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Aimee, Adrenal Bio

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I am the daughter of a Cushing’s patient who is workning on her BLA and switch. My mom is not always able to be on line, but is very interested in the networking that this site offers. So for right now I am the deligate and the Patient advocate whenever she is in the hospital.

Mom’s (Pat) history is complicated and lots of different turns have taken place. She was diagnosed very late into her case and has often had the worst of what can happen happen. A true trooper through it all but she is starting to really lose the desire to fight and yet more and more is happening. So I am hoping that the networking will help give her the little boost that she needs.

The brief run down: diagnosed Cushing’s, Pituitary surger (no tumor found), gama knife surger, chemical treatment, 4 – 5 years of sitting on the edge and then 4 years building back up to full blown Cushings.

Now she is have BLA in Feb. 08 and we are hoping to move forward. During the time between full blown she had 2 back fusions (1 did not take and will have to be redone) 2 knee replacements, and an assortment of other stuff. So as you can guess he poor body is worn out and ready for a rest.

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Correy D (Cushie Correy), Pituitary Bio

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pituitary-location
In the beginning:

This journey started long before I knew it did. I was healthy for the first 27 years of my life. Around 27 or 28 I started having problems. It started with high blood pressure. No problem, that runs in the family. Medication will solve that. Around 30 there was something more strange going on. I still produced milk even though my youngest was 5. My doctor sent me in for a galactogram (a mammogram with dye injected in my glands). It came back normal. My breast and mammary glands were fine.

Over the next few years came depression, weight gain regardless of diet and exercise, and random muscle strains. My doctor said to try a little harder and eat a little better. I threw my hands up in the air. I had already tried everything and still I was gaining. This went on from 2009 to about June of this year.

In June of 2013 I broke a rib when I was trying to crack my back. June of 2014 I broke another one on the opposite side when I was coughing. Finally, my doctor took notice. All the sudden my previous diagnosis were not individual issues, but symptoms of a bigger problem. Cushing’s disease has a laundry list of symptoms and I had almost all of them. I had already mentioned lactation, high blood pressure, depression, weight gain and brittle bones. I also had other symptoms I was not even aware of. My face had become round and red, most of my weight accumulated in my torso, there was a pronounced fat hump on my upper back, there were purple marks on my belly (striae) which I had thought were stretch marks, my face had become fuzzy, and I hadn’t had a period in at least 7 years.

The symptoms weren’t enough for a diagnosis. My doctor orders labs for hormone levels, cortisol levels, and I don’t know what else (about 5 blood vials worth). These came back with high cortisol levels and enough other oddities that I was referred on to an endocrinologist. This doctor did the first panel of tests over and added a few more. It seemed that everyone knew what it was but no one wanted to be the one to diagnose Cushing’s.

Now there are only a couple of things that can cause Cushing’s. The first is steroid abuse…ummm, no. The second is a tumor either on the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland. These marvelous tests determined that it was the pituitary version because if it was adrenal only cortisol would have been effected. The pituitary gland controls a myriad of chemicals in your body and all my levels were off.

OK, so they were convinced it was Cushing’s, now we just had to see the tumor to prove it…MRI time. I don’t know if you have ever had an MRI but I despise them. Reasons, I am claustrophobic and very large. It was a horrible experience resulting in fuzzy images, but they were clear enough to show a tumor sitting square on my pituitary gland. For those who have not looked it up by now the pituitary is on the front (face) side of your brain, settled in between the major artery and vein in your head, right behind your eye balls and sinus cavity. This is not a convenient place to have a tumor.

The endocrinologist then referred me to a neurosurgeon. The local surgeon referred my case to Mayo Clinic of Minnesota. So, we are talking tests and waiting from June through September. I was told to report to Mayo September 23rd. I was given the impression I would meet the doc and be scheduled for surgery Wednesday or Thursday. This was not so.

I brought a team with me: my sister, Amanda and her friend Athena and my bestie Lauren. We first met with the Mayo endocrinologist, Dr. Abboud. He decided he wanted to run his own tests there before there would be a surgery. He did blood test, urine tests, even saliva tests. In the meantime, I met the neurosurgeon up there, Dr. Von Gompel. He explained the surgery and scheduled it for September 30th 2014.

Here are my Facebook posts from this time:

9/23 First Mayo Update:

I met with Dr. Charles Abboud, Endocrinologist and we did an in-depth evaluation of my symptoms, physical characteristics, and medical history. There are so many things that I have considered normal for me over the past 8 years that are related to this disease. It’s nutso pants.

Anyways, it was determined before surgery they want to do more scans and testing because although it is likely the pituitary tumor is the cause, I may have other contributing tumors elsewhere. This means I will likely be up here longer than anticipated with surgery delayed for a minimum of 3 days to get results on this battery of testing. More to follow…

9/23 Second Mayo Update:

I have now received the schedule for the week. I will have more scans to be sure there are no tumors elsewhere. I will also have various test on bodily fluids, secretions, swabbings and their reactions to different medications throughout the week.

I met with the neurosurgeon, Dr. Jamie Van Gompel this afternoon. This was the appointment in which they gave me the assessment of what the surgery would entail for my case specifically, risks, odds of complications and most importantly a date. The trans sphenoidal endoscopic surgery (I feel so smart) will be next Tuesday now. Until then more waiting…and testing…and more waiting.

Sept. 24

Yesterday was information overload. Between consultations and running floors 1-19 of the clinic multiple times then making extended hotel arrangements and Walgreen’s runs I was exhausted x12.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On to today: I am finally closing out day one of excessive testing. Upon arrival at the clinic I turned in samples of #’s 1 and 2 and saliva (all separate, thank gods). Due to my claustrophobia, we opted for wheelchair when using the elevators (I had collapsed yesterday when one got too full on me.)

At 8 am there were 6 vials of blood drawn, 9:30 a chest x-ray, then a info session for my sleep study tonight, next a midsection CT scan with contrast (holy warm sauce) and finally another blood draw for my PM cortisol levels. Whew…donsies!!!

