.  You see, the cortisol takes a big toll on your body and overrides the normal feedback system of your pituitary and adrenal glands.  While the tumor is actively pumping out ACTH, it can shut down your own pituitary’s normal production because the pituitary feedback says there is already too much cortisol in your system.  Then, if/when the tumor “kicks off” (who knows why they do this), your pituitary is in a lazy state from not having been working and it can take a while for it to kick back in.  This can bring life-threatening lows, but generally it just brings low-cortisol symptoms which are still uncomfortable.

I was unprepared for the change in direction at my appointment.  I had the right system and hormones, but I was looking at it backwards, and the more I learned about cyclic Cushing’s Disease, the more sense it made, the more things clicked together, and the more I understood about my past and present symptoms.  I have cyclic Cushing’s Disease.  I had read up a little on this about 10 years prior, when my mother-in-law had died from untreated Cushing’s (she refused treatment and was a stubborn, intelligent women who got her way).  I had read through some information with my husband at that time.  We had concluded that it was a possibility, but I didn’t have enough of the symptoms (maybe half?) and decided that I wasn’t nearly sick enough for that to be the problem.  How wrong we were!  I certainly wasn’t as bad as many, but I found that the downhill turns were often sudden and drastic, especially in the more recent years.

At my appointment I was also told I had hypothyroidism.  He ordered more of those tests (to get a trend) and an antibody test.  It was found I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune thyroid disease) and was put on thyroid medication.  My ferritin level (stored iron) was so low it was in single digits (he wants it around 60) and he said that had I not been flying home the next morning, he’d have had me in the hospital for IV iron infusions.  Needless to say, I was put on iron –lots of it.  My vitamin D was still lower than he’d like despite having been on treatment, so he switched me to 50K iu’s of D3 weekly (My OB had chastised me repeatedly for taking D3 instead of D2; Ha ha!).

I had to wait for a while after my pregnancy to allow my body to normalize before doing my Cushing’s testing.  I first tested by date (randomly, basically) and got a few marginal highs, but mostly normal test results.  My pituitary MRI was read clean.  Dr. F told me he didn’t know what was wrong, but that it didn’t look like it was Cushing’s because of the testing.  I was not prepared for that, and just ended the conversation in an emotional mess.  I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted and didn’t plead my case.  I didn’t have insurance or the money to test more, even though I was pretty sure I needed it.  And looking back, had I asked, he probably would have obliged.

I decided to again try natural healing methods.  Nothing worked, and some things (extended juice fasting, for instance) actually made me much worse.  Every time I hit another “low”, it seemed to become my new normal…and that was scary.  I kept losing more energy and strength, more of my mental ability, and each time I couldn’t imagine it getting worse, yet it always did.  (I still haven’t learned this lesson!)

About a year later, after a lot of prayer and thinking, after I’d exhausted most natural treatment methodologies I felt willing to try, I realized I did indeed need to go back and push for further testing, and test by symptoms.  Mentally and emotionally I was in a much better place, and while I had recovered a bit after my delivery, I had started to again slide downhill despite my best efforts.  I came up with a game plan, and the hope of it made the effort required seem possible.

I emailed Dr. F to ask about further testing, this time by symptoms, and there was no pushing or arguing necessary!  He gave me more sensitive testing this go round, and told me to test as much as it took.  He believed me!  It was as if the way just opened up for me this time.  I was uninsured, but I applied for the Cushing’s Assistance program through NORD (The National Organization for Rare Disorders) and was accepted.  They offered to cover the costs of testing, doctor’s appointments, and travel needed for the same, that would lead to a diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease.  I was in public when my husband called and read me the letter, and I started bawling right then and there in the shopping isle.  It was an answer to a prayer I didn’t even think to voice.  I then called to share the news with family and friends and bawled again, scaring yet more customers!  Having no insurance, this made everything possible.

Tracking my symptoms wasn’t a very easy task.  I went totally OCD on them, and still I was only somewhat successful in my efforts. I could get the overall trend, but the day-to-day was confusing as all-get-out.  My testing was also complicated by living in Alaska.  I could only turn in tests 4 days a week because they had to fly out to the labs in Seattle, WA and beyond.  It took about a month to get each result back.  Add to that a head cold that killed my cortisol levels for 6 weeks, and it took me a few months to get sufficient high labs even with my 2-page-wide spreadsheet of symptom data.

In that time, I also made friends on the Cushing’s-Help website and Facebook groups.  I learned a LOT of things from them, and one friend in particular likes to “read” pituitary MRI’s the way I like to “read” fetal ultrasounds.  She looked at my previously “clean” MRI and said that in her lay opinion, it was anything BUT normal.  As a favor, her neuro-radiologist also took a look at my MRI, and was so kind as to send back pictures with ARROWS of pituitary adenoma’s and suspicious areas on my MRI to forward on to my endocrinologist.  As it turns out, my doctor hadn’t read the disc himself and had just read the radiologist’s report.  He looked at the disc and agreed it was not normal, then sent me a message stating I needed a new MRI (it had been over a year at this point and my previous MRI still had some of that post-partum “rainbow” shape to the pituitary) and that it should be read by a neurosurgeon this time around.  JOY OF JOYS!  This brought me even more hope!  He said SURGEON, not just himself…that meant I was getting so close to that diagnosis and surgery clearance –to getting help.

I scheduled my MRI trip (can’t do a 3T dynamic here), and decided to schedule a face-to-face with my endocrinologist again while in the same city.  NORD paid for the flights, reimbursed me for the cost of my doctor’s appointment, paid for the MRI, and paid for my hotel room.  My husband came with me this time, and it was the best doctor’s appointment I’ve had in my life.  I was still nervous that somehow it wasn’t enough, or that the MRI done the day before my appointment would miraculously have become normal again.  That was not the case.  My MRI showed two possible adenomas on opposite sides of my pituitary amongst other things, and my 7+ diagnostic-level high labs were sufficient…and it felt AMAZING!

Who knew we’d be so excited to hear I was diagnosed with a deadly disease?  That we’d shout for joy and clap our hands at finding multiple tumors in my head?  I had a smile that wouldn’t go away.  The medical student shadowing my endocrinologist hadn’t seen the diagnosis side, where patients are so relieved to have an end in sight, to finally be getting help and have a chance at getting better, that they are happy!  I also wore my “Does my pituitary gland make me look fat?” shirt to this appointment, so we were joking, taking pictures, and having a grand old time.  He gave me permission to share the picture of us, and without prompting pointed to my head for the next picture saying, “It’s right HERE!”  My endocrinologist is generally stoic, quiet, caring yet professional, dealing with very ill people with a very serious disease and he is often their last hope at life…so I feel myself privileged to have had the opportunity to see him in-person for my diagnosis appointment, and to see this other side of him.  I hope he felt our gratitude as well.

