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In Memory of Kate Myers ~ June 23, 2014

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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.

 

In Memory of Diana Crosley ~ June 18, 2014

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Portland, OR, Cushing’s Conference, October 2003, Day 2, at a “House of Magic” dinner.

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Portland, OR, Cushing’s Conference, October 2003, Day 3. It was very windy on the Oregon Coast!

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Brighton, MI: Cushing’s Weekend, October 2005

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Columbus, OH Cushing’s meeting, 2007

Diana’s official obituary from Adams Funeral Home:

Diana Lynn Alexander Crosley, age 58, of Sidney, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at 10:10 p.m. at her residence surrounded by her loving family.  She was born September 30, 1955, in Sidney, the daughter of Francis Alexander, and the late Laverne Egbert Alexander.

Diana is survived by her father and step-mother, Francis and Carole Alexander, of Sidney; daughters, Stacie Crosley, of Columbus, Casey Crosley, of Silver Spring, Maryland, Ericka Crosley, of Sidney; one granddaughter, Ella Laws, of Sidney; two sisters, Kathy and Randy Watercutter, of Minster, and Susan Alexander, of Mt. Vernon, Missouri.

Diana was a 1973 graduate of Anna High School. She was a registered nurse for many years. In her spare time she enjoyed meditating and doing yoga. She also enjoyed relaxing at the beach in Florida.

Her family, her children and especially her granddaughter, was the love of her life. She will be deeply missed by all.

The Crosley family would like to express their sincere thanks to Ms. Lisa Blagg and the entire staff of Wilson Hospice for the continued compassionate care of their mother during her extended illness.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 21, 2014, at 3:00 p.m., at the Adams Funeral Home, 1401 Fair Road, Sidney.

Family and friends may call from 12-3 p.m. on Saturday, prior to services at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to Wilson Memorial Hospice in Diana’s memory.
Envelopes will be available at the funeral home.


Diana’s Cushing’s Help bio:

As with everyone who suffers from this disease, mine is a rather long story.

In retrospect, I believe I became symptomatic sometime around 1994. Particularly, I remember the weight gain and facial hair. I was also somewhat depressed, but at the time I was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship and had a lot of “on the job stress” in my position as a psychiatric nurse, working for an HMO. In addition, my grandmother was ill, I turned 40 and I attributed most of my problems to “life” In 1995, I accepted a job transfer from Dayton, Oh to Birmingham, Al. My grandmother had died and I needed to get away from the relationship. Unfortunately, the office in B-ham closed after approx 18months and I accepted a position as RN/Medical director at a residential facility for children with autism, seizure disorders and behavioral problems.

Meanwhile, I continued to gain weight, I began to notice some “swelling” on the back of my neck, I bruised very easily and had problems concentrating. I went on the Phen-fen diet and lost approx 40 lbs. Of course, now I’m wondering How did that happen? If the weight gain was Cushing related In June of 1998, I was thrown from a horse and fractured my pelvis in two places. Again unfortunately, the initial x-ray didn’t reveal any breaks, so I continued to work in extreme pain. My physician kept saying I was “just a slow healer”

At this point my blood pressure skyrocketed, the slightest scratch or bump would result in a major hematoma and skin tear. I had a cardiac work-up and was told I had ischemic tissue in my left ventricle and was sent to Houston for a cardiac cath.

Ok this part’s kind of funny, now of course at the time I couldn’t believe it. If anyone’s familiar with Houston, you know how terrible the traffic can be. I arrived for the cath, at 8am I was prancing like a wild animal in my room as I waited for the nurse to bring me my “sedative” At approx 11:00 she came in and began to take my vitals. Almost simultaneously, she was paged, returned to my room to tell me that the cardiologist had broken his tooth while eating a muffin for breakfast and all his procedures for the day were cancelled. I had to reschedule. Thankfully, when I did have the cath, he told my my heart” was beautiful” When I asked about the results that said I had dying tissue he replied “Oh, that must have been a blurp on the film”.

Moving on, even though my heart was fine, I had now regained all of the weight I had lost and was in constant pain. I then moved to Florida to stay with a friend’s mother, who had suffered a stroke. I began working per diem as a Home Health RN. I kept getting worse in all areas. I went to a doctor in Fl. who told me I was depressed and getting older, ergo all my problems. He told me that the buffalo hump was a fatty lipoma and referred me to a surgeon to have it removed. I went to a surgeon for a consult, was scheduled for surgery and my COBRA ran out on my insurance and I couldn’t afford to continue it.

I then went to a plastic surgeon, who confirmed it was a fatty lipoma, of course One of the biggest he had ever seen. He even photographed it to use for teaching seminars. And don’t you know, it grew right back. I spent 1700.00 (on credit) and it came back. At this point, I was having trouble standing, sitting, lying down. I was in constant pain and was having a lot of problems just trying to do my job. I went to another physician who thought I was depressed and maybe had leukemia because my lab work was all screwed up. Here again, the bad news was I was dying but it might take twenty years for the leukemia to kill me. At this point, I was ready to hang it all up.

Then, in Aug of 2001, I had just seen my last patient and was on my way to the office to complete the paperwork when a young man did a U-turn and t-boned me on the driver’s side. This just about put me over the edge, however, again, on the bright side, I went to a chiropractor, whom I had been seeing, and she ordered an MRI of my back. The MRI also, incidentally, revealed massive bilateral, adrenal hyperplasia.

I contacted the Nurse’s Endocrine Society. They sent info on Cushing’s. I could not believe the sketching of the women with Cushing’s it looked just like me. I also fit the symptom profile, almost completely. I was referred to an endocrinologist in Melbourne, FL. He did the 24-hour urines and dex test, confirmed the diagnosis, I was already convinced. He contacted the NIH as I didn’t have health insurance. I had a bilateral adrenalectomy (right side laproscopically and open left side as I began to bleed) Jan 17, 2002. I was discharged on Jan 26th.

I came to Ohio to stay with my daughters while I recovered, never thinking in my wildest imagination that that process would be so lengthy and utterly miserable. I hurt everywhere like I had never hurt before. I developed a serious sinus infection I went back to Florida in Feb. I stayed with friends. I applied for disability, I hoped for a worker’s comp settlement for my back injury. The insurance company who was handling my claim filed Chap 11 and all pay outs were suspended. They did pay for some physical therapy. There contention is that it was the Cushing’s that was my major problem and not related to the accident, however, duh! They’re right, but because I had the Cushing’s the injury I incurred in the accident was more severe than the average person would have sustained.

