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Sharmyn, In the Media

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Sharmyn, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My story is about the best kept secret in medicine…

I went from a petite dress size 2 to an obese size 22 in just one year. I went from athletically fit to barely able to walk upstairs. One of my closest girlfriends was a former Miss Universe and actor in Hollywood; we looked like sisters. We often hung out socially with those in the entertainment biz where anorexia is a compliment—not a disease.

But in 1993, at the age of thirty-one, I started to gain weight and lots of it. I ate a very healthy diet; I worked out five to seven days a week and trained with a fitness trainer just as I had always done, but the weight piled on. While my friends were busy planning their weddings and starting their families, I began my journey of the next seven years, seeking help from doctors all over California for a correct diagnosis and treatment. My beautiful thick, long blonde hair fell out by the handfuls. I got up to nearly 250 pounds, but the odd weight gain was mostly in my round moon face, and my stomach stuck out over fifty-four inches. Soon, many other symptoms started: I had constant anxiety, and I felt like I wanted to come out of my skin from the constant nervous energy racing through my body.

Nighttime was the worst; while I should have been sleeping, I paced my apartment to help slow down my racing heart. I felt nauseous from anxiety 24/7. I slept fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, but once I’d fall asleep, I would jolt awake with a shot of more nervousness pumping throughout my body. Sometimes I’d go days with only a few hours’ sleep.

Soon my blood pressure had to be controlled by medication; I also needed medication for anxiety and depression just to function. As a single woman, I needed to be able to keep my job; I needed to keep my medical insurance so I could keep seeking help from doctors. Although there were so many times when I wanted to give up, I had to keep going.

All the medical professionals said there was nothing medically wrong with me; just eat well and exercise more was their sage medical advice. I knew they were missing something as none of this was in my nature. A person doesn’t go from being thin, happy, and full of life to gaining over 100 pounds and enduring chronic anxiety and depression for no reason.

I continued for seven long years seeking help from general doctors to endocrinologists to gastroenterology specialists, rheumatologists, hematology experts, and even psychologists. All were highly respected and highly educated; unfortunately, none were willing to think outside their narrow perspective; none of these medical professionals wanted to listen to me, who in their words “let herself go.”

They would not believe me when I told them I was truly eating well and exercising properly but instead, offered more and more prescription drugs. When I said I didn’t want to take the drugs, and I wanted to find out what was causing me to be so sick, they wrote me off as unwilling to help myself. I was madly frustrated and felt betrayed by the medical community as well as society.

Many friends and even some family members felt I was causing myself to be sick. I’m not a shy personality, and I had no problem speaking up. Loudly, I begged for proper diagnosis; I begged for proper treatment. I told everyone, loud and clear, there was something medically killing me, and I wanted my life back, but they continued to blame me for my laundry list of poor health issues.

Eventually, I was so sick, I accepted that this undiagnosed illness was going to kill me eventually, but I was determined NOT to die before I found out what disease had turned my health upside down! I wanted to make sure other people did not have to suffer from this horribly embarrassing, lonely, debilitating disease. So, I started my journey to save myself, and whoever else was suffering like me.

Unlike today, back then, I couldn’t simply Google my symptoms, so I had to research by going through all my medical records. I remained persistent until I got copies of everything I needed. Through the years many doctors suggested I had hormonal issues, but they attributed any hormonal abnormalities to the fact I was obese and suggested if I lost weight, all my health problems would be gone. They were like an annoying, broken record.

But I didn’t go to medical school, so I had to rely on my intuition and the fact that I knew my body better than anyone else. I had a hunch the hormone issues were causing ALL my health issues.  Fortunately, while going over thousands of pages of lab results and doctor’s notes, among innumerable discrepancies of the medical opinions and endless mismanagement of my healthcare, I also found a few clues of where to start.

I borrowed a friend’s computer and typed in Cortisol. According to my health records, this hormone had only been tested once in seven years, and it registered as Very High—Above Normal level. The doctors said it was high because I was overweight, but I wanted to see for myself. And up on the computer screen popped an article published by the Pituitary Network Association,www.pituitary.org.

The article’s headline read: “Cushing’s Disease.” In one of my previous medical reports, a doctor wrote he ruled out Cushing’s syndrome. This article proved him uneducated about proper testing for Cushing’s, and he was very wrong.