The “pick whose going to cut into your head” decision took a while.  I was offered 100% coverage through a quality hospital and with a quality neurosurgeon for anything done at their facility, but the endocrinologist there wanted me to start my testing process ALL over again with them, at my cost at home.  I was not willing to start over after all that hard work and with as quickly as I was deteriorating, so I decided to wait till January when the new health coverage laws were in effect and I could again get insurance without preexisting conditions clauses.  I was able to be referred to my first-choice of neurosurgeon’s and placed on Ketoconazole to help lower my cortisol while I waited.

I had pituitary surgery on February 5,2014 (I am writing this 4 months post-op).  They were able to find and remove the more obvious of tumors on my MRI, and explored the rest of my gland, finding no more tumor tissue.  My pathology report came back as “hyperplasia”, meaning I had a bunch of individual scattered cells that were a tad overgrown instead of a solid, encapsulated tumor.  This kind of tumor has a very low success rate, since the entire gland can be diseased, but it can be impossible to see and remove every one of the scattered cells.  We knew early on that it didn’t look like remission based on my symptoms and post-operative lab results.  I was off my replacement hormones within a month, had to wait for my cycles to normalize a bit (I guess all that pituitary fileting was noticed by my pituitary even if I wasn’t cured! lol) and then I could begin retesting for re-diagnosis.

In April I had a post-op MRI and follow-up with my neurosurgeon, who said I did not have a visible target on MRI, and with pathology report of “hyperplasia,” I am not a candidate for repeat pituitary surgery or radiation therapy.  We now know that a bilateral adrenalectomy (BLA, the surgical removal of both adrenal glands) is in my near future…but I need a multitude of lab tests to prove I need it, and give a surgeon enough reasoning to permanently remove two very vital little organs and put me on life-sustaining medication instead.  It is a drastic surgery for a drastic disease, but it is my best chance at a lasting cure with the least amount of hormone replacement and further damage to my other organs.

During this same trip, I was able to attend the Magic Foundation’s adult convention just a few hours from my follow-up appointment.  What an amazing event.  I learned many things, but perhaps more important to me, I was able to meet other people who had my disease, who understood what I was going through, had been there themselves, etc.  They just knew!  I felt at home.  I consider it quite telling that they switched the schedule of the conference to part-days to accommodate our fatigue…  The trip was hard on me, but I am SO glad that I went.

In May I started testing in earnest for my re-diagnosis.  After intensive testing one week, and hit/miss testing the next (I was cycling lower and thus stopped testing), I now have 5 diagnostic-level high lab results.  Because of the severity and permanency of this next surgery, my endocrinologist has asked me to continue testing.  I will start testing again during my next high cortisol cycle in the hopes of doubling the number of diagnostic-level highs that I have and move on to the surgeon referral process.  It’ll take a couple of weeks to get my lab results back (Oh, the agony!), and another couple of weeks to get my endocrinologist appointment and surgical referral if I do indeed have sufficient highs.  I’m *really* hoping he won’t want me to go on medication prior to surgery as I’d like to move forward towards a permanent cure and health!  Not to mention, my deductible is met for the year, so this year would REALLY be nice on my already broken budget.

With the new goal in sight, and some diagnostic testing that proves I’m still ill, we are hopeful.   I’m now nearly bedridden due to the physical exhaustion, but I’m starting to allow myself to plan for a near-future in which I am somewhat functional and active again.  I can’t wait!  Once again, it sounds silly to be so excited and wishful about having surgery to give me Addison’s disease, just as it was to be thrilled to be told I had a tumor, dreaded disease, and needed brain surgery.  But, I’ve been sick for so long and becoming more and more debilitated and sick the longer this has gone on that I am excited at the prospect of any semblance of improvement, health and normalcy!  (Okay, within reason…I am well educated and using logic, etc on this, but…YAY!)  I can feel it is within my reach again.  I’m on the path and moving forward.

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Here is Magic’s video of me: 

http://youtu.be/JcNnNVXd9UY

And the picture I spoke of in my story is attached (Dr. Friedman did give me verbal permission in-person to share it online –facebook, etc.  I imagine he’d be fine with it published in an email?)

I will include a before/after onset collage of pictures as well.  Use whatever you like.

Catherine blogs at http://muskegfarm.blospot.com

catherine2

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Lajla, Adrenal Bio

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Hi!

My name is Lajla, born 1967, in Umeå, Sweden. In August 2012 I was diagnosed with Cushings Syndrome (adrenal). My health status by this time was terrible, with almost every part of My body affected – i.e. Heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skelet, muscles, skin and a heavy weight. The very first time, I believe, I had symptoms fr.o.m. Cushings were in 2004, with adrenal pain and kidneys that reacted in a strange way. Tests results gave no clue. After that I’ve seen a doctor for several times, with new symptoms every time. The doctor didn’t believe me.

Summer 2012 I was in a very bad shape, with anxiety, fractures, insufficiens in both lungs and circulatory. I went to see another doctor, and that saved My life! In september 2012 My left adrenal gland (and the adenoma) was taken away. The result is called “very successfull”. Many of My problems are gone (or at least nearly). The weight is now normal, after the loss of about 92 lb. I still suffer from pain due to the many previus fractures and from the atrofia of the muscles. I also have adrenal insufficiens and fatigue. I can now do some easier work (that not needs muscles). For the first time since the ectomia I’ll have a real vacation! In about a week I’ll visit New York, something that I never thought would be possible!

Feel free to correct My english!

This site is the best for me to get information about Cushings. In Sweden there is none!

Thank you! :)

Lajla L

Violet (hamot), Adrenal Bio

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diagnosed with cushings 2004 after being miss diagnosed 12+ years.

Head a left adrenalectomy for a benign adrenal adnoma.   Been in secondary addisons since.

My right adrenal never fully recovered it makes about 4.5 cortisol.  I average 12-15mgs of cortef per day.

Work full time as a nurse anesthetist, one daughter in 4th yr of college, have a very supportive husband we met in 2004 but did not marry until July 2012.    Bicycling is my passion and like to cross country ski.

Interested in being a support for anyone with cushings or addisons.

Would like to compare notes with any addisions on how they adjust their steriods. I am 56yrs old.

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Leiana, Adrenal Bio

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Hello and Good Morning!!  First i want to say that this is a great website..very informative and hopefully I can find some help here.

I was diagnosed with autoimmune adrenal insuffiency back in 2009 and put on 30mg of Cortef for the rest of my life. He said my cortisol levels were below normal of -1.    Then in spring of 2010 this endocrinologist raised it to 60 mg cause i was having dizzy spells.  I got suspious of this high dosage and told my primary dr and he sent me to an university hosp. and another endo. The new endo said that the cortiso levels were normal and that the first dr was wrong.  Now since 2010 the new dr has been trying to wean me off the steroids with no success.  I am now on only 15 mg a day.

Here are my lab results from the first dr.  Hopefully someone here can tell me if they think they are normal or not.