When I went to the NIH in Jan the chest X-ray revealed multiple healing rib fractures which were most likely a result of the accident. So, I’m still awaiting word on my disability, I was denied, appealed, denied again and am waiting for the hearing. In the meantime, my car was repossessed, I will most likely have to file bankruptcy and am now staying with my oldest daughter in Columbus.

I have lost approx 55lbs, my skin is healed, my buffalo hump and moon face are gone. I am still in quite a bit of pain in my joints, muscles and bones. I don’t have the energy I would like to have and I still have spacey moments. The mental part has been tough. A lot of days I really wanted to be dead. I was on morphine for my pain and I was so sick I would start vomiting and it would go on for 24-36-48 hrs. I finally quit taking the morphine and thank God, that has stopped. I am relying on my family and friends for everything and I’m used to being the giver, not the taker. I guess I’m learning to be humble and I am so much better, it’s just that I’ve just gotten access to the internet, and have been reading the chat board and message board and it seems that I am still a “slow healer”

It has been one year since that surgery and I guess my expectations were that if I kept trying to be patient, get through this year things would be back to a semblance of normalcy. OK I know I’m wordy.

Thanks for the support and I would welcome input from anyone.

Diana

Update January 28, 2011

It’s been awhile since I’ve been on the boards and I’ve tried to update my bio on occasion. However, due to my impaired technical abilities (lol) I was unable to figure out how to do so, even though Mary has made it SO easy. Again, lol

Anyway, the first five yrs post BLA were painful and traumatic but also a blessing. In 2005 I started taking yoga classes and that was the beginning of an amazing transformation for me. It led to meditation and an exploration of the spiritual meaning of this illness and of life in general. Of course the transformation wasn’t immediate and it is ongoing but I feel so blessed to be experiencing this life. I’ve learned to be grateful for the gifts of all of my experiences. Without Cushings, I never would have met some of the most caring and amazing people on this earth.

In July of 2008 I returned to Florida. I am now living in a little beach town, bought a bicycle and ride it almost every day. I still have pain, but it’s manageable and I focus on my breath and gratitudes as a way of managing it. I’ve learned the value of positive thoughts and intentions. I’ve learned that we are all more powerful than we may have ever imagined. I’ve met some amazing people here and continue to read and attent seminars and classes on exploring my purpose in this life and the gifts I have to give to the universe.

To all who are just beginning this Cushing’s journey, and for those experiencing the feeling of “no light at the end of the tunnel” -the light is there, just waiting for your arrival.

You can and will get through this, your life is not over.

Again, many thanks to Mary O who has given her gifts to help other souls navigate their way through a painful time

Much love to all
Diana

In Memory of Sarah Fraik ~ June 13, 2011

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Sarah recently had surgery to remove a tumor from her pituitary gland in the hopes of treating her Cushing’s Disease.  She died on June 13, 2011 after a brief illness at the age of 28.

More information will be provided when it becomes available.

~~~~~~~

Sarah F’s mom posted this: “we will be setting up an account at the royal bank tomorrow afternoon for sarah. we are planning on having a bench put in her name at transfer beach in ladysmith after we get her home. if you would like to help you can make a donation instead of sending flowers. we will post when we have everything set up. thank you everyone for your support and kind words for sarah…..”

Also from Sarah’s mom: “a account is set up for sarah fraik at any royal bank the number is 02000 5000823 any donation is welcome to help with bringing sarah home and getting a bench with her name put on it at transfer beach ladysmith thanks everyone.”

Beth Grant writes: “I already have asked her about how people from out of the country can donate and I’m still waiting to hear back. But my offer also stands to have people paypal me or send cheques and I can just go to the bank here and deposit it to the account. There’s an option to Send Money, so you just click on a few things and it gets sent. I’ve sent and received through paypal many times and never had trouble.”

Conversion from US to CAN: http://www.advfn.com/currency-converter/us-to-canadian-dollar.html

~~~

From the Acromegaly Community:

Taking a Lesson From a Tragic Loss

on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Posted in Blog

Wayne Brown
AcromegalyCommunity.com

Last night I was at an open-air concert; and while waiting for the show to start, I was unexpectedly faced with mortality.  Everyone at the show was fine, but when I was reading social networking posts, I kept reading people’s messages of peaceful rest to a woman I didn’t know; but I could totally relate to her struggles with a rare disease.  Sarah, a young woman dealing with the effects of Cushings Syndrome, passed away from a head cold- a medical complication at the ripe old age of 28.  I didn’t need to know Sarah to know that this was just wrong!

Based on what I have read from many of Sarah’s friends, I got a brief snapshot of the situation.  Not only was she a very special woman that many people loved, her passing was made more tragic because maybe it was avoidable.  It seems that several people were concerned that the quality of her medical care was at least partly to blame for her early passing.  Now I did not know Sarah or her issues to agree or disagree, but it brings up a really important topic of discussion for the rest of us: what is a good relationship with your medical professional?  For those who are unfamiliar, Cushings Syndrome is a hormonal disease that impacts people who have a consistently high exposure to cortisol (a hormone released into the body as a response to stress).  I have had cause to learn a lot about Cushings because of the number of Acromegaly patients who have to juggle the effects of both diseases.

While I know this discussion can be uncomfortable, I would like for you to ask yourself honestly: DO YOU TRUST YOUR MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL?  Please understand the question I am asking is different than whether you like your doctor.  While it is nice if you like your doctor, it is not as critically important that you like your doctor, as it is that you trust him or her.  I promise you that I am not golfing buddies with any of my medical professionals; but… I am confident that they are providing me with the best possible medical care I could ask for, without my traveling to a dozen other cities.  Ultimately, this is an essential question you need to answer for yourself because your answer can directly impact the quality of your health care, and therefore the length and quality of your overall life.

Now does trusting your doctor mean they know everything there is to know about all things medical?  NO!  Just because you trust your doctor or nurse does not guarantee that they know everything about every disease you may ever have.  Willingness to learn accentuates, not lessens a doctor’s credentials as a diagnostician.  Many of us have had cause to teach our doctors something about our disease not covered in the textbooks yet.  When I was growing up, I knew a doctor’s wife who used to love to joke that ‘that’s why it’s called practicing medicine.  They have to keep trying till they get it right.’  It is impossible for any one medical professional to know everything about everything.  The question you need to answer for yourself is whether you trust them to listen to what you say and help you to make your life more pleasant, because of or in spite of your medical situation.