Cushing’s disease is a secondary disease caused by a pituitary brain tumor. The pituitary is a small, bean-shaped gland, less than one centimeter in size, and referred to as the master gland. It sits at the base of our brain between our optic nerves and carotid arteries. This small but powerful gland controls our quality of life by producing major hormones.

A Cushing’s tumor produces high levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone, (ACTH), which in turn signals the pituitary gland to stop producing the normal production of ACTH. One of the key functions of the pituitary gland is to keep us alive by signaling the adrenal glands when to produce and when not to produce Cortisol, our one life-sustaining hormone. However, the ACTH producing tumor never shuts off the production of ACTH, causing the pituitary to stop its normal feedback system with the adrenal glands.

Therefore, the adrenal glands never stop overproducing our fight or flight hormone, cortisol. For years the medical community and others told me that my health issues were all in my head. Well, in fairness, they were right. Luckily for me, I knew I was not causing this madness. Although it still sounds strange to say, I was so happy to find out that I had a serious and life-threatening pituitary tumor because, for the first time, I knew where to start my fight.

Once I suspected I had Cushing’s disease, I had to find the experts to confirm the often-complicated diagnosis. And that’s when the universe guided me through more research to meet the team that helped save my life! Dr. Pejman Cohan, my neuro-endocrinologist, and Dr. Daniel Kelly, my neurosurgeon, the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA. My angels were in my own backyard!

Dr. Cohan soon confirmed my diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, and it was Dr. Kelly’s difficult task to remove the tiny tumor that wreaked so much havoc. On April 14, 2000, Dr. Kelly successfully removed the tumor, and the next chapter of my journey began: helping others who suffer from this horribly underdiagnosed, misunderstood, life-threatening disease.

For the past nineteen years, I have been honored as a pituitary patient advocate spokesperson both nationally and internationally. Pituitary Tumors are the Best Kept Secret in Medicine. I’ve remained dedicated along with a team of pituitary neuro-endocrine experts to raise public awareness and help educate, and in some cases, reeducate the medical community on recognizing the symptoms of a pituitary tumor and/or hormonal issues related to the neuroendocrine system.

Pituitary disease is uncommon but not rare; however, there are commonly four types of pituitary tumors: prolactin-producing tumors, acromegaly, caused by too much growth hormone, Cushing’s disease, too much ACTH causes a secondary disease of too much cortisol hormone, and non-functioning tumors, which have their own set of problems.

For more information, visit www.hormones411.org, and https://www.pacificneuroscienceinstitute.org/pituitary-disorders/

Or email Sharmyn at pituitarybuddy@hotmail.com or sharmyn@hormone411.org

Join us for support and education Pituitary Patient Support Group Meetings: https://www.pacificneuroscienceinstitute.org/resources/patient-resources/patient-support-groups/.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I can say in all honesty the darkest part of my life, struggling for a correct diagnosis, has turned into the brightest part of my life. The pituitary tumor experts I work closely with: Dr. Daniel Kelly, Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian, Dr. Pejman Cohan, and a handful of others are truly amazing.

These teams of experts respect and value my patient advocate perspective, and they have restored my faith in our medical community. I’m honored to have traveled this difficult journey with these brilliant, caring, and compassionate doctors along with many others who are dedicated patient advocates.

But truly, what makes this journey rewarding and worth the endless hours we’ve all put into the proper treatment and awareness of pituitary disease is the patients. Seeing how far we have come to help raise public awareness and education in our medical communities makes me extremely proud I could be an important part of it.

Speaking with the patients, seeing them get their lives back, helping them to make good, educated decisions about their treatment is really what keeps us all going. And the icing on my cake has been meeting two of my closest friends, Krystina, who had a prolactin tumor, and Shady, who had acromegaly—both had pituitary surgery with Dr. Kelly, and they are leading healthy and productive lives. I love them like my sisters.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Hormones411 – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
When I was growing up, I struggled all through school; learning wasn’t easy for me. One of my high school teachers had me stand up in the middle of her class in front of my peers while she berated and humiliated me over my poor grammar and spelling. I walked out of her class and never went back.

After that, I was petrified to write so much as a greeting card that someone would read. After barely graduating from high school, I was unable to pass the entrance exam for English 101 at our local college. I tested at a fourth-grade level. Earlier that year, I was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.

My high school in Southern California was overcrowded with 2100 students in my graduating class. My home life was chaotic, and there was no one there to help me either. I felt that my dream of becoming a writer was impossible. This was long before computers, so I stuffed my dreams of writing lighthearted mysteries way down inside.