This is a acth stim test::  july 2009

Cortisol am 10:45=  11.6

cortisol am  11:15=  25.0

cortisol am   11:45= 9.8

cortisol am   12:15= 26.9

acth 10:15    8

acth  10:45  6

acth  11:15  35

acth  11:45  28

hgh  10:15  15.6

hgh  10:45   4.9

hgh  11;15  3.2

hgh  11;45  2.3

hgh  12;15  4.9

somatomedin c was 117.

fsh 99.6

tsh 1.34

t4 free 1.10

As I said the second dr has been trying to wean me off the steroids.  i did have a 3.9 andenoma on the right adrenal gland removed in Sept 2010 and waiting for the left adrenal gland to kick in which it has not according to the last acth test done last December 2011 with a cortisol level of .5 which is suboptimal i was told.  This dr. also said if I went off the steroids now I would die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.   I dont know who to beleive.

I am extremely skinny and bony and eat around 3000 to 4000 calories a day.  I was referred to Mary O a year ago thru Power-Surge forums and wrote her and never heard a reply.  I lost 30 pounds without trying and went froma size 12 to a size 4,  bmi is 15.  tried to sue the first dr but was told it was over the statues of limitations and tried for an extension of this but no lawyer will touch it cause they said the judges would throw it out of court.  My arms and legs are like twigs and bones are sticking out…trying to hang on.  Please someone help.  Thank you

 

Leiana was interviewed in our Podcast Series.  Listen here

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Kirsty (kirstymnz), Ectopic Adrenal Bio

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Another Golden Oldie, Kirsty’s bio was last updated 08/18/2009.

~~~

I don’t really remember when it first started. It was probably about a year ago when I think about it.

I found myself becoming easily tired all the time. I went from being a social butterfly and life of the party to an ‘old nana’ who stayed home all the time and went to bed early. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it; I just put it down to working hard and not sleeping well. I often had disturbed sleeps because I regularly (3 or 4 times a night) got up during the night to go to the bathroom and once I was awake, it sometimes took up to 2 hours to get back to sleep.

As the year progressed, I rapidly began to gain weight. Putting it down to ‘eating to many chocolate biscuits’ and not enough exercise, I began going to the gym 4-5 times per week and basically eating ‘rabbit food’.

The obsessive cleaning habit probably began around the same time as the weight gain; it got to the point where I couldn’t possibly think about doing anything else until I had cleaned every nook and cranny.

Throughout all of this, I was having very sporadic periods, which were very painful. I never imagined they could possibly be linked. I decided to visit my GP, who sent me off for numerous tests including an ultrasound, which resulted in a diagnosis of polycystic ovaries.

My GP referred me to an endocrinologist who then requested more tests, including a 24 hour urine collection (something I became very accustomed to during the course of my illness, eventually having to do them weekly). I heard nothing as a result of the tests, so I assumed all was fine.

As the months passed, my weight continued to raise, as it did, my self esteem fell. I also began to notice bright red stretch marks appearing on my stomach.

I reached the stage where my self esteem was so low that I decided to return to my GP. The first thing she said to me when I walked into her practice was “your face looks very cushingoid.” Having no idea what she meant, I sat down as she looked through my file. As she came across my test results that had been requested by the endocrinologist, her face dropped. The level of cortisol (stress hormone) in my urine was over 2000mg (the average person needs around 30mg per day). She instantly picked up the phone in a desperate bid to contact the endocrinologist, but was unable to get hold of him. Having left a number of messages, she told me she would be in touch once she had heard back, and so I left. I wasn’t really too concerned as at this stage, I had no idea just how important cortisol really was.

The next day at work, a phone call came through for me. It was the endocrinologist. He said I desperately needed to come in to see him. I left work straight away. When I arrived, he advised me I had Cushing’s syndrome. He spent the next few minutes telling me what this was, although it all went in one ear and out the other once he told me that it is 99% of the time caused by a pituitary tumor; all I could think of once he said tumor was ‘cancer’.

The following Monday, I was admitted to hospital for 10 days of tests (including 4 hourly blood tests)during which time my food obsession began (this obsession progressed to be the worst of them and became all I could think about). These tests concluded that I did indeed have Cushing’s.

The months that followed proved to be the hardest that I have ever faced. MRI scans, CT scans, numerous X rays. The hardest of all these was what they call a petrusal vein sampling (this is where they insert a catheter into the groin through the femoral vein which goes up to the base of the brain to look at the pituitary, they do this while awake – I could actually feel them moving around in my head.)

This test concluded that my Cushing’s was being caused by a tumor somewhere other than the pituitary (this only happens in 1% of cases, and there is about a 1 in 10 million chance of getting it). The question now was “where is the tumor?” I happened to be at one of my regular appointments at the same time as the Endocrinologist was to attend a meeting with the head of CT.

lungsTogether they looked at a CT scan I had previously had of my lungs, on which they spotted a small nodule which they believed could be the cause. Numerous more tests were to follow, including one where radioactive liquid (which I had to wait for over a month for to arrive from Australia) was injected into a vein in my arm, with the purpose of highlighting any tumors on a CT scan.

After such a long wait, this test proved a waste of time as it showed nothing (it turns out it only works 50% of the time anyway). Around the same time, I started having severe anxiety attacks, brought on by several major stresses. I decided the only way to ease the anxiety was to remove all the stresses possible; I did this by moving home to my parents.

The next week, another CT scan was required to see if the nodule had grown, it hadn’t. Feeling completely stumped, the endocrinologist decided to take a risk and remove the part of my lung that the nodule was on. Because it was so small, the surgeon required a hook wire to be placed in it in order to see where it was. This procedure was incredibly painful and one of the worst things during the whole illness that I’ve faced.

Disappointingly, this surgery was a failure, leaving me in the high dependency unit for 6 days and in immense pain.

The next step which was seen as a definite cure was to remove the adrenal glands (this really was a last resort, as once these are removed; hydrocortisone replacement is required for life in order to stay alive).

After this surgery, I spent another 6 days in the hospital, during which time, I experienced mood swings, dizziness, nausea and much more while my body adjusted to lower cortisol levels. I was sent home on morphine as I was still in so much pain from the surgery, however when I went in for a checkup 5 days after being discharged, the endocrinologist couldn’t believe I was still on it. In total I had been on it for 6 weeks, resulting in severe withdrawals when I stopped taking it (why anyone would voluntarily take drugs I will never know after going through this).

I am now 5 weeks down the track. I am not going back to normal as quickly as I had expected, physically; I am constantly tired and am still in pain from the lung operation which was 2 months ago, I’m told this could last up to year.

However, on a positive note, I have lost around 5 of the 15 kgs gained during the illness. I am also mostly back to normal mentally.

My Cushing’s disease is cured now, however I am now labeled as being a sufferer of Addison’s disease (where there are no adrenals, or the adrenals don’t work).

There is a long road ahead still, including reconstructive surgery of my legs, arms and torso, but I sure am glad to be out the other side of the worst of it.

Lee B, Ectopic (pituitary and lung tumor) Bio

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Another Golden Oldie, Lee had both pituitary and lung tumors.  This bio was originally posted 06/07/2008.