Sadly, for some of us, our medical issues are not a joke but a depressing reality- that we have to go years before we find the right medical professional who can both treat us medically AND handle our personalities in a way that will help us to trust our doctor/nurse/physician assistant.

Now, if it is true that the doc is merely practicing, why is our trusting them so essential to the relationship?  That is simple.  Honesty.  If you are anything like me, you would rather go to a medical office than a psychic for your medical care.  If you are withholding from your doctor, for any reason, you are detracting from your own medical care – and making it nearly impossible for your doctor to properly treat you!  I am not saying you should call your doctor’s office because you stubbed your toe getting into bed last night and your nail is bruised in the morning, but if you stubbed your toe last night and you were in so much pain that you woke up and took seventeen aspirin, this is an issue worthy of a chat.  Your medical professionals need to understand who you are, how you feel, what your pain threshold is, and how you manage your medical issues when he or she is not around (yes, this means your OTC treatments AND if some of your self-treatments do not necessarily come from recognized pharmacies- while this may be an awkward conversation and you may get scolded, such decisions by you can effect your treatment too!).  Medical professionals and their patients must know they can trust each other.

Ultimately, we are the patients- its kind of like being the customer at a store.  If you want to do hours of research before you buy the best can opener, or if you want to consistently look over your doctor’s shoulder, that is your right; but ultimately you need to have faith in the purchase you make at the store, just as you need to have faith in your doctor’s course of treatment.  If you do not feel comfortable enough doing that, then you have a decision to make: is your lack of trust in the doctor their fault, or is it yours (as the patient)?  Again, not an easy question to honestly answer, but essential in our long-term well-being!  If you have been withholding too much from the doctor, waiting for the doc to miraculously figure out what’s wrong seems both unlikely and unfair- and largely a mess of your own doing.  Going to another doctor is simply going to slow your treatment, and likely perpetuate the problem.  It is not the doctor’s fault that you are not honest with them about your issues.  Open up with your doctor and have a frank discussion- see where things go from there.  But if you are honest with your doctor, and you still feel like the doctor is either uninterested, unable or unwilling to figure out your issues, or is flat out too busy to give you the focus you require and deserve, well then you need to look at possibly seeking a new medical professional.

Just remember, starting with a new doc can be difficult.  If he or she is popular, you might wait at least a month or two just to get that first appointment where no treatment might legitimately get started. During this time that you wait, your issues are not being treated at all.  On top of that, you and your new doc both need to figure each other out, and again you need to try to build that trust and understanding with a new doctor and staff, working toward a momentum of medical stability.  All that being said, if you are not happy, and are ready for the switch, then go for it!  Remember, you are most responsible for your own medical care, since you are the person most greatly invested in your own well-being!  Don’t stay with a doctor simply because you are afraid to leave.  If you are ready to move on to a new doctor’s office, just make sure you are doing it for the best reasons.  Hopefully your new doctor’s office will offer you the ability to trust and be totally forthright.

I am just saying that if you are dealing with some sort of extraordinary medical condition, please invest your time to be totally honest with your physician(s).  Talk with him or her in a frank and honest way.  If your disease has major issues that are kind of sensitive to talk about, and you are afraid to talk face-to-face with your doctor but feel you can be more frank with the nurse or physician assistant, then do that!  If the issue is particularly awkward for you, then at the very least, keep a journal and share that with your doctor’s office.  At least the information is being conveyed.  While there are preferred methods of sharing, getting the information is more essential than the method of delivery.

I don’t know what the facts are that surround Sarah’s case, but it is a tragedy any time a 20-something person passes away.  Don’t let her passing be for nothing.  We can learn from her.  Take care of yourself medically, and work to foster a relationship of openness and trust with your medical professionals.  Without trusting our medical professionals, how can we expect them to treat us in a way to actually improve our health?  And at the end of the day, what is more important than our health?  Dare I say it… nothing.

Carola B (Carola), Adrenal Bio

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On December 26, 2014 I went to a local urgent care clinic with pneumonia, confirmed by an x-ray, for which I was treated.  I received a phone call from the urgent care clinic a few days afterwards explaining that the radiologist had seen something unusual that needed further examination.  After numerous tests my suspected Cushing’s diagnosis was confirmed.  Although I’d had symptoms for the prior ten years or so, I had no idea that they were due to anything other than aging (I was 68). My symptoms included weight gain around my middle which for the first time in my life I couldn’t shed, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, osteoporosis, bright red blotches all over my arms and eventually hands, which came from even the mildest bump (very embarrassing, so I was constantly looking for the right makeup to cover them up, and wearing long sleeves in spite of living in a tropical climate), a full round face, thin skin that would tear at the slightest nudge with profuse bleeding, very dry hair, splitting nails, and a constant bad taste in my mouth (I always carried a toothbrush, toothpaste and gum), etc.  All these things were puzzling and upsetting, but since no doctor was concerned I didn’t think it was anything other than my body wearing out.

I had an adrenalectomy at UCSF nearly a year after the initial concerning x-ray.  I was told that I should stay home from work for a week, and that I’d be on hydrocortisone until my remaining adrenal gland functioned properly again, but I was given no information about the severity of withdrawal from the huge amounts of cortisol to which my system had become accustomed. I woke up from the “no big deal just one night in the hospital” surgery and felt sick in every cell of my body.  The surgeon came in with his friendly face and asked how I was.  I told him I was sick and he asked where – all I could do is repeat “everywhere”.  He said he couldn’t help me if he didn’t know where I was sick, and I wondered in my grogginess how I was supposed to answer when the answer was that it was everywhere in every way.  At home I slept nearly continually.  After 5 days I saw some slight progress when I was able to wash my hair before falling back in bed.