But instead, I excelled at drawing, painting, graphic design, cartooning and photography; anything I could draw, design, capture or paint, I did extremely well. And I still love anything to do with creating art. After my surgery for the pituitary tumor, my passion to help others was bigger than my fear of writing. I knew I would have to write articles and correspond with medical professionals if I wanted to get their help and/or attention.

I created my first flyer, “They Were Right; It Was All in My Head—Pituitary Tumors. The Best Kept Secret in Medicine.” I was scared to death to let anyone see it, but I created a good design layout because of my graphic arts studies, and I finally worked up enough nerve to ask Dr. Kelly to look it over and edit it for mistakes. Dr. Kelly loved it, so after he made a few minor corrections, I was off and running!

The flyer traveled without the help of emails or social media, but rather it was distributed all over the country by people who read it and passed the flyer to someone they thought might have the same disease. This one little flyer helped save so many lives, and it started my patient advocate ball rolling. I took a couple of writing classes because I wanted to learn to be a better writer; one of the classes was to learn how to write for magazines.

I sent out thirteen query letters and got twelve rejections. But when the health editor from Woman’s Day magazine called me and asked if they could buy my story, I said, “I’m a writer; may I write it? And she said, yes! From there I continued writing and publishing my story and raising awareness about Pituitary disease. I’m not sure what was more rewarding, overcoming the challenges that had held me back with dyslexia or raising awareness about Cushing’s to over ten million readers; they both felt amazing.

Nineteen years after my pituitary surgery, it’s finally time for me to write my fun mysteries! I’m working on a three-book mystery series. I’ve finished the first draft, and I’m working on my revisiona. I hope to have, Dying to Date: Looking for Mr. Right but Finding Mr. Wrong, out in 2019; book two: Dying to Marry and book three: Dying to Divorce out after that. My Dying series website and Facebook page are coming soon. Praise to Lillian Nader, my amazing editor for her patience.

My goal is to get involved with speaking for schools to encourage kids not to let people discourage them from their dreams. It will always take hard work, but with dedication and a lot of effort, you can do what you love.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I have seen a lot of wonderful progress in  the work Dr. Kelly and his colleagues are doing at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute to advance treatments and improve the quality of life for their patients with cancerous brain tumors, pituitary tumors and so many other areas of the neurosciences. They are truly a comprehensive Center of Excellence.

I plan to continue helping them and their patients, and I am also excited to write my mystery stories. I will continue to use my public platform to help raise awareness for pituitary disease. I hope to have the opportunity one day to inspiring children the importance of reading great books and telling their stories.

Contact Info:

From http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-sharmyn-mcgraw-hormones411-santa-monica/?platform=hootsuite


Women’s Day, March 9, 2004 issue

Woman's Day, March 9, 2004 issue

What’s Wrong with Me?

I’d never heard of Cushing’s disease, until it was revealed as the culprit behind my mysterious illness

By Sharmyn McGraw
Photographed by Brett Panelli

What's Wrong with Me?For years I was a size two. I worked hard to maintain my weight by exercising and eating a healthy diet—I even had a personal trainer. But in 1993, at the age of 31, my body rapidly changed. In four days I gained 11 pounds, and by six months it was 85. I tried eating less and working out more, but my weight just kept going up.

One year and 100 extra pounds later, my appearance was drastically changed. With most of the weight centered around my stomach, I looked as if I were pregnant with twins. My face and chin were round and the back of my neck had a buffalo hump. On top of it all, my thick blond hair began falling out in handfuls.

The anxiety and depression were nearly unbearable. I was a 31-year-old woman with a 227-pound body living in Newport Beach, California, a town south of Los Angeles where there’s no such thing as being too thin. Obesity just does not exist, especially among my peers. As an interior designer, I was often invited to social events, but I was so embarrassed by my appearance that I started avoiding them.

What was going on inside my body was just as troubling. I felt as if I’d had a triple espresso on an empty stomach. I was flying at top speed with constant jitters and chronic indigestion, rarely sleeping more than two hours a night. Mentally and physically, I was exhausted.

Searching for an Answer

While my girlfriends were busy planning their weddings and starting their families, I went from doctor to doctor hoping that someone would figure out what was wrong with me. In seven years, I sought help from more than 15 highly recommended physicians, as well as nutritionists, psychotherapists, an acupuncturist and a naturopath. Pleading my case as if I was on trial for a crime I did not commit, my closing argument was always the same: “I eat a healthy diet and exercise fanatically. This rapid weight gain, anxiety and depression is completely out of my nature.”