Sept 24

I have difficulty sleeping without a fan. I have not slept well the past couple of nights because of lack of air movement. I was all ready to run to Target and buy one when Lauren was like, I’ll just call the front desk and see if they have them. This is me being used to self-reliance vs actual customer service. My sleep study is saved. Now we’ll see if I legitimately stop breathing.

Sept 26

Friday update:

The past couple of days have been kind of slow compared to the first couple here. Yesterday completed my sleep study and CT looking for additional Timons, results still pending. Today I had a bone density test. This shit gave me osteoporosis. That’s why my ribs kept breaking. Over the weekend, I’ll have more ‘sample collections’ and blood draws and attempt to not be bored to death in between.

On the plus side the weather has been gorgeous, I have had muchos girl/sissy time, and in a town like this survival stories abound.

Have a GREAT weekend!!

Sept 29

Case of the Mayo Mondays:

Today began with another blood test. This one, the lab tech had to get an IV which is generally not an issue for me. This time the guy blew out two veins. The 3rd try he “kind of” a clear one in my hand. Through this he had to do medication injections and blood draws at 15 minute intervals for an hour and a half. This resulted in knots in 3 places where veins used to reside.

Next up was a head CT to map my brain. This was interesting to me. I got another IV (a clear one this time) for contrast dye, nodes stuck all over my face and head, and run through a CT scanner. From this they will make a map of the blood vessels through my head to help the surgeon navigate tomorrow. They removed the nodes but left dots in permanent marker and tape over them so they do not get wiped off before tomorrow. It will be interesting walking around town tonight.

I am done with appointments for the day. Whoop!

The good news of the day: The chest CT showed “multiple healing rib fractures” but no more Timones. Yay!!

At 8:30 tonight I will call an automated system, enter my patient ID, and find out what time to report for duty tomorrow. I must find distraction. I am starting to get anxious. Can it be next week already?

Sept 29 Post 2

Reporting for duty at 5:45 am central.

Tomorrow determines if I get to continue to eat vegetables or become one…

Sept 30 I registered at St. Mary’s Hospital and got settled in. Surgery began at 9:25. I was done around 13:00.

Oct 1

My first post-surgery post

Timone is gone. I am tired.

Oct 2

Hey all, got behind on the updates because a lot has changed very quickly. I have “complications”. Please keep positive energy pointed this direction. I may be up here for a while now.later Oct 2

If medical stuff makes you icky, keep scrolling.

So here’s the run down after surgery. The tumor removal itself went well. They believe they got the whole thing without much damage to the pituitary gland. The two issues that remain are post-surgery my cerebral spinal fluid (csf) sprung a leak and the Cushing’s disease that the tumor caused kicked in.

A few hours after surgery I started dripping/ running clear “snot” from my nose. It only happened when I was upright or leaned forward. The fluid was tested and determined to be csf. Now a person cannot just go around leaking brain juice so action had to be taken. The doctors put in a lumbar puncture and are draining spinal fluid every two hours. This will take the pressure off my head and give it a chance to heal. This means I am here at least till Sunday. If this does not work, they must go back in and manually patch the leak.

The Cushing disease also kicked in full effect today. That meant today with the tumor gone the excess amounts of cortisol my body was used to stopped and I crashed. This would be like a meth head going cold turkey. This morning was spent trying to find the right steroid/ dose to balance me back out. With luck, I will be able to wean off these eventually.

As they steroids are currently wearing off again I’m going to sleep because I don’t really have a choice. NITE ALL!!!

Oct 6

So I know it’s been a while….

The day after my last update they put in a lumbar puncture and connected a drain to it. 10 ml of csf was drained every 2 hours for 2 days. This took the pressure off my brain= no more leakage= time to heal. I have also been sleeping almost nonstop. It seems to have worked, no more nose leakage. They drained 30 ml this morning and will do one more drain tomorrow AM and if no more leakage I will get all my departing instructions and GET TO LEAVE.

Next challenge: re-balancing my chemical physiology.

Oct 7

This morning I woke up in Minnesota, still in the hospital. They stole more blood, drained more csf, and pulled that thing out of my back. Best news of the day: After they pulled out the drain my nose did not start leaking again. This meant I was clear to leave…woot!

Paperwork, discharge instructions, shower because ewww hospital, prescriptions, freedom. Oh no, not yet, doctor appointment with my favorite endocrinologist of all time, Dr. Abboud. So, it took a while but home we came.

I have a fuzzy head but full heart. Thank you all so much for your kind words.

Home at last and then the real Cushing’s journey began.

Home Sweet What?!?!?

I came home from Mayo October 7. Home to me may be considered a madhouse to others. My house contains my children (17-year-old girl, 10-year-old boy), my sister, 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 3 turtles. Upstairs contains my dittos and 2 of the cats; the basement homes my sister, her two dogs, and the other 2 cats; and the main level is myself, my dog (Toby), and the stupid turtles. I was happy to be going home to my madhouse.

Before the surgery I had done quite a bit of research about the symptoms of Cushing’s, the causes, the surgery itself. I had not, however researched much about Cushing’s recovery. While still in the hospital I remember sleeping, in between all the intermittent blood draws, vitals checks, and med administering. There was not much else. Once home I was initially just concerned with watching for brain juice leakage. I was not prepared for reality.

Read reality:

http://csrf.net/doctors-articles/recovery/recovery-from-cushings-and-coping-with-recovery/

My reality also included my madhouse. For as full as my house is I spend most of my days alone. My sis works nights so she is sleeping during my waking hours and gone overnight, the dittos are in school and the girl works nights. The cats are on their respective floors. It’s just me and my Toby since the turtles are not for me. When I’m awake, I look around and see all the things I could be doing if I was mobile. The floors need swept, dishes need done, general tidying and dusting required. It’s not that these things never get done but they could be done faster if I were able.

I have now been home a month. Physically, I was more ok when I got home than now. At that point I was still tapering down prednisone. I was still sleeping quite a bit, especially after dropping my dosage, but by the end of the week I was moving around more. After a few weeks, the tapering was done and I crashed once again. I am sleeping till the afternoon. I am weak to the point that moving from room to room is exercise, painful exercise. I stopped taking the prescribed pain killers so I am depending on Tylenol. Tylenol sucks ass. I also still lose words. Often, I cannot complete a sentence. I know exactly what needs to be said but the term, phrase, or name is completely gone. In my “before Cushing’s life” I was pretty flipping eloquent so this is extremely frustrating. To be honest the whole thing is frustrating. I am a strong intelligent independent woman reduced to incapable and not so eloquent blob.