When I returned to the surgeon after a week he upped my hydrocortisone, at the same time telling me, as did my endocrinologist, that there was no reason I should feel so ill.  The same day the surgeon increased my hydrocortisone my endocrinologist lowered the dose. I was told that I may be having an extreme reaction to the anesthetic, or perhaps I’d had too many surgeries in a short period of time (I’d had knee replacement surgery 6 months prior from which I had fully recovered).  My doctors also said I’d feel better in about 6 months (never had I been told anything about a long recovery period). When I showed my endocrinologist my swollen ankles he said he didn’t know the cause, nor about the aches, fatigue and nausea – one of his theories was that the cortisol had been masking the normal aches and pains of aging.  He discouraged internet research, saying there’s “too much misinformation out there”, but when I asked for a suggestion about a medical textbook, he said that it would be too hard for me to understand.  I did buy a medical textbook on Cushing’s (Cushing’s Syndrome, Ed. Lewis S. Blevins, Jr. M.D.), and therein learned about the extreme discomfort faced by patients undergoing “withdrawal syndrome” and finally felt validated.  I also discovered CRSF, and was thrilled to discover this wonderful resource for understanding my situation, no longer feeling so alone and confused.

What lay ahead was a very challenging, requiring me to make important life changes. My fatigue and nausea were severe, leading to my decision to stop working and cancelation of numerous plans. For months I also felt like an empty shell of a human being and wondered whether I would ever again have a personality – it was the weirdest thing, feeling as if I had no center.

Today my body is different in mostly good ways.  Immediately following surgery my blood pressure was normal, I was no longer pre-diabetic, no red spots ever appeared again, nor does my skin tear as it had.  I also lost the excess weight, and eventually my “real” hair and nails came back.  I am grateful for these wonderful results, and that I had the good fortune to be alerted to the adrenal tumor by a most perceptive radiologist.  The depression eventually lifted, my core sense of self returned, and I feel good.  The bad taste in my mouth disappeared, so I’m no longer a compulsive teeth-brusher, and I was relieved of nausea after four months.  I no longer have the high level of energy I enjoyed prior to surgery, and I’m cold when others are either warm or comfortable, so I just wear more layers, and these are things I can live with.

Gradually I’ve developed better muscle tone after the loss of muscle caused by Cushing’s, with lots of exercise, and I am grateful that I can do yoga, long walks, and other physical activities. I still get extreme fatigue and nausea from time to time after stressful events, such as international travel, and there’s nothing to do except to rest for a day or a few days until I feel better. I’m enormously grateful for the unending support of my husband, family and friends, and to the Cushing’s community for helping me along this strange journey.

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In Memory of Sherry Carlson ~ May 30, 2020

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Sherry passed away the afternoon of May 20, 2020, naturally and peacefully in her sleep.

She loved her community and we know how grateful she was to every one of her friends on here for the genuine love and support she’s received over the years.

We (her family) are processing, but will share details about her celebration of life when we’ve worked it out.

Sherry’s Slideshow:

Cushing’s Help message board member sherryc presented this PowerPoint at Pioneer Pacific College. It took a lot of work with her failing memory but she did It! She wanted to get the word out about Cushing’s and her journey with this awful disease.

She says that it took a lot of work with her failing memory but she did It! She wanted to get the word out about Cushing’s and her journey with this awful disease.

Sherry’s bio:

I have been very ill for many years now, since 1999 that I know of. But it had always come and gone, until 2004 when it decided to stay. At first it was a mystery as to what was wrong. I was seeing a psychiatrist that felt very strong that what I was dealing with was endocrine related. He mentioned a few things that it could be and one was Cushing’s, so I looked it up on the internet and sure enough I had many of the symptoms of Cushing’s disease, moon face, buffalo hump, weight gain, big round belly, red face, very ruddy complexion, acne, nausea, depression, fatigue, hirsutism, depression, anxiety, hypertension, unusual bruising, and highs and lows of energy.

I found this support group on the internet at Cushings-help.com and they helped me find Dr.William Ludlam at OHSU. He told me I had a suddle case of Cushing’s and had a pituitary tumor on the right side displacing the pituitary to the left. Although Dr.Ludlam originally saw tumors on both sides, I had a pituitary tumor that seemed to be cyclic. When it turned on I had major Cortisol energy, when it turned off I got very achy, nausea, and very tired. In March of 2006 I was officially diagnosed after 1 long year of testing, and went on to have my first unsuccessful Transphenoidal pituitary surgery 3/23/2006 with Dr. Johnny Delashaw at OHSU. I had a second unsuccessful pituitary surgery 10/12/06 and finally a BLA 11/7/06.

I am now cured of Cushing’s disease 2 1/2 years out from my BLA and I am still very sick, I traded Cushing’s disease for Addison’s disease, and my body does not like it. Cushing’s did a lot more damage than ever thought; I have permanent nerve damage to my lower back, damage to soft tissues throughout my body, Diabetes, High lipids, Fatty liver, I have no usable veins, I have permanent port-a-cath in now so they can access my veins for blood draws and any IV stuff I may need in emergency’s. I had my period for 1 year straight so I had a full hysterectomy 8/20/08. I am permanently panhypopituitary now, no working hormones any more. I am on all replacement hormones, except DDAVP. I ended up with a new doctor that gave me a severe case of steroid induced Cushing’s. I am still dealing with this aftermath; the details are in my timeline. My timeline will update you as to where I am at now. I will try to keep the timeline updated so you know where I am at as far as getting better.

Please don’t let this scare you, most people are cured and go on to live lives as best they can, and a lot of people are doing very well. Towards the end of my Cushing’s I went full blown, Dr.Ludlam told me this was a progressive disease and in me this was the case.

So if you believe you have Cushing’s, get to a specialist that knows Cushing’s disease, don’t waste time on doctors that do not know the disease, it is so worth it in the end to get to the right doctor. This disease is one of the hardest endocrine diseases to diagnose. Cushings_help.com/ founder MaryO has been a lifesaver for me and still is, I have met people from all over the country, over the years I have made many friends that have, had or are still in the diagnostic phase.

I live in a small town of around 10,000 people and I hear all the time, oh I know so and so that had or has a pituitary tumor. What I am finding out is there are a lot of people in this town that have this disease, it is suppose to be rare, one in a million, my next goal is to get my story out and have local people contact me, then start a support group. Maybe get some accurate numbers of actual pituitary/brain tumors and find out why this is happening in this small town. It will be a big adventure but if it saved even one life it will be worth it. I know of 3 definite pituitary Cushing’s cases so far.

My Timeline of illness to diagnosis

3rd pregnancy 1994 pre-term labor again, stopped, gestational diabetes, son born 3 weeks early and I got toxemia after my son was born, was told this is very rare. I should have known RARE would be a word I would hear a lot in my future.

1995-Left breast discharge, surgical biopsy done, lump removal of marble size, this should have signaled a full hormonal work-up, but didn’t. No cancer.