Nearly ever doctor I saw, convinced that I was a compulsive overeater with a mood disorder, simply offered advice on dieting and exercise. “Maybe you just think you work out as often as Jane Fonda,” was one physician’s comment.

One doctor labeled me a hypochondriac, and another said I had too much yeast in my system. Over the course of seven years, I also heard that I had fibromyalgia, a spastic colon, acid reflux and a sleep disorder, was prediabetic and premenopausal. I endured painful and expensive medical tests, including two endoscopies, a colonoscopy, a bone marrow biopsy and multiple CAT scans and ultrasounds. I had my thyroid removed and ankle and knee surgery (due to the excess weight on my joints).

During this time, with my family living far away in Illinois, I relied on my friends for support. Many of them were helpful, but some just continued to drop subtle hints about the latest diets they had read about. As for having a relationship—anxiety, chronic muscle pain and uncontrollable diarrhea were just a few of the reasons I stopped dating completely.

As days turned into years, I knew my symptoms were getting worse. My mind was no longer sharp and quick, and I stuttered to complete even simple sentences. I was not sure how much more I could endure, but I was determined that my obituary would not read, “Obese woman dies of unknown causes.”

I gathered all of my medical records and went to work studying every line. I found there was just one thing almost every doctor agreed on: My cortisol level was too high. In fact, it was three times the normal level for this hormone, yet none of the doctors felt that it had anything to do with my laundry list of complaints. By this point, I was fairly certain that it did.

Borrowing a friend’s computer, I went on the Internet and typed in the word “cortisol.” Up popped an article on Cushing’s syndrome, a hormonal disorder caused by excessively high blood levels of cortisol, and there on the screen were every one of my symptoms. I couldn’t believe it! Had I possibly diagnosed myself seven long years after my symptoms began?

Suddenly I remembered that I had seen the word “Cushing’s” in a report from a clinic I’d been to four years earlier. Ironically, the doctors had ruled it out because my eyes weren’t yellow and I didn’t have mouth sores. Now my next step was to convince a doctor that I had this disease.

Finally, a Diagnosis!

I’ll never forget the day I was ushered into the office of endocrinologist Andre Van Herle, M.D., at UCLA Medical Center. I was prepared to once again plead my case. But without knowing anything about me, he simply shook my hand and said, “So you are here because you have Cushing’s.”

This was a doctor with more than 40 years of experience in diagnosing people with the syndrome, and he knew at first glance that I had the physical appearance of someone with the disorder. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and tears streamed down my face. Most importantly, I realized I was not crazy and someone was willing to help me.

Dr. Van Herle and his colleague, Pejman Cohan, M.D., soon confirmed through blood tests that I did have Cushing’s syndrome. In my case, as in about 70 percent of cases, the problem was a tumor in my pituitary gland that was causing the overproduction of the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). This hormone stimulates the body’s adrenal glands to produce cortisol, the life-sustaining “fight or flight” hormone, which has many important functions. High amounts of cortisol, however, can wreak havoc, causing rapid weight gain, upper-body obesity, a rounded face, increased fat around the neck, anxiety and depression. Over time, abnormally high levels can even be life-threatening.

The next step was surgery to remove the tumor in my pituitary, located at the base of the brain, but there was one more obstacle. Although my hormone levels indicated I had a tumor, it was apparently so small that it wasn’t picked up on an MRI. So there was a chance that my surgeon, Daniel Kelly, M.D., director of UCLA’s Pituitary Tumor and Neuroendocrine Program, wouldn’t be able to locate it. Thankfully, he didn’t encounter that problem. On April 14, 2000, Dr. Kelly was successful in removing the tiny tumor though an incision in the back of my nasal cavity.

Today, four years later, I am 100 percent cured, and my body and mind are finally free from the horrible effects of Cushing’s. I’ve been able to lose 40 of the 100 pounds that I gained and am confident I can lose the rest. As a volunteer, I help facilitate a UCLA pituitary tumor support group, and I recently spoke to medical students at UCLA School of Medicine, explaining my difficulties obtaining a correct diagnosis. Looking back over nearly 10 years, it’s painful to think about all that I’ve been through. But I am so proud of myself for never giving up. I hope my story will help encourage and empower other women to do the same.