~~~

Whee1 where to start!. During 2002 noticed that I had extreme daily hair loss, weight gain even while on diet, depression and general feeling of not being well and decreased sleep and change in sleep pattern. Went to a psychologist who said I was “sane” and diagnosed me with depression related to organic disease.. but what? the fatigue increased – looked like a walking zombie and could barely make it through the day. I worked in a very high powered job. Started experiencing rapid heartbeat – and landed up twice in the ER. Before going to the cardiologist I had a chest xray and saw a shadow on my lung. As an ex-smoker I was concerned and ordered a CT with contrast. I am an RN with a background in Oncology. to cut a long story short, landed up at the oncologist who agreed with me regarding the need for a biopsy. I had to fire my GP who told me to wait another 6 months and do a repeat. I diagnosed myself with a carcinoid tumor, had the upper part of my right lung removed.

I kept on complaining of increased symptoms – moon face, fatigue, headaches, joint pain etc. Got diagnosed with sleep apnea. My oncologist pooh poohed everything but further staining of my lung tumor indicated that it was secreting ACTH – Cushings!

Had a brain MRI – my sella is totally empty and I have a 7mm tumor – not sure what even after 3 MRI’s. Had a full endocrine workup – the endocrinologist siad everything was fine! HA! Turned out I have Hashimoto’s with thyroid cancer – just had that removed. My thyroid was so swollen including the lymph nodes which made me suspicious for metastases- that they could not visulize the Recurrent Nerve – so now I have permanent vocal cord damage and cannot work.

Before this I decided to go to see Dr Friedman. What a blessing. I have adrenal insufficiency, he thinks intermittent Cushings from another carcinoid tumor, who knows where and extreme growth hormone deficiency. I need to have the pituitary tumor removed but am awaiting recovery after my thyroid operation.

I feel terrible – cannot really function, cry all the time, have severe headaches, joint aches, nausea etc. I hope and pray that the pituitary operation will fix up my problems.

Adrienne, Steroid-Induced Bio

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Another Golden Oldie.  The last update Adrienne submitted was October 7, 2005.

~~

I recently wrote this and thought it is pretty good for a bio as it explains the diffrent types of diagnoses and problems I have, and not just Cushing’s. I can get very technical in my writing but this is not. Somehow, I find enough brain power to write; and since it’s been so long since I was first diagnosed with Cushing’s, I do know a lot of meds, etc. And kidneys. Ha. Always happy to help see email at bottom. Thank you MaryO!

I. In the Beginning

I’ve fought against this for so long that now, at the precipice of acceptance, I am reluctant even to write the words that are playing havoc with my mind. Three words, or one if you prefer the modern version- well, in a minute. I can’t say them yet.

Asthma before-after

Asthma before-after (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past eleven years I have been dealing with the mental effects of my illness. The illness and mental manifestations began as soon as I ingested my first corticosteroid pill while living in Indiana in 1994. Given to me for severe ‘adult onset asthma’ the steroids were the result of many emergency room visits, failed ‘breathing treatments’ for said asthma, and most probably the doctor’s unwillingness to be ‘bothered’ with such a common ailment as asthma and as such not inclined to research my symptoms further. I had never had any signs or symptoms of asthma in my 22 years of active living. I loved hiking, tennis, volleyball, basketball, you name it, I most probably did it at least once.

During this time of breathlessness and pain from breaking two ribs while violently coughing, I became severely depressed. I didn’t recognize it at the time, at least not until the asthmatic symptoms receded (due to the steroids or simply time, I do not know). I had been working three jobs for the holidays, one more than usual. I was a typical workaholic in low-paying dead-end jobs as was fitting my age and lack of degreed education. I quit all three jobs, hoping to move out of state to stay with my father for a while. I wanted a change, I was still on the steroids, was still sick and growing increasingly scared. I didn’t want to move back home to my mother in California: I felt she had had enough of me and deserved a break.

With my truck packed and my three jobs no longer a worry, I was all set to leave. I was looking forward to getting to know my father better. But the night before I was to leave, my stepmother called and said it just wasn’t a good time to come stay with them. My father had broken his ankle and was undergoing extensive surgery and therapy; but all I wanted was to be with him. I was not just discouraged from visiting, but was told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome ‘at this time.’ I was devastated.

I moved in with a friend and I just lost it. I stayed for days on end in my bedroom, my only companion my cat, Fantine. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was writing feverishly on my old Brother word processor. I wrote the most horrible things- stupid stories, neurotic thoughts and poems. There was no internet for me at the time; no way to research information on my symptoms and medications but for the public library, which I didn’t even consider visiting as it involved leaving my bedroom. I even answered some personals and went out on two dates- something I would never normally have done. What a disaster! So much for going out… I became even more solitary.

It’s important here to note that I was once considered quite stable. Unlucky in love and a poor judge of men in general, still, I was happy on a day-to-day basis. I smiled at everyone, I laughed– I mean really laughed– regularly. I was considered ‘bubbly’ if not downright ‘giggly.’ In fact, ‘Giggles’ was my nickname! I had nearly forgotten that. I always saw the positives in any given situation, I never was depressed or sad. Well, almost never. I really enjoyed living; I got up each day with a can-do attitude. I cheered up those around me and was the optimistic one in my family as well as among my friends.

Those three words… nope. Forget it. I’m not even close to being able to write them here. Not yet.

Back to Indiana, where each day seemed bleaker and more hopeless than the one before. I broke out in hives on my face, upper arms, neck and chest. The hives stayed for eight years. Each day I tried to go without my steroid pill; and each day I went a little bit crazier. A little bit more depressed. A great yawning chasm seemed to exist between me and the rest of the population. My friends were worried about me, but not really worried enough to intervene as they didn’t really care about me. All they could see was that I was no fun anymore. Pity.

I stopped going to nightclubs which I once enjoyed. I lived on macaroni and cheese and soup from a can, barely eating enough to survive and always when my roommates were out of the house. I began to take more steroids to combat the hives, as were prescribed by doctors, never knowing that they were slowly killing me. The depression was so severe that if my roommates were in the house, I would urinate into a cup and keep it in my closet to dump out once they left. And at the time, it didn’t really seem crazy to me!

My image of myself really took a nosedive; my hives were hideous. I had always been complimented on my flawless complexion. I tried everything the doctors gave me, never thinking that the cure was so much worse than the symptoms. I was suddenly gaining weight, yet I honestly was eating less than I had before these symptoms began. I just figured that since I was no longer exercising the weight gain was to be expected. My hair had always been wavy and full of bounce, but it started to get curly- really curly. In the span of two months, I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. I remember removing the mirror from my room and never bothering to approach the one in the bathroom.