1997-1999 Depression and severe anxiety with panic attacks…Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Weight 130#

1999- First occurrence of unknown mystery illness. Hypertension, fatigue, flushing, swelling of face, hives, and much more that lasted several months. Sick on and off with mystery illness. Tumor was turning on and off.

April 1999-2004-Severe nausea and vomiting, extreme fatigue, weight gain of 50# in about 1 years time, headaches, dizziness, hypertension, tachycardia, muscle and bone pain, malor rash, other rashes, IBS, occasional unexplained low grade fevers, anxiety and depression much worse, increased hirsutism, almost constant mouth sores, memory loss, cognitive difficulties, loss of coordination, syncope, excessive energy spurts, insomnia.

**Off work for 3 months April-June due to symptoms…Saw PCP, Gastroenterologist, Rheumatologist and Cardiologist… diagnosis Peptic ulcer/Chronis Gastritis and Chronic pain Syndrome and Tachycardia/Hypertension. Abdominal/Pelvic Cat scan done and fatty liver noted. High Cholesterol and Triglycerides discovered.

Nov-2004 My Psychiatrist was the first to mention Cushing’s or a Pheochromocytoma; he felt all my symptoms where due to endocrinology. He did not want to see me again until I was seen at OHSU. I have never seen him again due to insurance change. I really need to thank him.

Dec-2004 10# weight gain in 1 week with severe abdominal distention….another Cat scan done, lymph nodes around vena cava where enlarged.

Jan-2005 Went to OHSU for diagnosis….First saw an endocrinologist that was not experienced with Cushing’s, she ordered 1 UFC and 2 midnight saliva tests, and told me to test when I felt my worst; Tests where low so she felt my symptoms where not due to my endocrine system. Boy was she wrong. I needed to test when I felt good, or high.

Feb-2005 Went to the Pituitary Unit at OHSU and saw Dr.Ludlam, he believed that I had Cushing’s but we needed to prove it. MRI saw adenoma on right side displacing pituitary to the left. He originally thought he saw tumors on both sides, he was right. Lot’s of testing done. Testing did not prove it yet. Dr believes I am Cyclic. It took 1 year for diagnoses from Dr.Ludlam.

April-2005 Peripheral vision test done by local optometrist, showed some peripheral loss in left eye.

May 2005-Lot’s more Cushing’s testing, PICC line in all month. Major dizziness, passed out and fell this month. Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes but cannot treat due to extreme highs and lows, trying to control glucose with diet. I have very high and low Cortisol days. I am very cyclic at this point.

June/July 2005-Three TIA like event’s… left sided weakness and numbness. Saw Neurologist that sent me to Neurologist at OHSU. Found three new white matter lesions seen on my brain MRI. Unknown cause. 5 in all now.

August 2005-Had to leave my beloved job teaching Medical Assistants due to symptoms. I had one more TIA like event.

Sep-2005 Neurologist at OHSU ran several tests and came to the conclusion that if in fact we could prove Cushing’s, all of my symptoms where due to this disease. I stopped all medications by choice.

Nov-2005 I went back for extensive testing at OHSU with Dr.Ludlam and sure enough the numbers started proving my case. Very high midnight serum Cortisol’s among other high tests.

Jan/Feb 2006-PICC line in and extensive Cushing’s testing done with CSS in Feb. CSS showed left sided gradient strongly. Cortisol numbers have proven my case, finally…. I had a midnight serum Cortisol of 34.1, the Midnight Salivaries, Midnight Serum Cortisol, UFC’s and CSS all positive for Cushing’s disease.

March 23, 2006 I finally had Pituitary surgery at OHSU, they found the tumor on the left side bigger than originally though and removed the whole left half of my Pituitary gland. I was in the hospital for 6-days due to complications of Diabetes Insipitus and Adrenal Insuffiency.

April-2006 Seen in the ER 3 times. Hospitalized for 4 days again due to complications, Blood cultures showed infection. I am on very high doses of Hydrocortisone and also taking DDAVP for the Diabetes Insipitus.

April 2006- I am finally getting better somewhat…..This has been one heck of a roller coaster ride. I am now on Hydrocortisone 40/40/30. I am told we won’t know if I am cured for 3-6 month’s.

June 5, 2006- Off Hydrocortisone stimulated my Cortisol to 24 on the ACTH stim test.

August, 2006- Not cured, testing again!!! I had that gut feeling when I woke from the first surgery. I just knew…

October 12, 2006- Second Pituitary surgery, more tumor on right side, most of my pituitary gland removed. Surgery unsuccessful, still have Cushing’s disease.

November 7, 2006- BLA …soon to be cured of Cushing’s.

Dec 2006/Jan 2007- Very sick due to another blood infection. Lot’s of adrenal crises due to infections. 3 blood infections to date.

November 2008- 2 years out from my BLA and I am still very sick, I traded Cushing’s disease for Addison’s disease, and my body does not like it. Towards the end of my Cushing’s I went full blown, Dr.Ludlam told me this was a progressive disease and in me this was the case. Cushing’s did a lot more damage than ever thought; I have permanent nerve damage to my lower back requiring permanent narcotic pain relief through a pain center, damage to soft tissues throughout my body, diabetes, high lipids, fatty liver (NASH), Osteopenia, I have no usable veins, they are destroyed due to the high Cortisol, I have permanent port-a-cath in now so they can access my veins for blood draws and any IV stuff I may need, I had my period for 1 year straight because of lack of appropriate hormones after my surgeries so I had a full hysterectomy 8/20/08. I am permanently panhypopituitary now, no working pituitary hormones any more at all. I must replace all pituitary hormones, except DDAVP. Please don’t let this scare you, most people are cured and go on to live lives as best they can, and a lot of people are doing very well.

June 21, 2009-Since writing in November I sat on the couch in severe AI until around September when I was put with a doctor that has been seeing Cushing’s patients for 38 years, he put me a on a very high dose of Dexamthasone and Florinef and forgot about me, he ended up with cancer and is no longer seeing patients. In the meantime, I got severe steroid induced Cushing’s and have had severe complications from it. I started falling from atrophied muscles and broke both hips, I ended up in a wheelchair, which I am happy to say I am out of now, had to have surgery on my left hip to pin it, it is still not healing, I am having absorption issues with calcium, iron, vitamins, minerals and meds. So I have to do my DEX by injections. We are now trying to find out why I am having absorption issues. I have a new endo at OHSU Dr.V and he is wonderful. He has brought my steroids down to a safe level and did it slow. He really seems to know his stuff as far as after care. I do not think he does the diagnosis process for Cushing’s. I would definitely go back to Dr.Ludlam if I had to go through it again. But I know there are many other great Cushing’s experts out there, this was just my experience. I know I will get better, but it may be a while. I am still at home handicapped, can barely go to the grocery store and I do not drive as I am on a high dose of Morphine. My goal is to get my pain under a 5 and be able to drive myself around. That is a good goal for now. Then on to finding out why my small town has so many tumors and starting a support group. I just need to get to a point where I feel I can be a good advocate for Cushing’s and right now I can’t. But that is the goal.