A series of unfortunate events…the sequel.

I suppose I should start at the end of my last post which was flippin January for gods sake. I don’t know why I felt the need to stop writing when things started getting bad again. Documenting my recovery was so much more positive than writing about a relapse but now it’s time to catch up. Cushing’s is a journey with highs and lows. Jump on the coaster with me.

At the end of January I was on the way over a big hill on the coaster. I was doing water aerobics, getting more mobile, working with dogs again. I had my appointment with the local endo and she was dismissive. She basically said the tumor was gone and I should be losing weight faster. This is the exact reason that not just any endo should deal with Cushing’s patients. They don’t get it. Removing the tumor is only step one. Next is re-balancing hormones, then dealing with all the havoc Cushing’s has left behind. My January cortisol labs had been normal, as in recovered norm which was a recovery from the crash post op 0. It is not usual to be at normal range so soon after weaning of prednisone, but we took it for good news anyways.

By mid Feb I was starting to get nervous. I was starting to feel things, previous symptom kind of things. My skin started to break out again, I had headaches again, and I started to gain weight to spite moving more than I had in over a year. I had a follow-up MRI in February. There was the post op variances they expected and then, there it was, a new 2 mm regrowth. FML!

I did not feel good about continuing with the local endo. I could not shake the feeling she had blown me off as just another fat hypochondriac. My GP referred me down to U of I where I met Dr. Christina Ogrin. Our first appointment she took a whole afternoon to listen to my story. She told me she had never dealt with Cushing’s before but she wanted to help and she would work with her colleagues and research to see where we needed to go from if the tests confirmed a recurrence. We repeated the cortisol and other hormone tests that had just been performed in January and there was the confirmation. My cortisol was back above normal range. Dr. Ogrin contacted Dr. Abboud, my Mayo endo, to get his take on the situation. After consulting the U of I team, Dr. Abboud, and her own research, Dr. Ogrin laid out the options.

1. Operate again

2. Go on ketoconazole and get radiation

3. Try a newer medication (Signifor) to counter the cortisol and possibly shrink the tumor.

As I was just coming off of my first trans sphenoidal adenectomy, I was not eager to jump on that again. I had heard horrible things about ketoconazole so that was not a happy thought. Signifor sounded like my best option.

There were many baseline tests that had to be performed to start this process. We tested cortisol levels from blood, pee, and spit. We did a new MRI (April) which showed Marty* had already grown. I had an EKG and ultrasound of my gallbladder because Signifor can affected the heart and cause gallstones. When we did the gallbladder ultrasound there were already about 9 good sized stones present. At that point it was decided I should have it removed prior to starting the medication. Signifor also causes an increase in blood sugar and since mine was already borderline high they started me on Metformin. They tell me my gallbladder has to come out, a preventative measure since the odds if it causing problems if it stayed were close to 100%. Sweet. Here I am taking it all in stride. If that’s the next step, then that is what we will do. My coworkers were supportive and told me to put my health first. I would not lose my job. Woot!

May came in like a whirlwind. I had a pre-op appointment with general surgery to set up my gallbladder removal. A couple of days after that I was in my garage leaving for work when I lost my balance and fell forward catching myself with my arms outstretched. My balance, muscles, and bone strength had all taken a hit from the Cushing’s so my arm snapped. The break was bad, right above the elbow, there was one clean break and another longer break up the bone. One ambulance ride and many pain pills later I was admitted at St. Luke’s and informed they would have to operate. I am now the proud owner of hardware in my arm.

At this point I was already scheduled for my Laparoscopic Gallbladder Removal (Cholecystectomy) so in the beginning of June we went ahead and did that too. What is supposed to be a simple surgery went sideways when they nicked my liver. I had to have a icky drain for the bleeding. A couple weeks later I went to have the drain removed and everything looked fine. That night I starting to get sick. My temp went up, I started vomiting and my stomach hurt so much I thought I would pass out which would have been a blessing because I wanted to sleep till it was over but I could not due to the pain. I know, run on sentence, but it was a run-on couple of days. My stubborn behind would not go to the doctor because I had just been and everything was ok. Or not…

I ended up in the ER again. They transported me from St Luke’s to U of I because my liver levels were ridiculous high and the local hospital did not want to deal with my issues. Once at the U, I was admitted, poked, and prodded. By the end it was determined that I was passing a gallstone that had gotten stuck on the wrong side of the clip when they took my gallbladder. This can only happen in my world. Who passes a gallstone when they no longer have a gallbladder? This girl.

This took us to July. Dr. Ogrin was out of the country. She wanted me to take the month to recover and get used to the Metformin. We would meet when she returned to start the Signifor. And so we did. Signifor is very expensive as it is rare and there are no generics for it. Dr. Ogrin successfully fought the insurance company because there is no other FDA approved medication for pituitary Cushing’s. The first month I was on it there was little relief. My brain fog was back along with my other returned symptoms and now I also had extreme digestive issues. These were three part. Gallbladder removal itself affects digestion. The Metformin is known to cause such problems. Now the Signifor injections themselves cause nausea. After a month, I got a 2-week reprieve because the insurance company denied my renewal so now we are starting over. I will retest cortisol levels in November to see if the Signifor is doing anything aside from making me nauseous.

I have also spoken with the radiology oncology department at U of I. They have reviewed my case and I am awaiting word on whether they would recommend a single dose (gamma knife) radiation or a five-week treatment. Either way I would continue on the Signifor because the radiation results can take up to a year to show.

There you have it. The last nine months in 1500 words ish. Some have babies in 9 months. Not I, I have a series of unfortunate events.