I eventually took a job with a do-it-yourself warehouse as a head cashier. I had to pay for the new truck I had and my roommates were the most fiscally irresponsible people I have ever known, so I had to earn a living. Unfortunately, I was too far behind to ever get ahead and knew that I needed to go home to my mother because I was just getting sicker. I had no energy, I slept whenever I wasn’t at work. I was having trouble concentrating, had problems with coworkers as I was a bit- how shall I say- ‘pissy.’ Conversely, I would break into tears for no reason. But the day I was to drive back to California, my truck was repossessed. I booked a flight, packaged up my boxes for cargo shipment, and was gone within a week.

What followed were two years of emergency room visits for ailments I had no previous experience with. I was gaining weight still, I had hives, headaches and such a deep sadness I didn’t know what to do, where to turn. So, I just continued on the path of work. Work had always seen me through the day; work took up the hours, made me feel needed and like a responsible citizen. Through it all, I continued to take the steroids, eventually upping the dosage according to how I felt each day.

The better jobs I landed, the better medical insurance and more willing I was to submit to seeing specialists. I had been misdiagnosed as having SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus); FMS (Fibromyalgia Myofacial Pain Syndrome); and being just plain old crazy. My symptoms were starting to range quite literally in the dozens, and the list only grew as the years passed. (I was going to post it but chickened out- it’s mind-boggling, even to me).

Back to those three words. Nope, still can’t say them. Maybe tomorrow, when I shall continue my self-indulgent pity party. No, it isn’t even that: I’m trying to get to the heart of the matter but I’m taking the scenic route

II. Cute Professors and Straight Jackets

So, how about those three little words- am I any closer to disclosing them today? Maybe a little; I’ve thought of nothing else really. But for now, where was I?

I re-enrolled in college. A poor high school student, I excelled in college and enjoyed it immensely; especially the literature courses. There was this one professor too… ah never mind; this isn’t about him [giggles]. So, as of 1996 I was taking fifteen semester units of college coursework, working at least forty hours a week, and still trying to figure out what was wrong with my body. Then, the humdinger of all symptoms began worming its way insidiously into my life- the dreaded ‘uncharacteristic rage’.

It started out as simply ‘flying off the handle’ at the little annoyances in life but was so uncharacteristic of my personality that my family noticed. In fact, I was fired from a job due to this anger of mine. Sure, it wasn’t something that was said but I stayed on, daring them to fire me when I knew my position was not working out. I wasn’t working out. I saw a doctor, not a shrink mind you, just a normal primary care physician. He prescribed an anti-depressant, and even though I no longer felt crushingly depressed but angry he said it would help. And the medication did help; I was grateful for it because I hadn’t known such an angry existence since my marriage, and it scared me.

Who was I? What is happening to me? I didn’t have the answers, but I refused to give up looking for them. So, I continued my search for an accurate diagnosis by seeing all manner of specialists, and still no one knew what was wrong with me. The tests were getting too invasive and painful to be so well tolerated; I was losing hope. In fact, I think I gave up just a bit at this time; pushed it all away to a dark corner where I couldn’t see it staring me in the face.

Time passed in much the same way until the year 2000. I was firmly ensconced in a position of great authority (well not really- I was a high level secretary) at an ivy league college (yes, really). I loved this job! I finally had a position with very low stress, wonderful coworkers and a great boss. I had the perks that most people wished they had (free tea and goodies every afternoon, retreats to fabulous places, freedom to come and go as I pleased, all the time off I needed for appointments, and a helluva benefit package from day one). I ADORED the professors I worked with on a daily basis. The intelligence and wit of the staff, faculty and students was refreshing and really allowed me to be myself. I even got opportunities to edit books from the professors, something I considered to be extremely fun. And the money was the same amount I was getting practically running my former city’s IT department (my manager had a problem showing up to work and the ‘sys admin’s’ weren’t too brilliant on the day-to-day operations of the department, as you can imagine).

However happy at work I was, I continued to gain more weight. I was a little bit horrified and determined to exercise- and so I did. Rather, I tried. Everything. And nothing worked. Not only did I not lose weight when I should have, I was again out of breath. I had to use the elevators on campus, which was terribly embarrassing as most people on campus were young, fit kids (not to mention professors ) and I couldn’t even make a delivery to a symposium without frequent stops to catch my breath. By this time, I had a nurse who was frantically testing me for any and all ailments she could think of; she cared but still, nothing clicked. I was on about 15mgs of Prednisone then. Prednisone is the corticosteroid I was given; the one that still unbeknownst to me was killing me. Slowly.

Bet ya didn’t know I was half dead. Okay so it only thought it was going to kill me. Personalization of inanimate objects hmmm [scratches her head] uh-oh call in the cuties with the straight jackets if you must, but this is how I deal.

I’m really getting closer to uttering those three words… I really am.

III. He Didn’t MEAN to Forget Me

Now I want to shout the three words from a mountain top; I am tired of skipping around and through them. But I must bring this to the current day before I can do that, or those three words simply won’t mean anything.

My health came to a crises point, as such things eventually will, just four months into my wonderful job with cute professors and tantalizing bennies. For two months I had been in and out of emergency rooms, even going so far as to switch health insurance plans to try to get some decent care. It was said I had pyelonephritis, just a fancy word for a kidney infection. My kidney hurt so much, but I was used to such agonizing pain and continued to work while taking all the antibiotics I was given faithfully.

Soon the nausea, fevers and other signs of severe infection caught up with me and I went to the emergency room again, this time receiving an injection of a new, very strong antibiotic. The wanted to admit me but I refused. It wasn’t until the following week, about two months into the infection, that I allowed myself to be admitted. I knew it wouldn’t be fun and the tests were bound to be extensive because I only have one kidney. Yes, I had a congenital birth defect of extra tissue growth in my right ureter, the tube that drains to the bladder. I suffered through the pain of a diseased right kidney until, pregnant and in increasing pain at the age of sixteen, I was properly diagnosed and scheduled for surgery- but only three months after my daughter was born. That was fifteen years ago.

Nuclear imaging tests proved to be inconclusive, and no one knew what was causing such pain and infection in my remaining left kidney. A specialist was brought in from another hospital to assist the puzzled internists treating me. In the meantime, I was undergoing serious personality changes. I was angry, often belligerent and on so many medications for pain that I figured I just wasn’t myself. I was eventually given morphine, but it scared me because it didn’t work. Nothing would stop the pain.

I felt like I had ants crawling all over my skin; my thoughts were seriously disjointed, more so than would be expected with the medications. My family was scared of me, and for me. My doctor said there was nothing wrong with me, I was given every test in their charts and my kidney was fine- it was just a bad infection. But the medical history of my past was impossible for him to grasp, and he refused to consider that anything other than depression, weight gain and a kidney infection were present. He was only angering me to the point of boiling rage, so I completely ignored him as my mother fought for me. Apathy was my middle name, as I retreated to my own internal hell.