Nov 16, 2009

I am still not well, I have broken my ankle, have no idea how, woke up one morning and it was broken. I am almost down to my 1/2 mg of DEX and am happy about that. had 2 surgeries in Sep and Oct on both elbows for ulnar nerve decompression. The first surgery got infected and a week later I had sepsis, which they think I had a small bowel preferation that healed itself. I was ambulanced up to OHSU and was in AI. It was a very rare bowel bacteria running through my blood stream, I was very sick. I just want to get well, but for some reason I am going through one thing after another. I am praying that 2010 will be my year of healing and I will have a good quaility of life then.That is what I am counting on.

UPDATE January 23, 2016

2016: wow has the past few years have been a roller coaster. I don’t know dates because I’m having memory issues at 47 years old.

I have had 5 port-a-caths. I kept getting sepsis and every time they would take me to surgery and remove my port. Then place another when I was better. I have no veins that work. So I received IV port fluids 2-3x a week. I just recently had sepsis, when I get it I have a 50/50 % chance of survival. They removed my port and did not place another. So no more fluids which was for Pots. I had labs done through my port every 2 weeks. Now everything stopped. I am producing small amounts of cortisol. After a BLA.

Intermittently. I am just now starting to feel good for 2 weeks now. I have started the exercise program called T-Tapp. I love it. No jumping or hard moves. 15 min and that’s it. I am a grandma of 2 and one due any day.

So for now I hope I’m on the road to recovery at least the best I can.

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Sharmyn, In the Media

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From 2022:

Sharmyn McGraw knows as much about pituitary disease as some doctors.

She learned about it after struggling for years with a medical mystery that began in 1993. First, she began to feel anxious. Then, she began to gain weight, and she developed a rash. Much of her hair fell out. Her eyes began to yellow and her face puffed up. Different doctors gave her different explanations. They told her she was allergic to caffeine. That she was just retaining water. That she was beginning menopause.

In the end, none of those things turned out to be true. She finally figured out that she had Cushing’s Disease, which is caused by excess production of the hormone cortisol, which, in her case, was caused by a tumor on her pituitary gland.

Listen to this episode to find out how Sharmyn got to the bottom of her medical mystery with the help of Dr. Dan Kelly, and how she uses years of knowledge to help others suffering from pituitary diseases through the support group she founded at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute.

 


From 2019:

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

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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Share Your Experiences with Cushing’s

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The popular website “How Stuff Work”s is doing a survey of all kinds of diseases and Cushing’s is one of them!

Share your information and help get the word out to the world in general.

(I’m MaryO on there and I shared about my pituitary surgery and its aftermath.  I hope this info helps someone else like these boards and related websites have)

The idea is simple. Everyone shares their experiences with different treatments. StuffThatWorks automatically transforms these experiences into data about which treatments work best, and for whom

The questionnaire is here: https://stuff.health/s/u0A9djA5

Together, we’ll figure out which treatments work best for Cushing’s syndrome.

 

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Pituitary Cushing’s In the News!

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She experienced extreme weight gain, thin skin and a racing heart. It took years to finally solve the medical mystery.

Angela Yawn went to a dozen doctors before finally getting a diagnosis for her life-disrupting symptoms. Angela Yawn went to a dozen doctors before finally getting a diagnosis for her life-disrupting symptoms.Courtesy Angela Yawn

 

 / Source: TODAY

When a swarm of seemingly unrelated symptoms disrupted Angela Yawn’s life, she thought she was going crazy.

She gained weight — 115 pounds over six years — even as she tried to eat less. Her skin tore easily and bruises would stay on her body for months. Her face would suddenly turn blood red and hot to the touch as if she had a severe sunburn. She suffered from joint swelling and headaches. She felt tired, anxious and depressed. Her hair was falling out.

Then, there was the racing heart.

“I would put my hand on my chest because it made me feel like that’s what I needed to do to hold my heart in,” Yawn, 49, who lives in Griffin, Georgia, told TODAY.

“I noticed it during the day, but at night when I was trying to lie down and sleep, it was worse because I could do nothing but hear it beat, feel it thump.”

Yawn, seen here before the symptoms began, had no problems with weight before. Yawn, seen here before the symptoms began, had no problems with weight before.Courtesy Angela Yawn

Yawn was especially frustrated by the weight gain. Even when she ate just 600 calories a day — consuming mostly lettuce leaves — she was still gaining about 2 pounds a day, she recalled. A doctor told her to exercise more.

Yawn gained 115 pounds over six years. "When the weight really started to pile on, I stayed away from cameras as I felt horrible about myself and looking back at this picture is still very embarrassing for me but I wanted (people) to see what this disease has the potential to do if not diagnosed," she said. Yawn gained 115 pounds over six years. “When the weight really started to pile on, I stayed away from cameras as I felt horrible about myself and looking back at this picture is still very embarrassing for me but I wanted (people) to see what this disease has the potential to do if not diagnosed,” she said.Courtesy Angela Yawn

In all, Yawn went to a dozen doctors and was treated for high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, but nothing helped. As a last resort, she sought out an endocrinologist in February of 2021 and broke down in her office.

“That was the last hope I had of just not lying down and dying because at that point, that’s what I wanted to do,” Yawn said.

“I thought the problem was me. I thought that I’m making up these issues, that maybe I’m bipolar. I was going crazy.”

What is Cushing disease?

When the endocrinologist suddenly started listing all of her symptoms without being prompted, Yawn stopped crying.

Blood tests and an MRI finally confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: Yawn had a tumor in her pituitary gland — a pea-size organ at the base of the brain — that was causing the gland to release too much adrenocorticotropic hormone. That, in turn, flooded her body with cortisol, a steroid hormone that’s normally released in response to stress or danger. The resulting condition is called Cushing disease.