Sharmyn McGraw is a member of the Cushing’s Help and Support Message Boards.


Pituitary Cushing’s: Sharmyn (sharm on the boards) was featured on the Montel Show.

In 1993 at the age of 31, Sharmyn went from a socially acceptable dress size two and full of life to an obese size 22 and barely able to function in just one year. Despite the years of dedication to maintain a shapely muscular body, she suddenly had no control over the rapid weight gain. Her hours of personal fitness training and a healthy diet did nothing to stop the pounds from piling on. Sharmyn gained as much as eleven pounds in four days, 85 pounds in six months and 100 pounds in a year. Soon the weight gain was the least of her health problems; her hair fell out by the handfuls, her stomach stuck out like she was pregnant with twins, emotionally she felt like a misfit, and much more.

For seven horrific years Sharmyn searched the medical community for help, but over and over doctors told her there was nothing medically wrong with her…nothing some good old dieting and exercise couldn’t fix.

In spite of the many years of challenges within our healthcare system, Sharmyn ultimately diagnosed herself via the Internet and was fortunate to find a team of experts at UCLA Medical Center who confirmed her diagnosis. On April 14, 2000. Dr. Daniel Kelly, a world-renowned pituitary neurosurgeon—her angel – successfully removed the tumor and literally gave Sharmyn her life back.

Discuss this TV show.


Pituitary Cushing’s – interview with Sharmyn (sharm on the boards)


Cushing’s disease-Pituitary Gland

Sharmyn McGraw searched for answers for seven years for whatever it was that was killing her; finally she diagnosed herself via the Internet with Cushing’s disease, caused by a pituitary brain tumor.

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Sheryl, Pituitary Bio

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My journey started about 7 years ago. I began with generalized symptoms. I had severe insomnia, muscle and joint aches. I would be wired for a few days than couldnt get out of bed for days. The symptoms continued to get worse.

I sought help from several dr’s which led nowhere. after doing research I really felt that my symptoms were related to cushings. My local endo did run a few urines and salivas which came back elevated, however, he just wanted to re test in 6 months. I was deteriorating so rapidly that I decided to go to LA and see Dr. Friedman. Best decision of my life.

I will be starting on Ketokonazole after he gets labs that he drew back, and he has Dr. M at MD Anderson reviewing my MRI.

For the first time in many years I feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am so greatful that I have found Board s like this one so that I am able to inform myself. So thank you !

Sheryl added her Helpful Doctor, Theodore Friedman, to the Cushing’s MemberMap

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Stefanie, Pituitary Bio

4 Comments

The pituitary gland

I was diagnosed 2012 and had pituitary surgery done 2013. I am currently on medications.

I’m curious to talk with other Cushings patients. I don’t know anyone with the disease and have actually never even had a conversation with someone with cushings. It would be nice to relate with someone.

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Jessica and Justin, Siblings In the Media

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From 2008: Siblings Deal With Rare Cushing’s Diagnoses

By KALEY LYON

klyon@dailynews.net

COLBY — As a junior in high school, Justin Kennedy began getting sick and missing school on a regular basis.

He was fatigued, unable to sleep at night and gaining weight rapidly. He also was unable to focus on his school work and began experiencing memory loss.

After several doctor’s appointments, Justin was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, a rare disorder caused by excessive cortisol levels resulting from a tumor on the pituitary gland.

At the time of Justin’s diagnosis, his younger sister, Jessica, also was showing symptoms of the endocrine disorder. Her diagnosis came at the same time.

“I think they both have had symptoms since they were little,” said their mother, Judy Kennedy.

Other symptoms include a round facial shape, flushed cheeks, excessive hair growth, skin discoloration and depression, Judy Kennedy said.

Weight fluctuation is uncontrollable. Weight is gained at a high rate, despite diet, exercise and other efforts, Jessica Kennedy said.

“The weight has a mind of its own,” she said.

The diagnosis, following many doctor’s appointments and tests, came last November. Today, Justin, 19, keeps busy with a job at McDonald’s, and Jessica, 15, is a freshman in high school taking online classes.

One of the most bothersome symptoms of the disease is the toll it takes on the sleeping schedule. Her children often are unable to sleep until early morning, Judy Kennedy said.

“When there was a chance for her to do online high school, it was such a relief,” she said. “We don’t have to worry about what time she starts her school work.”