I hadn’t slept for than four days when my neighbor decided to play with my mind. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. Suffice it to say that after the Urologist specialist told me he couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with my kidney (but that he was concerned about my overall health), my mother bundled me up and despite my protests had me discharged. I wanted to stay and fight with the gang-banging girl next door. She woke me up from my first sound sleep in over four days! I was ready to kill her.

What had occurred while I was in the hospital was later revealed to me as an adrenal crises. In addition to that, I had a psychosis brought on by the adrenal crises, and a severe allergic reaction to the anti-nauseants used to keep me from damaging my kidney by throwing up so violently. It was also thought that my immune system was very weak from the years of taking corticosteroids (did you know they are used to shut down the immune system in transplant patients to prevent rejection?) At the time, I was truly as clueless as everyone else.

I went back to work for three days and it was obvious to everyone I wouldn’t be able to work until a proper diagnoses was found. I was exhausted; I had zero energy. My head was so fuzzy it felt like I was underwater, trying to do my job which was normally easy, yet suddenly seemed impossible. I couldn’t remember names, details, phone numbers even. I remember picking up the phone to call home and not knowing what the number was. They put me on temporary disability. Unbeknownst to me, I had the primo of disability plans and was to all concerned considered a professor, even though I was only a secretary! I was really too out of it to notice at the time how very lucky I was to have worked for such a generous establishment.

I continued to seek answers. I wasn’t given much choice in the matter because in order to continue to receive my benefits I had to be labeled disabled every two weeks. Oh the mountains of red tape I went through! On a return appointment to the internist who saw me in the hospital, I reached an all-time low. This doctor, one who is supposed to help or certainly to ‘do no harm’ said just one sentence to me, but it was a doozie. He said, “You have only to look in a mirror to see where your problems lie.” I wrote him a nice two page letter (faxed of course, then mailed) telling him exactly what I thought of his advice. He was so fired he was nothing but charcoal when I had finished with him.

But those words put me into such a deep, dark place; a place where only fears reigned, a place that I now consider to be the true hell. I was left without hope. I just felt useless. I had to give up my job, my beautiful apartment that I had worked so hard for, my freedom all but gone as I moved in with my mother. I was, oh, twenty-eight (I think).

With my mother’s help, I finally got an accurate diagnosis: Cushing’s Syndrome, exogenous. Such a rare disorder it is said only two in one million people in the world are diagnosed with it each year. All those lovely corticosteroid pills I was taking had caused my cortisol levels to be so incredibly high that my body’s endocrine system was shut down. Cortisol is essentially adrenalin, and without it the body cannot live. But too much of it and it shuts down the adrenal glands (remember, I only have one anyway as the other was removed with my right kidney many years ago).

This massively high amount of cortisol causes the body to be completely unable to regulate its own metabolism; resulting in excess weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes and other such wonderfully fun symptoms that I’ll not continue to bore you with the details. Bottom line was, this was not my fault. Back in 2000 when I was diagnosed, the endocrinologist I was referred to ‘just to rule out an endocrine problem’ took one look at me and said, ‘You have Cushing’s syndrome.’ He said we’d do more testing to be sure, but I was a ‘classic case’ and need look no further to the answers I had sought since 1994.

But ah this wonderful doctor whom I adored made a very bad, bad mistake. This doctor put me on the corticosteroid dexamethasone to see if my adrenal gland would suppress the drug. But the drug ‘dex’ as we call it is five times as potent as the steroid I was already taking, prednisone; and he, uh, forgot to take me off the drug. The test is only ever run for a maximum of two days. In addition, the test should only be used for other forms of Cushing’s (like those that have brain tumors and adrenal gland tumors) and not for exogenous, or steroid-taking Cushing’s such as I have. I was on this highly potent drug for two months and it was killing whatever endocrine system I had left. It was later found out that the doctor was on loan from another hospital, and his mistake just caused me to receive an updated diagnoses- from exogenous Cushing’s to iatrogenic or ‘doctor caused’ Cushing’s. It is thought that without this mishap I would have recovered normally from the illness through the timely and slow withdrawal of the corticosteroids. As it was, it nearly killed me.

During this time, I was unable to sleep for more than one hour at a time, and for a maximum of three hours a day. This lasted for three months straight. Hard to believe isn’t it? Such sleep deprivation was not allowing me to recover. I was in constant pain from the extreme edema (swelling from water retention) that I was on painkillers around the clock. I gained a total of one hundred pounds in two month’s time; without overeating! I developed a hallmark symptom of Cushing’s: deep, purple colored stretch marks known as straie. The scars from this straie will always be with me. They are like potholes in my once smooth skin. The skin itself is thinned, like that of an older person.

Yes, I considered suing the hospital and the doctor that had complicated an already bad situation. Quite frankly, I just didn’t have the heart or the energy to do anything about it. Besides, he didn’t mean to forget about me. Right? Right. Too bad I didn’t know then what I know now.

I couldn’t get up from my bed because I wasn’t used to being big as a house, so I spent all my time on the living room couch. During my time on the couch, as I like to refer to it, I considered suicide. I had to rethink that as it completely went against all I knew and believed in, religion wise. It wouldn’t have been a nice thing to do to my mom either, the only one who always believed in me and was always there. Through the pain, through all the tears, she was there. She’s still there for me, every single day. My father helped me a lot in this as he too knew such extreme pain.

But this life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be if it could take a healthy, normal girl, and turn her into a decrepit old woman before the age of thirty. Right? I mean, what kind of justice is there in that? They even gave me a wheelchair and a cane when the steroids ate through the ball joints of my hips. Of course, I refused to use them. I still won’t. So, I had to find that justice; figure out why I got this illness, what I had to learn from it, so I could move on with living. This isn’t living you know- it’s existing. Surviving.

So, I withdrew into my mind to search for the answers. After all, I no longer had work to fill the hours with. I had to find something to do. I became obsessed with reasoning out my illness and my continued existence. I mean, people younger than me were dying from Cushing’s. Mother with four kids, kids… just people dying from something I had, too. It was and is such a sad motivator to live. I thought my past pain and subsequent healing from the removal of my right kidney was sufficient for one person to go through, but I realized I was wrong. So wrong.

Maybe now those three words have retreated just a bit; further into the back of my mind where they are safer for not having been spoken this day. A dear friend told me today that people would be touched by my writing this series. I don’t know about that, but I hope so. I think it’s pretty obvious I’m doing this for me but God knows I’m not the only one who can understand such soul angst. Through different reasons, and many seasons, we all remain able to learn from the hell that life can sometimes be. But then, this isn’t about my physical health, it’s about those three damned words.

IV. Revealed: Three Blasted Words

I spoke those three blasted words to someone very dear to me today. He wasn’t surprised; why did I expect him to be? I’m glad though. It was a hurdle; but on to the story.