*I named Timone’s sequel Marty for a few reasons. Marty is the zebra in Madagascar. Zebras are the animal mascot for Cushing’s because doctors have this awesome mantra that is drilled into them when they are in medical school, “If you hear hoof beats, think horses.” Well Cushing’s is one of the most misdiagnosed illnesses because our symptoms may be hoof beats but zebras have hooves too. Sorry for the tangent but it is important to the Marty explanation. In Madagascar 3, Marty has a moment that mimics the overactive distractedness that a Cushie brain knows so well. He sings and dances for his new circus friends. “Afro circus, afro circus, polka-dot, polka-dot, afro!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZYFqle7GvA (the submitted video is unavailable)

Radiation Oncology- Dr Smith

I got a call back from Dr. Smith today. University of Iowa is a teaching hospital. As such, they have interdisciplinary case meetings on Tuesdays to discuss the more complicated patients coming through the U. It is a very “5 heads are better than one” approach which I appreciate. In my case, they discussed radiation vs Trans sphenoidal adenectomy. Radiology put the case up and although it is a viable option neurosurgery believes there is a better chance for better quality of life with their option. Each specialty believes strongly in their course of action. Of course, it is all up to me.

The risk of gamma knife radiation would be hypopituitarism (disorder in which your pituitary gland fails to produce one or more of its hormones) Ironically the symptoms of hypopituitarism are like what I am already experiencing with Cushing’s. I could end up on replacement therapies for the rest of my life.

The drawbacks of the surgery are the surgery itself is traumatic, the recovery is difficult, and the failure rate is high. My first surgery left me bedridden for a couple of months. I could not afford to take that much time off again. At this point taking a day off impacts but a month…impossible.

I am torn but I did agree to meet with the neurosurgeon before going ahead with the radiation treatment. I am still processing. Neither is a very high success rate and both have negatives. The drug therapy I am on is a temporary situation. The longest it has been reported to work is 5 years. Cushing’s has a high mortality rate with no intervention. I am only 36 and have an 11-year-old son. Five years is not enough.

What do you do when all options available are just buying time?

Neurosurgery- Dr Greenlee

Today I had my neurosurgery appointment. The surgeon came in, looked at my scans and reviewed my history. This is the same doctor who had been so sure surgery would be better than radiation. He told me this time the tumor is wrapped around my carotid artery. He told me there would only be a 60% “cure rate” by going through that horrendous surgery again. Along with a higher fail rate, it would also be much higher risk of complications or death due to the position of the tumor. Looks like radiation is in my future.

I do have a follow up appointment with my endocrinologist, Dr Ogrin coming up. We will be checking my cortisol (24-hour urine Yay!) to see if the Signifor injections are having any effect. We shall see.

Testing testing…1 2 3

Every Cushie knows the frustration of testing. Cushing’s is one of those really hard to prove diseases. Our hormone levels are tested at every junction of diagnosis and treatment. Cortisol is the main hormone tested for. Cushing’s can affect several chemicals but cortisol is the steroid that causes the most damage. There are several ways cortisol is tested. Saliva- you suck on a cotton swab in between 11pm and midnight and send it off to the lab. Blood- soooo many blood tests, AM cortisol, PM cortisol, and dex suppression. And of course, the pee- most often 24 hour urine.

Every result comes with mixes emotions. When testing for a diagnosis, if you get abnormal results you are happy that you are not crazy, there really is something wrong. So many people are told there is nothing wrong with them for so long, they start to actually feel crazy. When you are testing during treatment and get a bad result, then comes the fear. What next? What does this mean for my treatment options? Am I out of options? This fear is only slightly amplified by the anxiety that comes along as a wonderful side effect of the disease itself.

Results time:

Cortisol, Urine Free – per 24 h Result

175.5 Normal Range

<=45.0 Measure

ug/d

Last week I did a 24-hour urine test. This is seriously collecting every drip for 24 hours, the results of which I got today. Considering the recent consulting appointments, I’m once again not sure which direction to go. The test show my cortisol is still high, not as high as it had been in the past. My last 24 hour was May 10th and 263.4 ug/d. At that rate 175.5 looks pretty good. The question now would be can my body take those levels long enough for the radiation to take effect? Is the immediate result of the surgery worth the 60% success rate if it can’t?

More questions than answers when test results arrive. This makes me long for the days of pass/fail pregnancy tests. At least then there was a definite answer and knowledge of options to follow.

Radio Roller Coaster

“The question now would be can my body take those levels long enough for the radiation to take effect? Is the immediate result of the surgery worth the 60% success rate if it can’t?”

These were the questions I had after receiving my last test results. My 24-hour urine cortisol had still been high. I had a follow up with Dr. Ogrin (endo). She was quite encouraged. My results were still above normal range but were much lower than my pre-medicated levels and my blood cortisol and ACTH were back down to normal range. This meant I got to stay on the Signifor and radiation was still a go.

FF to yesterday. I went to meet with Dr. Smith’s office for my pre-radio-surgery patient education and MRI. We went through the procedure and the nurse stepped out to grab whoever was taking me down to MRI. No one came back…we waited for just over an hour. I have never waited at this office before so I knew it was not good. Finally Dr. Smith comes in. I actually hadn’t expected to see him yesterday so my suspicions were confirmed. He sat down and told me my weight disqualified me from the gamma knife radiation. My options now are the full 6-week course of radiation or the trans sphenoidal adenectomy. The same surgery that I was told there was only a 60% change of success. To me, this is just not a viable option.

Every time I think there is a plan, it gets squashed. Have you gotten whiplash from my roller coaster yet? This disease got so far gone that I am too fat to be treated. I would not wish Cushing’s on my worst enemy. This thing might just kill me. All of my systems are stressed from the extra weight. My blood pressure cannot be regulated. Signifor has made me officially diabetic. Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!

Reverse: Part way through this post Dr. Smith called. After discussing my case with his colleagues, he was reminded they were upgrading one of the radio surgery stations and it would no longer have the weight restrictions. I’ll have to wait till mid-December but Gamma Knife is still a possibility. This is truly good news because the success rate with radio surgery is so much higher than standard ration treatment.