Appetite fluctuation is another side effect. The two go through phases where they have healthy appetites, then hardly eat at all, she said.

That’s because the disease puts their bodies through various cycles, which can last for less than a day or for months at a time, Judy Kennedy said.

It’s predicted that about 15 people in a million are diagnosed with the disorder, which can make it difficult to find support and get answers, she said.

The family, however, discovered an online support group and has enjoyed the opportunity to communicate with other families in similar situations.

“I honestly do not know where our family would be if I wouldn’t have found that support group,” Judy Kennedy said. “Even though it’s still awful, it’s better to know that other people have the same symptoms.

“There are people on the streets who have this and have no idea,” she said. “And their doctors don’t either.”

Both teenagers also are preparing for surgery. In mid-May, the family will travel to Houston, where the siblings will have the tumors removed from their pituitary glands. This is expected to resolve the hormonal imbalances, Judy Kennedy said.

“I’m looking forward to that day,” she said.

This Topic on the Message Boards


JESS AND JUDY ARE MEMBERS OF THE CUSHING’S HELP AND SUPPORT MESSAGE BOARDS.

Jess and Judy answered questions in an online Voice Chat January 17, 2008. Archives are available.

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Denise, In the Media

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Cushing’s survivor hopes to make others aware of illness

July 16, 2007

Denise Potter, who works at the Christus Schumpert Highland Hospital as a mammographer, has Cushing’s disease which affects the performance of the pituitary gland. Greg Pearson/The Times 07.12.07 (Greg Pearson/The Times)

Cushing’s Help and Support: http://www.cushings-help.com/
National Institutes of Health: http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.htm
Oregon Health & Science University: www.ohsupituitary.com/patients/print/cushings.html

By Mary Jimenez
maryjimenez@gannett.com

Denise Potter never connected her rapid weight gain to a disease or her high blood pressure to anything but her weight.

The hump on the base of her neck was a feature she supposed came with the weight.

And although the roundness and redness in her face was odd, she never connected it to the other symptoms she was having or the fatigue, heart palpitations and swelling she begin to experience in her 30s.

And neither did a stream of doctors over the decade when Potter’s symptoms related to Cushing’s disease began. It would take another two years after diagnosis to find a treatment that worked.

“You can see my face getting real round in this picture. They call that a ‘moon’ face,'” said Potter, 42, looking over a handful of photos that showed the progression of the disease, diagnosed when she was 37. “You learn one of the best ways to show doctors the changes happening is to bring pictures with you to appointments.”

Potter, who works as a mammographer at Christus Schumpert Highland Hospital in Shreveport, calls herself lucky to be working and functioning in life as well as she is.

“I only hope by telling my story someone else can be diagnosed sooner,” she said.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Cushing’s disease is a form of Cushing’s syndrome — caused by the overproduction of cortisol over a long period of time.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and essential to many of the body’s cardiovascular and metabolic functions. It also helps the body respond to stress.

Cushing’s disease is specifically caused by a hormone-producing tumor on the pituitary gland.

About 1,000 people each year in the U.S. are told they have a form of Cushing’s, but those affected think many more cases go undiagnosed.

“Making people aware of the disease is the name of the game,” said Louise Pace, founder and president of Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation Inc., based in Boston, Mass. “There’s a chance for 100 percent recovery if you get diagnosed soon enough. But not too many do. Out of the 1,000 members I have, only two are 100 percent cured and they both got diagnosed within a year. It took me five years. The longer you go, the more damage it does.”

In addition to feature changes, left undiagnosed the disease can cause associated diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension and osteoporosis.

“It’s such a difficult disease to catch. It’s different from one patient to another. And for a lot of people it cycles. Doctors miss it unless they do particular tests,” said Warren Potter, Denise’s husband, whose gained a strong medical knowledge about the disease. “It’s amazing how much you learn about medicine when you have to.”

Warren Potter, originally from New Zealand, has lived in the states now for about eight years and met Denise online by chance while he was living in Tennessee.

He gives luck a large role in his wife’s diagnosis.

“At one stage she found a doctor who wasn’t too far out of medical school,” said Warren of the young doctor his wife went to in 2003 for her high blood pressure that would diagnose the disease.

“He was very worried about my blood pressure being 215 over 105 (a healthy adult is around 120/80) and began asking other questions,” said Potter, who’d also experienced an extreme, rapid weight gain. “I’d always been around 135 pounds but in my 30s my weight jumped up to 300 pounds. I knew my eating hadn’t changed enough for that much weight gain.”