Since first being diagnosed in 2000, I’ve been through a lot of changes. I have ‘latched’ onto people that have proven to be untrustworthy. Yes, I did that before but not to such an extent. I seem to lack the judgment I once had, unable to build it further as would befit my age. I haven’t ‘grown’ in ways I believe I would have without Cushing’s. See, I think the Cushing’s has tripped a wire in my brain- and I’ve no idea how to fix it. If I can. Or, if it will happen magically when I am well, or at least completely detoxed from the steroids.

Steroids are known to change the chemistry in the brain. They eat healthy brain cells, much as, say, marijuana will; hence the medically recognized states of confusion, memory loss and lack of concentration and cognitive abilities. If a ‘Cushie’ (which is what we Cushing’s patients refer to ourselves as, and consider an endearment) is in adrenal crises, psychosis can be present, and a confused state is the norm. An adrenal crises occurs when there is a sudden ‘dip’ of cortisol in the body, usually from a stressful event as the cushie body cannot distinguish from good and bad stress, and the body is not able to secrete hormones accordingly.

But this fascination with the inner workings of my mind is new to me. Not that I only just started looking within for answers without, but that I am aware of it. Aware that is isn’t quite… normal. I dismissed the doctors who once said it was ‘all in my head’ with good reason; it isn’t all in my head, it is real, this Cushing’s. But there’s more to it than that. This brings me to those three blasted words. Well, I really shouldn’t rush at this point. They’re coming no matter what (like a Mack truck head-on, more like).

Ah, what the hell they’re only words: ‘Manic Depressive Disorder’. ‘MDD’. Or, the one-worded definition ‘Bi-polar’. There. I said them. I’m crazy, in a way. Extreme highs and extreme lows: who would have ever thought what I’ve been feeling isn’t normal? Not I. It isn’t as easy as taking a pill to regulate the moods of this thing, because they don’t always work. I have no medical insurance. Still, I have found a good psychiatrist and shall pay to be labeled with this… this… ‘MDD’; because I can’t not be treated, now that I’m aware of it. I have to try to get better; try to be able to function on a more even keel. If not for myself, then for those who care about me!

I just never considered this. I always thought I was oh, you know, obsessive a little bit, compulsive a lot, and more introspective than most as my illness and solitary life demanded. But the evidence is conclusive, at least to me. My mind is not helping my health; such extreme highs and lows bring about their own stress, and my body already cannot function well without regulating good and bad stress on a daily basis. But I do know that I won’t continue to treat this as something that will one day go away; I need to be courageous in the face of such adversity and just deal with it. Being open about it is, I think, the first step. Perhaps, hopefully even, the hardest step.

And, so I am open. This… this angst-ridden pity-party writing is how I deal.

What else did you think the three words would be? [smiles]

AND, a little word [ha ha] about my struggle for Social Security:

Well I had my social security appeals hearing on July 15. So I think I can finally talk about it now. I first applied oh four years ago. I had to reapply two years ago or has it been three? Anyways. So I had been denied on paper four times to get to the hearing. I had appeared twice before the judge. Once, I wasn’t prepared and she said get an attorney. Second time, I had moved and lost my attorney so then I moved back she said go get an attorney I will reschedule you. So I did.

The attorney assured me she would get records that were more up to date. She did not do so. When asked if there was new information by the judge, she said no. Anyways, my diagnoses on paper are: Fibromyalgia (which I don’t have), Cushing’s Syndrome, Avascular Necrosis of both hips from steroids. Oh and glomolumerlonephritis something like that of the kidney. I don’t know if I have that, but my last doctor put it down on their paperwork.

So, the judge had an Endocrinologist on the phone to ‘consult’ her and had previously stated that he was only to help her understand the medical things, but that’s NOT how it turned out. I have never seen him before! He knows nothing of me. Her questions were really skewed. She was looking for documentation that doesn’t exist I mean COME ON I haven’t had medical insurance since 2002! How the HELL am I supposed to have MRI’s of the hips that are newer, xrays, all these tests do they THINK I’m made of money?

The endocrinologist wasn’t too bad. He said obvsiouly being given a dexamethasone suppression test for 4-8 weeks [I can no longer remember!!!] it had made my Cushing’s so severe and most of my problems could be attributed to it. He couldn’t at all understand how it happened but I told him- the doctor forgot about me and told me to keep taking the dex. I didn’t know any better. Then the doctor left the hospital, and left me.

He said according to my records my blood pressure was under control. Well it is NOW- I was hospitalized within the past year in CA and given emergency medicine to lower it as it was so out of control. How is THAT controlled? Oh but WAIT the records weren’t there that documented this. Wow- what a neat thing to find out.

My diabetes I should be on medicine for and I could go down on the steroids quicker, according to this doc who doesn’t know me. Huh? I only GET diabetes when I go down or up! Otherwise, giving me meds would only screw with the sugars. I cannot take their ferking Glucophage it makes my IBS off the charts no way, no how I’d rather inject insulin. I do think some injections when tapering might help but HOW I ask can I do THAT without medical supervison? I can’t. I’m not God!

He said I could work sedentary work. Ack ack ack! I told him of my extreme swelling but heck I guess if someone is dumb enough to hire my sorry ass then they could also give me an expensive fully padded ottoman like I have under my desk. To limit swelling. Not to mention that I’d have to call in sick about 99% of the time. Sure, I’m an employers DREAM.

But then he said I would have lifelong problems relating to the Cushing’s and steroid use. He doesn’t understand the kidney at all. The severe IBS is ‘controlled’ with Codeine even tho I told him nothing else works only codeine and I cannot take enough to control it really as it turns me into a zombie. Didn’t listen.

Said my hips when last tested were in stage I [thank GOD but that was 4 years ago!] and would likely progress as it usually does and I could expect lifelong operations. Like DUH, ya think?

But the whole problem was… the judge thought I have REFUSED to go down because I was using steroids like an addict. She asked the endocrinologist if anyone would use them recreationally AH HA HA HA! Maybe she thought I was using anabolic steroids? Yeah, I’m a jock all right. Sheeesh.

The Endocrinologist said with a giggle, “No. Can’t think of one person EVER wanting to take steroids.”

And my attorney? Basically, she said nothing. NOTHING. She hugged me at the end, and said she was sorry it didnt look good. Really? Ya think? I even spoke up for myself very respectfully and intelligently, but the bottom line is no one will listen to me; I’m only the patient.

I didn’t want their fliping money. I get a stipend until I’m 65 or no longer disabled from a private company. But NO ONE will insure me. I just wanted medical and dental. I need medical, I need dental. And I need a divorce. Erm nvm.

Appeal? HA HA HA I had to laugh at my attorney. Not with her sorry ass. She’s a nice lady folks but she doesn’t get paid unless I win. And I’m quite sure I did not, but will find out formally within ninety days. The evidence was what they wanted. I have had no doctor in my corner for two years. I have had to doctor myself.

All I can afford to buy are the main prescriptions I really need. Everything else… it just isn’t going to happen.

Ain’t life grand? It’s ok. I’ll get thru this. I want to go down now but I don’t want to get crazy in the head, or too exhuasted in the body before my sister comes down to visit me on 8/11. I’m looking forward to it.