Every disappointment is just a moment in time. You stay because you get the counter moment eventually. BUT if my life were a movie, I wouldn’t watch it, I’m just sayin…

Signifor

Signifor is the supposed miracle treatment for pituitary Cushing’s, the only drug officially approved to treat the disease. When my first surgery failed, I was not really wanting to get right into another one, Dr. Ogrin did some research and jumped on this as an option for me. My endo is not a Cushing’s specialist but she is very enthusiastic and willing to put in the work so her excitement was infectious (haha). There were a couple of hurdles to overcome before actually starting treatment. The medication is a twice daily injection. The cost is approximately 12,000 per month. In order to get the insurance company to cover it we had to do many preliminary tests and baselines for future tracking. There were the normal cortisol level tests (blood, urine, and saliva), EEG, and ultrasound of my gallbladder as Signifor often caused gallstones. During the ultrasound, it was found that I already had about a dozen gallstones. The stones were not irritated but since they were only going to get worse it was decided to remove the gallbladder proactively. OK, so about two months later we were ready to go.

I started the injections knowing that the major side effect would be the increase of blood sugar generally causing diabetes so when my blood sugar went up it wasn’t a surprise. As big as I am, I had never actually crossed the line to diabetic before. We started Metformin which made me sick as a dog. I still stayed on it for almost 2 months. It kept my blood sugar in normal range but I basically lived in the bathroom. YUCK! Now we are trying a Glipizide. It has been ok but I take it with food and my spikes are post injection so my sugars never stay level. The other side effects nausea and hair loss, I can live with I guess. Not a fan of seeing my own scalp but due to overheating I can’t do hats.

Also, the insurance will only pay for the drug 3 months at a time and then require proof it is working before they will agree to the next 3. I was really nervous because I really didn’t know if it was working. Some of my initial symptoms were easing up but nothing was cured and I was still gaining weight. Time for test again. Blood, urine, and saliva all told the same tale. My cortisol was lower than initial levels. It had been cut in half but was still well above “normal” range. I just got word that it was enough for insurance to approve to continue treatment. Woo HOO!

This is not a long term solution. It’s a treatment not a cure. It only works as long as I am able to get the injections and the side effects are hard on the body. About 20 minutes after every shot I get waves of nausea. No way around that one. I am now diabetic which may or may not go away. The expense is also not realistic long term. I currently have Medicaid but if I ever had to pay $12,000 a month myself it just wouldn’t happen. I am only 36 so we are talking just under $150,000 every year for a long time still and that is just the injections. My other maintenance meds (blood pressure, depression, anxiety) are a whole separate thing. When my cortisol does get to normal we may be able to ween off some of them, thank god.

So, for long term I still have to do either the trans-nasal or radio surgery to get rid of the hormone producing tumor. I’m pretty set on radio surgery. I spoke to Dr. Smith’s office today and they say the 14th or 21st. I’ll hear soon for a set date.

So, with all of the above you may be asking why bother with Signifor at all. I must admit I ask myself the same thing sometimes but then I consider what has improved since starting.

• My mental clarity has improved. I was getting increasingly foggy.

• I am on NO pain meds. The muscle pain just for pain sake is gone.

• I am stronger. I no longer feel as if I cannot get out of bed or off the couch. I may not have lost any weight but I can carry it around now.

• My ‘sweats’ are getting fewer and farther between. Before I would break into a drenching sweat regularly for no reason at all. It’s now down to only about once a day unless I’m at a store or get to cleaning my house and overexert.

• I can sleep through the night.

• I no longer am constantly fatigued.

• I have hope that one day I could be normal again.

These are the things I must remind myself of when I have a rough day. The kind of sick I am now is much better that my previous disheartening misery. 🙂 So I’ll continue until a cure or insurance stops paying.

Feb 2016 I had the gamma knife radiation…bunches of fun. No changes…

…except it is now January 2017. My symptoms are returning, levels back up, whatever Signifor was doing, it doesn’t seem to be any longer.

My doctor who was so excited for challenge in the beginning is starting to throw around gastric bypass, Korlym, and BLA, There is no end to the bullshit.

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In Memory of Stacy Ollenberger ~ November 4, 2015

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stacy-o-memory

 

Stacy’s sister posted on Facebook:
This is my beautiful sister Stacy she was diagnosed with cushings disease in 2005 at the age of 19 she had two pituitary surgeries radiation and finally an adrenalectomy we watched her suffer struggle and fight this disease for ten years there were countless Dr visits and pills she had to take daily until she passed away in her home on November 4 2015 at the age of 30 we miss her so much she has left a hole in our hearts but we will continue to bring awareness to this horrible disease hoping we can save someone’s life…

…Thank you so much for sharing this I think she struggled with the stigma of the disease she was doing so much better but she passed suddenly of adrenal crisis we were shocked we truly believed that she had this beat I know this group was so special to her she even added me to it I think to help me understand what she was going through you are all incredible amazing people to have the strength to battle through this everyday.

From Stacy’s blog:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ambers Paper

My friend Amber is currently in school (taking Journalism I believe). She started reading my blog and had to write a paper for one of her classes, she asked me if it would be okay for her to write one about Cushing’s Disease and use my blog and/or me for information. I agreed. Amber found out quickly how hard it is to find useful information about Cushing’s Disease in Humans. Alot of sites are geared towards dogs and horses. She agree with the rest of us that it is retarded that there isn’t more information so that people could at least become more informed about this disease. Anyways this is a copy of what she submitted:

Living with Cushing’s disease
By, Amber Yake

When Stacy Ollenberger was 19 years old she began gaining weight at a rapid pace regardless of her healthy lifestyle, when she went to the doctor she was called a liar and told she was just getting fat.

“I saw six doctors before I was diagnosed,” Ollenberger said. “Doctors told me it was just weight gain and I had to change my diet and exercise.”

After seeing five doctors in two different cities, she finally saw a doctor who realized something was wrong with her. He suspected she had Cushing’s disease and referred her to a specialist in Edmonton.

“Finally I saw another doctor and he knew something was wrong. He didn’t know what so he did a bunch of tests and found out that I had extremely high cortisol levels,” Ollenberger said. “He had seen Cushing’s once before and suspected that is what I had but wasn’t a specialist so he referred me to Edmonton.”

According to Ollenberger, an excessive secretion of ACTH, which is produced by a pituitary tumour, causes Cushing’s disease. The ACTH then triggers your adrenal glands to produce excess amounts of cortisol. Symptoms include upper body obesity, round full face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning of arms and legs among other things.