Headaches and later migraines that Potter experienced throughout her life also began to make sense with a Cushing’s diagnosis. More than one eye doctor thought there might be something else going on there, but were looking on the brain not the pituitary gland where a tumor that causes Cushing’s disease sits.

A 24-hour urine collection was enough to prove that Potter’s cortisol levels were high, but not enough to pinpoint why.

Cushing’s syndrome can be caused by myriad of reasons, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A person who takes excessive amounts of steroids for inflammatory diseases or other reasons can suffer the symptoms of Cushing’s. Also a number of things can go wrong in the precise chain of events needed to produce cortisol.

It all starts with the hypothalamus that secretes corticotropin releasing hormone that tells the pituitary to produce adrenocorticotropin, which then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol that’s dumped into the bloodstream.

Potter’s tumor was confirmed with a magnetic resonance imaging of the pituitary.

The cure is surgical resection of the tumor, states the NIH, with about 80 percent success rate.

Potter’s first surgery done at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., failed as did another attempt to shrink it with radiation.

Potter and her husband took a bold step they both felt was her best chance for a cure.

“We moved to Oregon where the best specialist in the country was,” said Potter, who was treated by Dr. William Ludlam, an endocrinologist. “I liked him immediately. He thought maybe my first surgery hadn’t been done quite right and wanted to try it again.”

When a second surgery done at the Oregon Health and Science University also failed, Potter and her doctor made the decision to remove both her adrenal glands in 2005.

The surgery took away her body’s ability to produce cortisol, which is now replaced orally. She’s also taking other hormones that are no longer produced by a damaged pituitary.

“On the endocrine aspect it’s all guess work to the levels of medication that works to make her feel relatively normal. We learn to tweak it when she needs to,” Warren said. “We’re lucky in a lot of ways that the disease was caught in time. She did not get the cure from the tumor being removed and she has other symptoms, but they can be treated.”

The Potters moved to Shreveport late in 2005 to be closer to her parents. An endocrinologist follows her hormone replacement therapy.

“I’ve lost 70 pounds, but because my age and the length of years I had the disease, my recovery will be slower,” said Potter, who takes 10 pills and one injection daily to manage her hormones and diabetes. “It’s also caused some memory loss that I still can’t access.”

Potter and others affected by the disease think experts are underestimating the number of cases.

“I see people all the time that look they are walking around with similar symptoms as I use to have,” she said. “I hope this makes people more aware of the disease.”

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Brian R, MENS Bio

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I became sick July 2014, August my family physician sent me for blood tests etc. by September, I saw thyroid surgeon, had CT and MRI of head throat area. I went to local hospital for the tests. The tests were inconclusive. Bad equipment, I later found out.

Surgeon said we should monitor condition and wait or we could do exploratory surgery. I CHANGED DOCTOR.

Next I went to Nuero for tests, nuropothy had already set in my legs and I was falling all the time. Rapid weight increase, tired and cramping all the time, irritable and miserable. She sent me to endocrinologist and more tests, definitely showed para thyroid adhesions, had surgery in October 2015, didn’t do both sides and would have to have surgery again in December.

Returned to work and immediately tore my shoulder muscles and was finished from work, (Workman’s comp) fought having a MRI, I did it anyhow, went to surgeon and he wouldn’t operate because of my health issues.

In December they removed the growth on other side of para and a lump from thyroid. Four days later I became wheel chair bound.

Now we scheduled the pituitary surgery for February. Wednesday was the surgery and I could get up from bed the next day and walk. (I thoight it was a miracle) Discharged Friday, went for blood test Saturday and tried to get some rest.

By Wednesday I returned to the emergency room with 103 temp and sleeping all the time. They put me in ICU and I spent the next 10 days there.

Upon release we treated the body shutdown with cortisol steroids and continually adjusted my blood pressure meds. Three months later I started therapy to learn how to walk again. I would fall if I turned my head, left or right. Balance and equilibrium was really bad.

I finally returned to play golf in October, exactly 2 years from my first surgery. Weak, but I was able to drive, walk, (gingerly) and socialize.

It is a terrible disease and in July this year I felt it was back and blood tests confirmed my fears. I won’t go into my current conditions.

We all know how this saga plays out.

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Laura, In The Media

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After years, mystery ills diagnosed

April 3, 2005
By JANET MARSHALL

On the day her life changed for the better, Laura Zastrow was exhausted. So much so that she almost didn’t go to the Quantico commissary, as she’d planned.