How does anyone get disability without records??? I guess I could try on my newly diagnosed bipolarism. [shrugs]

UPDATE: I found an advocate. Waiting… to be formally denied. Current dosage: 20mgs. I went down. Yes! AND, I fixed my puter. Yay.

POEM: I’m a Fruggie Queen

I take big drugs and I can not lie
You normal people can’t define
The pain I got that makes me pop a pill cause I’m ill
Got codeine freaking me out
Dark dreams, blank stares and that ‘flat affect’
Cool for when I need to shut up
Talking everyone’s ears off
Normally ‘Speedy Gonzalez’
Stupid mouse doesn’t even do frugs
I mean drugs [eyes cross]

There’s serious frugs for days
Excruciating; pain unending. Stronger frugs
Endocet. Yeah
I take big drugs and I can not lie
How many druggies
Have fallen from doctor’s prescriptions
Fruggies I declare
Constantly cautioned for
Popping pills
But they’re so needed to drown out those

Normal people, un-frugged
Envious their vitamins
The only drugs they take, their bodies, minds, whole
My neurons forcing more
Drugs when I once needed none
Ability to function impaired
Big drugs can not lie; their purpose not evil
Lucky you, I see
Frugs really aren’t funny.
Oh well. I’m a fruggie queen, what did you expect?

POEM: Red Tape Kills

I exist on self-enforced life support, but I’m not dead.
Each day dutifully swallowing poisoned pills.
Heart and mind- basic functions- supported in this life not fully led.

Finding joy in once normal things, hopes for a life ahead.
Bottled dreams deaths only antidote, my anthem is still:
I exist on self-enforced life support, but I’m not dead.

The world whizzes past me, medicated.
So weakened, even fun is exhausting. Pain alone enough to feel
Heart and mind- basic functions- supported in this life not fully led.

Stubbornness saves me, as I will not dictate my life from Death’s bed.
Good intentions rarely enough for others to see what’s painfully real-
I exist on self-enforced life support, but I’m not dead.

Without insurance, there’s no doctor’s guidance, no caring if I live or die. Med-
students know nothing of my complexities- they simply write on my unpaid bill:
Heart and mind- basic functions- supported in this life not fully led.

Without my knowledge and persistence, my epitaph would read instead:
Here lies Adrienne- So young, such a shame. Left behind a hill of bills. Red tape kills.
I exist on self-enforced life support, but I’m not dead.
Heart and mind- basic functions- supported in this life not fully led.

I have TONS of writing, mostly about Cushing’s. If you’re interested, I am usually known under the following link at All Poetry:
http://allpoetry.com/AdrieWonky

Regular email addy is: fayrenysa-boards@yahoo.com

Update October 7, 2005

I have received a very basic health plan insurance through my state. It covers appointments and medications which is more than I’ve had these last three years, so I am happy. I do not know that it really covers hospitalization or many tests, but we shall see.

When I was at the urgent care for pneumonia last week, the doctor there told me where the nurse that I love is now practicing. He helped me get off a lot of medications that were hurting my kidney and since, I have been had fewer infections and almost no kidney pain. He quit his old practice I was seen at about one and a half years ago; I was never able to find him again.

Anyways, he opened up his own medical clinic complete with internist, and two other doctors. So, I called my disability worker and she told me to ask what plan the practice takes. So I called my nurse’s office and left a message to see what plan he accepts, and he called me RIGHT back. He was SO excited to hear from me. He said he’s been putting ads in the local newspapers in hopes I would find him (and other patients of his, of course). Knows the doctor I saw that gave me his card. He would love to treat me.

Told me to ask for the ‘family care’ plan so I called my disability worker back and I’m all setup (they just have to do the paperwork)!!! I made an appointment with my beloved nurse for 10/25/05. I cannot believe I get to go to a doctor and have meds again for nothing! Well, some are 3.00 and others are 2.00. And he knows Cushing’s of course and he looks forward to treating me. How… wonderful a feeling that is to hear. He is a nurse by choice; the practice is his. He has over 25 years in the medical field; we talk medications like two old friends. I’m so happy!

I change names often, so I will just update this as I can. My current website address link is: http://allpoetry.com/poets/Fix%20it%20Fae. I write there. Some funny, most sad. Lurkers welcome lol.

Dee (Dee), Pituitary Bio

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My menstrual cycle ended when I was 38 years.  After a hormone panel, my doctor told me I was in menopause.

At this time, the whites of my eyes started hemorrhaging and my skin became paper thin, bleeding and bruising.  I was tested for Von Willebrands which came back negative.

A few years passed and my blood pressure sky rocketed, my hair started falling out, my teeth were breaking and I was gaining weight and unable to stop it.  I grew a heavy beard, black hairs on my arms and thighs.  My face became distored, my head was pushed towards my feet from a hump on my back.  I was losing the use of my legs, and unable to hold a pen or pencil.  I started to look 7 months pregnant with a larged mid-section.  I couldn’t retain simple instructions, and had to stop driving.

I saw numerous doctors, and each worked with the symptoms as the came, but no one put everything together.  My feet and fingers were numb, and I was losing the ability to think correctly.  I had severe depression and anger issues.

I saw an article in Reader’s Digest about a mysterious illness and took it to my current doctor.  She really didn’t think I had Cushing’s because it was so rare, but my 24 hour urine test came back postive.  Next I was sent for the MRI which showed the tumor on my pituitary.  I had surgery June 27,2007.

It took 18 grueling months to wean off the Prednisone.  I had chronic nausea and diahrrea during this time.  My Endocrinologist did not study up on Cushings and removed my Prednisone 1 week after my surgery.  I crashed and was taken to the ER in serious condtion.  He did it to me again a few weeks later, with the same results.  After the second time, he left my Prednisone alone for the next 18 months.

October 27, 2011 I had Paraespohcial surgery where my stomach had been pushed into my lungs.  It was a very diffcult surgery and recovery.  I am now batteling Celiac, which after reading up on Addisons, I am wondering if I have Addisons?  I had Addison’s crisis twice when my predisone was removed to quickly after my brain surgery.

Even though I am cured of Cushings, it seems the side effect continue to make their debutes.  I am grateful for where I am today, even though I don’t know what is around the corner.   I guess what’s around the corner will be dealt with when I get there, but for today, I am thankful.

Mary (TheGoat), Pituitary Bio

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I had 3 transphenoidal surgeries 1 month apart in 2003. I had a csf leak and when it was repaired the pituitary had become necrotic and I lost the whole gland.

They said that did not cure the cushings so I had a BLA in 2004.

I have had nothing but health problems since then. Diabetes, fatty liver disease, frequent adrenal insufficiency, severe anemia despite no periods,  vitamin d deficiency, and other strange things.

They are now working me up for the neuroendocrine carcinoid tumor in the stomach or small bowel. It has been quite a road and I am not sure if I would do this all again if I could.

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