Ollenberger showed all of these symptoms, however; since Cushing’s disease is so rare, none of the doctors she saw thought that is what she had.

“The specialists in Edmonton did not want to see me because they said Cushing’s disease is rare and they said that there was no way I had it,” she said. “They had all my blood work and stuff, my cortisol was more than 6 times higher than that of a “normal” person, and they told us that the tests were wrong and needed to be redone.”

Ollenberger was finally seen by specialists in Edmonton, AB and has since had two brain surgeries in attempts to remove the tumour on her pituitary gland increase. She feels angry at the medical system for not diagnosing her symptoms sooner.

“If I were diagnosed sooner the symptoms of my disease probably would not have gotten so bad and I probably would not have had to go through everything that I have had to—two surgeries, radiation and now I have to get my adrenal glands removed,” she said.

“I mean my family doctor made me feel like I was just a fat slob who didn’t eat right or exercise. He had been my doctor for years, and for me to gain so much weight so fast he should have known something was medically wrong.”

The doctors were unable to completely remove Ollenberger’s tumour. It’s not shrinking or growing. It is not an option to remove more of the tumour so her next option is to get her adrenal glands removed.

According to Ollenberger, this will make her body not be able to produce any more cortisol. Because you need cortisol to survive, after her surgery she will have to start medication to replace the cortisol that her body needs to survive.

“I will be on medication for the rest of my life,” she said.

Ollenberger is also working with her cousin to create a Cushing’s Awareness day in Canada. She wants to educate people so no one has to experience the things she has.

“It only takes one person to educate many and that is what I would like to do, bring awareness to this disease so others do not have to go through what I had to” she said.

 
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TONIGHT! Interview with Fabiana

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interview

Fabiana will be our guest in an interview on BlogTalk Radio  Wednesday, October 21 at 6:00 PM eastern.  The Call-In number for questions or comments is (657) 383-0416.