For years, Zastrow had felt run down without knowing why. One doctor chalked it up to depression. But that afternoon at Quantico, a stranger offered another diagnosis: Cushing’s disease.

Rare and often misdiagnosed, Cushing’s causes fatigue, weight gain, hair growth, mood swings, high blood pressure and other ills, all familiar to Zastrow.

The stranger, Jayne Kerns, recognized her own puffy face and hairy arms in Zastrow.

“I said, ‘I feel like I’m looking in the mirror,'” Kerns said.

Kerns encouraged Zastrow to check out a Cushing’s Web site, which Zastrow did. Every symptom listed matched her condition. Her doctor ran some tests, and the results confirmed Zastrow had Cushing’s, a hormonal disorder often brought on by a tumor.

The chance meeting in September 2003 transformed Zastrow’s life. In the months since, she’s had surgery to remove a large tumor on her pituitary gland and rediscovered her old, healthier self.

“My energy is coming back,” said Zastrow, of Locust Grove. “I’ve lost a lot of weight. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m in a fog anymore.”

Kerns, of Spotsylvania County, has made it a mission to raise as much awareness as possible of Cushing’s since being diagnosed with the disease in 2000. She’s written President Bush asking him to declare a National Cushing’s Awareness Day in April.

Her meeting with Zastrow was first described in a Free Lance-Star profile of Kerns in 2004. At the time, nobody yet knew just how life-altering that meeting would be.

It emboldened Kerns to keep reaching out to people she thinks have the disease. And it gave Zastrow hope for a healthier, more energetic future.

“I was at the point where I was deteriorating so fast that if Jayne wouldn’t have approached me, I honestly don’t know what would have happened,” Zastrow said recently. “Obviously, I didn’t know anything about [Cushing’s], and neither did my doctors.”

For those with the disease, April 8 is the unofficial day to recognize it and the man–Dr. Harvey Cushing–who first put a name to it.

People with Cushing’s suffer from excessive levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. The condition can be caused by long-term use of certain drugs, such as prednisone for asthma.

Often, Cushing’s stems from an overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands. The pituitary gland sometimes over-stimulates the adrenals, triggering the problem. Tumors on the adrenal or pituitary often are at the root of the problem, and treatment can involve removing the glands.

Kerns’ diagnosis followed months of maddening efforts to pinpoint why her body deteriorated, and never recovered, after childbirth.

She said she was misdiagnosed many times, and that one doctor, frustrated by her recurrent problems, told her he no longer had time to listen to her and referred her to another physician.

Kerns ultimately had her adrenal glands removed.

Each year, 10 to 15 people out of every million are thought to be affected by Cushing’s, making it highly uncommon.

“Doctors think that Cushing’s is too rare for people to have it,” Kerns said. “And I truly believe that it is not as rare as people think.”

Another local woman, Jennifer Belokon of Fredericksburg, has Cushing’s. She was serving in the Army in Iraq when she began feeling weak and gaining weight, adding 60 pounds in three months.

The Army flew her out of Iraq and sent her to Walter Reed Medical Center. After being diagnosed with Cushing’s, she had her adrenal glands removed.

“Now, I have no adrenaline, no steroids or anything that will help me produce that second wind when doing anything,” Belokon wrote in an e-mail.

Yet she’s resumed exercising and is training to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in Virginia Beach in September. She ran a 10-mile race a few months ago.

“My time was nothing big,” Belokon wrote. “But I was proud of myself for finishing.”

Getting treated for Cushing’s is life-altering, all three women said. Just finding out what’s wrong is profound because a diagnosis often follows months or years of mysterious and unsettling ailments.

“It changes people’s lives when they figure out what’s going on,” Kerns said. “It’s kind of like discovering that you have diabetes, and then you get insulin. You find something that’s going to make you feel better.”

For more information on the disease and its symptoms, which include purple stretch marks, check out cushings-help.com

To reach JANET MARSHALL: 540/374-5527 jmarshall@freelancestar.com
Copyright 2005 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.


JAYNE KERNS IS A MEMBER OF THE CUSHING’S HELP AND SUPPORT MESSAGE BOARDS.

Jayne answered questions in an online Voice Chat January 31, 2008 at 6:30 PM eastern. Archives are available.

Listen to CushingsHelp on internet talk radio

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