Imagine the adrenaline rush you’d get while jumping out of an airplane and skydiving — that’s what Yawn felt all the time, with harmful side-effects.

Yawn was making six times the cortisol she needed, said Dr. Nelson Oyesiku, chair of neurosurgery at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who removed her tumor last fall.

“That’s a trailer load of cortisol. Day in, day out, morning, noon and night, whether you need it or not, your body just keeps making this excess cortisol. It can wreak havoc in the body physiology and metabolism,” Oyesiku told TODAY.

The steroid regulates blood pressure and heart rate, which is why Yawn’s skin was flushed and her heart was racing, he noted. It can regulate how fat is burned and deposited in the body, which is why Yawn was gaining weight. Other effects of the steroid’s overproduction include fatigue, thin skin with easy bruising, mental changes and high blood sugar.

Cushing disease is rare, affecting about five people per million each year, so most doctors will spend their careers without ever coming across a case, Oyesiku said. That’s why patients often go years without being diagnosed: When they complain of blood sugar problems or a racing heart, they’ll be treated for much more common issues like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Pituitary gland is hard to reach

Removing Yawn’s tumor in September of 2021 would require careful maneuvering.

If you think of the head as a ball, the pituitary gland sits right at the center, between the ears, between the eyes and about 4 inches behind the nose, Oyesiku said. It’s called the “master gland” because it regulates other glands in the body that make hormones, he noted.

Pituitary gland - female brain anatomy lateral view The location of the pituitary gland makes it heard to reach.janulla / Getty Images

It’s a very difficult spot to reach. To get to it, Oyesiku made an incision deep inside Yawn’s nose in a small cavity called the sphenoid sinus. Using a long, thin tube that carried a light and a camera, he reached the tiny tumor — about the size of a rice grain — and removed it using special instruments. The surgery took four hours.

The potential risk is high: The area is surrounded by vessels that carry blood to the brain, and it’s right underneath optic nerves necessary for a person to see. If things go wrong, patients can become blind, brain dead, or die.

Recovery from surgery

Today, Yawn is slowly returning to normal. She has lost 41 pounds and continues to lose weight. Her hair is no longer falling out.

But patients sometimes require months or even a few years to adjust to normal cortisol levels.

“It takes some time to unwind the effects of chronic exposure to steroids, so your body has to adapt to the new world order as the effects of the steroids recede,” Oyesiku said.

"My life was on hold for five years... I'm trying not to be too impatient," Yawn said. “My life was on hold for five years… I’m trying not to be too impatient,” Yawn said.Courtesy Angela Yawn

Yawn’s body was so used to that higher cortisol level that she’s had to rely on steroid supplements to feel normal after the surgery. It’s like an addict going through withdrawal, she noted.

The next step is finishing another cycle of supplements and then slowly tapering off them so that her body figures out how to function without the steroid overload.

“I am definitely moving in the right direction,” she said. “I hope that I’ll get back to that woman I used to be — in mind, body and spirit.”

In Memory: Alena Renea Weeks Greenhill ~ March 30, 2007

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in-memory

March 30, 2007

AIKEN – Ms. Alena Renea Weeks Greenhill, 31, of Aiken, died Friday, March 30, 2007 at her residence. Funeral services will be held at 3:00 PM Wednesday in the Shellhouse-Rivers Funeral Home Chapel. Reverend Robert Rish will officiate. Interment will follow in the Clearwater Branch Baptist Church Cemetery.

Pallbearers will be Joshua Weeks, Jim Rutland, Morgan Weeks, Greg Smith, Jimmy Jones, and Charles Jones.

Renea was born in Aiken, a daughter of Gail Weeks, Aiken; and James “Randy” and Debbie Weeks, Aiken. She was a lifelong resident, and worked as a medical assistant at the Women’s Health Association.

In addition to her children, Olivia Ann “Libby” and David Randall “DJ” Greenhill, survivors are a sister, Dawn Rutland (Jim) Aiken; a brother Joshua Weeks (Melissa) Aiken; Nikki Weeks, Aiken, Danielle Smith, Aiken; Greg Smith (Maria), Aiken; Kasey Smith, Aiken; JerriLynn Smith, Lincolnton; a maternal grandmother, Joyce Weeks, Aiken; a paternal grandmother, Harriette Weeks, Aiken; twelve nieces and nephews; and her special friend, Jimmy Jones, Aiken.

A niece, Taylor Weeks, and a grandfather, Gene Weeks, preceded her in death.

Please visit Renea’s online memorial at shellhouseriversfuneralhome.com

The family will receive friends at the residence of Joshua Weeks, 2334 Wire Road, Aiken on Tuesday from 12-5 PM and from 6-8 PM Tuesday evening at Shellhouse-Rivers Funeral Home, Inc., 715 East Pine Log Rd., Aiken, SC.


From my email:

Mary, I got a call tonight from Renea Greenhill’s mom who told me that Renea died Friday night. Renea was from Aiken, SC and was on the board until she did not have a computer anymore. She had tried to get groups together in SC. She had left a note that if she died that her mother was to call me and I was to let everyone on the Cushing’s board know of her death. Her mother had seen her on Friday night and talked with her later. Her boyfriend came over and found her on the floor. He called her mother who told him to call 911. He did and her mother got right over there. 911 got there, but did not attempt to revive her and she was to be an organ donor and the organs could not be used. She was dead. An autopsy found nothing wrong with her physically. I told her mother that I bet she died of an adrenal crisis and told her mother to call the coroner to have them do tests for that. She was very appreciative of my thinking of this and was going to call. Renea had been to see Dr. Laws for surgery several years ago. She ended up with meningitis from surgery there. She ended up in critical care at the Medical University of SC. Later had her adrenal glands removed. She had “beat” cushings her mother said. She had lost over 300 lbs. She has two young children who are now without a mother. Her husband had divorced her several years ago, so she was rearing the children as a single mom. Please pass this on to everyone for me for Renea at her request if this happened to her. She loved her Cushing’s friends. Below is her obit. Memorials are to be made to the Cushing’s group.

On the message boards:

• I knew Renea – I met her the Tennessee CUSH Conference. What a shame sad.gif

• I am sorry to hear of Renea’s passing…thank you for sharing with us. Condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.

• So very young — so very sad.

• My Goodness, she was so very young. This is a startling reminder how serious an adrenal crisis can be. Thank you for carrying out her wishes to let us know.