The archived interview will be available after 7:00 PM Eastern through iTunes Podcasts (Cushie Chats) or BlogTalkRadio.  While you’re waiting, there are currently 88 other past interviews to listen to!

~~~

Fabiana had transsphenoidal surgery (pituitary) July 30th 2004.  She had a recurrence after seven years of being Cushing’s free.  A second pituitary surgery on 10/26/2011 was unsuccessful.

Another Golden Oldie, this bio was last updated 9/12/2015

Well it has taken me a year to write this bio…and just to give some hope to those of you just going thru this process…I have to say that after surgery I have not felt better! I am back to who i always knew I was….the depression and anxiety is gone and I am living life like a 24 year old should!

I guess it all started when i was sixteen (hindsight is 20-20 i guess). My periods stopped i was tired all the time and the depression started. We all kind of just chalked it up to being sixteen. But my mom insisted something was not right. we talked with my gyno…who said nothing was wrong, I had a fungus on my head (my hair was getting really thin) and sometimes girls who had normal periods (in my case three years of normal periods) just go awry.

My mom wasnt hearing that and demanded a script for an endo. I went….he did blood work…and metioned cushings. But nothing came back definitive…so they put me on birthcontol and gave me some hormones and the chushings was never mentioned again because that all seemed to work.

As time went on my depression got worse, the shape of my body started to change-my face and stomach was the most noticeable- and my energy level kept going down. I kept going back to the doctors asking to be tested for mono..or something. I went to a psycologist….but i knew there was no reason for my depression. Two of them told me “i had very good insight” and that I didnt need them. I started getting more anxiety..especially about going out socially.

High school ended and my typical optimistic personality started to decline. I put on a good act to my friends but my family was seeing me break down all the time. I went away for college (all the while gaining weight). My sophmore year I had a break down..I called my family crying that i needed help. I couldnt beat my depression. I didnt drink in college because i knew that would mean instant weight gain, i barely went out…i exercised everyday..hard….i joined weight watchers…i stuck with it. I was at 103 lbs….that crept up to 110…that crept up to 117…each time my weight goal would be “ohh if i could just get back to 108..112…115” with each weight gain my original weight goal would get higher and higher.

Internally i felt like I was constantly under a black cloud..i knew there was no reason why i shoudl feel this way..i was doing great in school, i had a supportive family, an amazing boyfriend and great friends…why was i depressed? I was becoming emotionally draining to the people closest to me…I would go home a lot on the weekends…i was diagnosed with PMDS….like severe PMS..and was given an antidepresant…i hated it it made me feel like a zombie…i stopped taking it and just made it apoint to work on fighting the depression….and the weight gain.

When i was done college i was about 120 lbs. My face was getting rounder and rounder..i was noticing more hair on my face and arms…and a hump between my shoulder blades and the bottom of my neck. My mom saw a tv show about Polycystic ovarian syndrome and felt that maybe that was what was going on with me…i went to my PCP with this and she said it was possible and that i should to talk to my gyno….I am 4’8 and at the time weighing close to 125..i talked to my gyno and she said I was not heavy..that i was just “itailan” ..i told her my periods were getting abnormal again even w/the birthcontrol and that i was so tired all the time and my arms and legs ached. I also told her that i was bruising very easily…and that the weight gain would not stop despite my exercising and following the atikins diet very strickly for over 6 weeks. My boyfriend and I decided to try the diet together..he lost 35 llbs in 6 weeks..i lost NOTHING! I went back to my PCP who ordered an ultra sound of my ovaries…..NOTHING.(i kept thinking i was going crazy and that it was all in my head)….she also decided to do some blood work…and as i was walking out the door she said..”you know what..i am going to give you this 24hr urine test too. Just so that we cover everything”. I just kept thinking please let something come back ….please dont let this be all my fault…please dont let this be all in my head…..please dont let me be crazy. When i got the test results back it turned out that the 24hr urine test was the one test i needed to get on the right track to finding what was wrong. My cortisol level was 3x’s the normal.

I went to an endo…by the time i got to the endocronoligist i was up to 130…i could not work a full day without needing a full day of sleep and my body was aching beyond description. I was crying all the time…in my room…and was becoming more and more of a recluse…i would only hang out with my boyfriend in our houses. I looked my symptoms up on the internet and saw cushings…that was it! I went to the endo and told him..i think it is cushings….he said he had only saw it one other time and that he wanted to do more tests. I got CAT scans, x-rays, MRI’s….my adrenals my pituitary my lungs….he did a CRH stimulation test which was getting blood work done every fifteen minutes for 90minutes….it took weeks to get that test scheduled..no one had ever heard of it and therefore did not know how to do it…..finally after 3 months of tests my dr. felt he had enough evidence to diagnos me with cushings disease (tumor on my pituitary) I was diagnosed in March of 2004. By this time i was about 137 lbs i had to work part time (i am an occupational therapist for children..i do home visits….i could not make it thru a whole day)

In April i had to change to office work…i could not lift the children and i could barely get up off the floor. I have to say i was one of the lucky people who worked for people who were very supportive and accomidating…my boss was very willing to work with me and willing to hold my job for me.

July 30th 2004 i finally had transphenodial surgery to remove my tumor (they went thru my lip and nose because they felt my nose was too small). It is now over 1 year later….i am down to 108 lbs, i have so much energy…no depression….and i dont mind looking at myself in the mirror…i am enjoying my friends and my boyfriend…(who stayed with me thru it all) And my family. I feel healthy mentally, emptionally, and physically. And i just got back into my size 2 jeans!!!

It was a crappy time…(as i am sure you all can atest to) but i learned a lot…..most importantly i was bombarded by good wishes and prayers….friends requested masses for me…a nun in brazil prayed for me…people who i never thought i touched their lives…took the time to wish me well…send an email..or call….I got to experience the wonderful loving nature of human beings and i was lucky to be supported by my family (my mom, dad, and two younger brothers) and my boyfriend throughout this entire tough journey.

This experience taught me to realize the strength i have as well as to appreciate the good and the bad in life. I was on hydrocortizone for about 8 months…i was lucky that my tumor was in its own little sack so my pituitary gland was not touched. In the end in took about 7 years to diagnose me..i think that if the dr. at 16 would have pursued the cushings idea nothing would have been found because it took so long for my symptoms to really peak…needless to say i love my PCP and my endo ..and that i changed gyno’s…

I just want to let anyone out there going thru this disease to know..you are not alone….and to take each day is stride…when you need help ask for it….and that this road can lead to a happy ending. God Bless!

ps- it is ok to feel bad about what you are going thru…it is a tough thing to endure…and when the docotors tell you there is noting wrong…..follow your gut…and you keep searching for the doctor that will listen… If there is anyone in the philadelphis of south jersey area who needs someone to talk to please feel free to email me…fapadula@hotmail.com…i will help you out the best i can!

Update November 6, 2011

Well- here is an update, after seven years of being Cushings free it has returned.

With in those seven years I married my college boyfriend and we now have a son- Nicholas who will be 2 in Decemeber. It has been a blessed and wonderful seven years. However right around when my son was turning 1 I started to notice symptoms again. Increase facial hair, the whole “roundness” of my body, buffalo hump. I decided I was going to work out hard, eat right, and see – I didnt just want to jump to any conclusions. I stuck to it- and nothing…..my hair started thinning again and the acne was coming back and then the missed periods…..so I went to my PCP- told them i needed the 24hr urine and wouldnt you know…..427 cortisol level (on that 0-50 scale)……here we go again.

So back to endo- now at Penn Pituitary Center…..it was another journey b/c the tumor wasnt definative on MRI, and it seems to be cycling…..but I was diagnosed with Cushings again- with the option of 2nd pit surgery or BLA…….after some months of trying to make a decision I went with the 50/50 chance of the second pituitary surgery on 10/26/2011.

It didnt work- my levels never came down in the hospital and I went home w/ out of range cortisol levels and no need for medication……BLURG……Sooooo on to the next step…..after I recover from this surgery I will most likely have the BLA- with the hopes of not having to deal with Cushings ever again. This time around has been a little more difficult just with being a mom and feeling sick- but I still continue to be amazingly blessed with a supportive family and husband and we are surrounded by love and support and for that I am beyond greatful.

I keep all of you in my prayers for relief and health- as I ( we all) know this no easy journey.

Many Blessings!

Fabiana

Update September 12, 2015

So to bring this up to date. My second pituitary surgery in 2011 was unsuccessful. January of 2012 I had both of my adrenal glands removed. Going to adrenal insufficiency was a very difficult transition for me. It took me nearly 2 years before I felt functional. As time went on I felt more human, but I haven’t felt healthy since that day. I can and do function, but at a lower expectation of what I used to be capable of….my “new normal”.

My husband and I decided to try for a second child…my pituitary was damaged from the second surgery and we needed fertility…after 8 months of fertility I got pregnant and we had our second son January of 2015.

In April of 2015 we discovered that my ACTH was increasing exponentially. MRI revealed a macroadenoma invading my cavernous sinus. The tumor is sitting on my carotid artery and milimeterrs away from my optic chasim. I was not a candidate for another surgery due to the tumors proximity to.both of those vital structures.

So September 1st of this year I started daily radiation treatments. I spent my 34th birthday getting my brain zapped. I am receiving proton beam therapy at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I am so lucky to live so close to an institute that has some of the rarest treatment options.

Again Cushing’s is disrupting our life, my husband goes with me every night to radiation while family takes turns watching the kids….I am now on my 18th year of fighting this disease. I never imagined it would get to this point.

But here we all are making the best of each day, fighting each day and trying to keep things as “normal” as possible. Blessings to all of you fighting this disease…my new go to saying is” ‘effing Cushing’s”! For you newbies…Fight, Advocate for yourselves, and find a doc who doesn’t dismiss you and hang on to them for dear life.

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Robert, Pituitary Bio (Golden Oldie)

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golden-oldie

 

My Comments: (will add more later, written by wife)

Pituitary surgery 12/15/05 but not able to get it all.
33 treatments of radiation in April/May 2006
April 2007 still have Cortisol level of 166, back on Ketaconozole
remaining tumor measures 2.6 cm x 1.8 x 1.4

age 51

Cushing’s has lead to:
diastolic heart failure
osteoporosis
gaining 60+ pounds
restless legs
muscle weakness
fatigue
dry heaves (anyone else have this??)
anxiety, depression, restlessness

currently monitoring Cortisol levels, to have another MRI in August
keeping adrenalectomy as last resort

would appreciate tips/suggestions….

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In Memory: Barbara “Cookie” Rothenberg, Oct 11, 2003

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Saturday, Oct 11, 2003

The One and Only Cookie, photo taken by Erin
Columbus CUSH meeting, Saturday, October 26, 2002

From the posts on the message boards:

My heartfelt prayers and sympathy goes out to Cookie’s family, I never really had gotten to know Cookie Like many of you, but during a few chats, I saw how she helped many, answering questions, ect… and always willing to help out. My heart is sad to hear of her passing.


What I learned from Cookie was that she loved people and wanted to make a difference in the lives of those who suffer from Cushing’s. She touched many hearts, I know she touched mine….


Cookie was an inspiration to many of us. She gave her all for Cushing’s awareness, and I will always remember that the last time I saw her, she was singing…
Shalom, my friend.


Rest in peace, Dear Cookie. I know that right now you’re organizing angels into working teams who will get heaven straightened out, with fun and laughter all the way. I guess G-d needs you now more than we do.

We’ll miss you so much, Sweetie.


I was lucky to have gotten to meet Cookie. She is such a fun person and she could always cheer you up.


Cookie, gees, what can you say. She was dynamic, committed, determined, exasperating, poetic, driven, electric, comedic, funny, supportive, strong, loving, loved, and not to repeat, but a driving force in creating CUSH and helping those who needed it. She was wonderful with fundraising. She was involved in so many activies that were for the benefit of others. She has dealt with many challenges in her life and continued to passed the point that many could not.

She will be sorely missed by all who knew and knew of her.


She was just an incredible, delightful person. I really think this world is a little dimmer today without her light from within. I know a lot of us are missing her already. I remember talking to her about the upcoming conference and her enthuisiasm was contagious. I’m just so very, very sorry to hear she’s passed. I hope her next life is one without pain, where she can sing and write poems to her heart’s content. Cooke will be sorely missed.


My family and I met Cookie at the UVA Cushings Conference Fall 2002. She was so helpful and caring. She told my father, sister, and I her “Cushings Story.” She was so, well, there is no better word to describe her, “bubbly.” She was so happy to be there, teaching, learning, and helping with CUSH. She left an impression on my family and I. She had such a great personality. She was one of the very first “Cushies” I met…and she made me re-think my attitude about being sick. She was going through so much, yet she had such a wonderful attitude towards it all. She was amazing!


Cookie touched a lot of lives. I remember back on the “old board”–before any of us had met any of the others in real life–I would get these perky, cheerful and witty emails from Cookie. She had a signature that was some kind of rhyme including “Lookie, lookie,…Cookie.” Her little dollop of cheer in my “inbox” always made me smile.

It is terrible to lose her. She has left such a legacy, though, that she will go on touching lives for many years to come.


I think this fits Cookie perfectly:

Some People …
Some people come into our lives and quickly go
Some people move our souls to dance
They awaken us to new understanding
With the passing whisper of their wisdom
Some people make the sky more beautiful
To gaze upon
They stay in our lives for a while
Leave footprints in our hearts …
And we are never the same

— Anonymous