• Oh my…

I talked with Renea a few months ago. It may not have been adrenal crisis, but it may have, as Renea, after her BLA, didn’t need replacement. She hadn’t taken hydro for some year(s), and yet her cortisol was always “0”. The doctors would just scratch their heads.

Thanks for posting Mary. My prayers are with her and her family.

• I am so sorry to hear about this. My prayers go out to her children and her family. What is scary to me is the fact that, considering her history no one there thought to check to see if an adrenal crisis was responsible.

• How terribly sad. And the two young kiddies too. She sounds a remarkable woman. Very sad indeed.

• I am absolutely heartbroken over Renea’s death. She was far too young and she already suffered so much. I hope her kids know how much she loved them. I have been struggling with my own health issues lately and her death brings home just how dangerous our lives can be.

I hope she is at peace and that her family is able to cope with her death. I am so very sorry that we lost such a great person. Renea was a great source of strength for me and I will miss her dearly.

• Very sad news! My thoughts are with her family and her children.

• Thoughts with her family and children. Her mother must be devastated. I hope she can read the posts and know she’s thought of.
Very sad for these children to lose their mother at such a young age.

• My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

• How very sad. So young, and had already been through so much.

My thoughts are with her family & friends

• So very sad. So young , & so much still ahead of her.

In my prayers

• I wonder if they checked her for Nelson’s also? She looks very tan. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

• Such a sad ending to a beautiful life. Sending peaceful thoughts to her family..

• It is very sad to fight that hard… and then the family does not know why… my thoughts and prayers are with them… It breaks my heart to think that she had to suffer so much, but she must have been such a strong, brave person to go through it. My prayers are with the family..

• How sad – she was so young. My sympathies to her children and all of her family.

• I’m so sorry to hear that another Dear Cushie was lost, I remember Renea from the old board mostly and remember how, very sick she was after her surgery, as others said she was way too young, and I’m sure her family and friends will miss her so very much. Someone we have to get all doctors on board to realize how very serious this illness is, not just a few who are out West, we all know they are good doctors, but we need some good ones in the Midwest, in the South, in the East, I know there are some, but we need more pit centers and more pit spealist on understands the devastating and life or death realality some of these pituitary tumors or adrenal tumors can cause.

I’m so sorry to learn on this happening to a dear cushie I remember from the boards.

• My prayers to her family. May God bless and keep her children. I can’t imagine how hard this is for them.

Surviving Cushing’s: Area woman hit by rare disease

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Gina Gregoire Helton is certain if she had a dollar for every time she has heard the word “rare,” she’d be a rich woman.

She has a lot to be thankful for. She’s been married to Sean, the love of her life, since 2011. She has a warm, gregarious family consisting of eight sisters, three brothers, over 30 nieces and nephews and two loving parents, Charles and Denise Gregoire of DeWitt.

But in April 2012, Helton started to experience disturbing symptoms. She had sudden-onset hip pain. A few months later, she had unexplained hair loss and breakage. Deep, red and purple stretch marks, also known as striae, started appearing on her skin.

They were painful and she credits them for essentially saving her life.

“They were the ‘red flag’ that something was definitely not right,” Helton says.

She went to see her doctor, Dr. Jennifer Bell at Genesis Health Group in DeWitt, who admitted she was stumped. Yet, based on the presence of the striae, Bell wanted to test one more thing – Helton’s cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a life-sustaining adrenal hormone that influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Those changes include blood sugar (glucose) levels, fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose; immune responses; and anti-inflammatory actions.

As it turned out, her levels were abnormally high. Bell referred her to a specialist in the endocrinology department at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) in Iowa City. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, but further testing showed Helton’s levels consistently remained extremely elevated.

That was the first time she had ever heard of Cushing’s disease.

Helton had nearly every single symptom of the disease that affects less than 200,000 people in the United States.

In addition to hip and back pain, hair breakage and stretch marks, she suffered from moon face, frequent bruising, depression and anxiety, weight gain, frequent urination, high blood pressure and muscle atrophy.

“I was extremely relieved to have a diagnosis,” Helton says. “At the same time, I was scared as I started to learn more about Cushing’s disease and what it can do to your body. There are people dying from this because of improper diagnosis. I was blessed my doctor at UIHC was educated on the disease.”

Most individuals diagnosed with Cushing’s have a tumor on their pituitary or adrenal glands.

Helton’s tumor, however, was located on her lung. Fortunately, her doctor decided to scan that area of her body and discovered the tumor.

In November, Helton underwent surgery to remove the tumor in her chest. However, during the procedure, some microscopic-sized tissue was left behind. So, in January, she found herself in the operating room once again. However, in order to get rid of the remaining tissue, the surgeons’ only option was to remove Helton’s entire left lung.

The situation went from bad to worse when it was discovered the tumor was malignant. It was a very rare tumor called a carcinoid tumor. These tumors are slow-growing cancers that typically start in the lining of the digestive tract or lungs.

After they took her lung, doctors noticed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Members of the oncology department recommended chemotherapy and radiation as treatment.

Because her particular condition is so rare, doctors cannot say definitively what Helton’s prognosis is. Living with only one lung, her physical activity is restricted. Yet, Helton is partaking in water exercise to help ease the pain in her hips and keep her muscles strong. While climbing the stairs is a major obstacle, she intends to participate in the next Fight for Air Climb in Des Moines sponsored by the American Lung Association.

It may take her longer to reach the top than most, but she has made it her goal to finish.

Helton also plans to become an advocate for the Cushing’s disease community. She has yet to meet anyone else in person who suffers from the condition, but has connected with hundreds of them through social media.

In particular, Helton has made contact with Dr. Karen Thames from Chicago. She has been diagnosed with Cushing’s and is working on a documentary called “The War to Survive Cushing’s Disease.”

Helton says the experience has dramatically changed her attitude and outlook on life. She no longer “sweats the small stuff” and her relationships with her loved ones have become stronger.

As for people who are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with Cushing’s, Helton encourages them to seek help.

Even if there are no immediate answers, don’t give up.

“If you are experiencing something with your body that doesn’t seem right, keep seeking help. There is a doctor out there somewhere that will help you. We all know our bodies and when something is wrong.

“My faith and relationship with God has grown tremendously. I count my blessings daily. That is the silver lining. My favorite quote is, ‘Everyone you meet may be fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.'”

via Surviving Cushing’s: Area woman hit by rare disease.

 

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