~~~

Cookie shared this poem  to show how she felt…

It was an awful state that I was in
Hair was growing on my chin
My moods were swinging from low to high
All I did was cry “let me die!”

The hair kept growing down my neck, chest and bod
Would some dr not think this was a little odd
Sometimes I was up day after day
Then I’d want to sleep all the time to chase my troubles away

Rather I’d eat nothing, something, or very little at all
It seemed getting fatter and fatter was my call
I had every symptom of menopause
Too young they said, it’s in your head, there is no cause

I sing so when I said “I have another octave that is below”
They said pack your bags, to the loony bin you go
My periods were off the dr’s. were lazy
After running tests they said I was crazy

Nine years passed, symptoms got worse and I got fatter
My arms and legs were thin, please help me, what’s the matter
I was beginning to think maybe they are right
Maybe I am just a wee bit up tight

But my husband would say find another dr. it has to be
You are not the girl who married me.
Our children were afraid to them I was so mean
I’d see myself doing and yelling and to myself I would scream
“What is wrong with you! stop it” as if I was in a bad dream

Then I went to a dermatologist for a rash I had
He took a look and and asked “What else to you is bad”
I poured out my heart, I cried and I said
I can’t take any more, I wish I was dead

He asked who I had seen and I gave him the list
And I could see on his face, he really was pissed
He got me to the Cleveland Clinic and the best dr. there
Who listened to me, and checked out the arms, legs and hair

The mood swings, personality changes, the ups and the downs
Voice lower and periods, and face and body so round
One thing he did was run the same tests
Over and over as the results were not the best

Nothing was the same result and so he knew
Surgery was what they had to do
Something is very wrong in my body he said
Let us take a look now or you will be dead

We think you have Cushing’s Syndrome or Nelson’s Syndrome, too
But we will do our best to help you
Let us open you up and we will explore
Then we will know rather we do less or more

As it turned out the x-rays did not know
What they would see and how much would have to go
My female organs had tumors, fibroids and all
They called this syndrome Stein-Leventhal

A complete hysterectomy is what was done
How I had children not one of them knew, not one
Upon seeing that problem to the adrenals they flew
And things were so bad they removed two

The adrenals, 13 times their normal size and had twisted so
On the x-ray they looked fine, but they both had to go
After that they knew and to me they said
There is a pituitary tumor in your head

But until it grows there is nothing we will do
And 15 years later is when it grew
By then CAT scans and MRI’s were everywhere
So even I could see the tumor there

And no more cutting open the persons head
Up the nose they went instead
Well here we go again, lucky me
The tumor was wrapped around an artery

We can’t take it all out but we will do our best and try
If we sever the artery, you will die
5 years later I was back and then
They took the tumor out again

I opted for radiation to kill my friend in my head
I got tired of the Cleveland Clinic saving me a bed
I had other surgeries and emotional problems but day by day
I was going back to the female way

You see I was very slowly turning into a male but how
Will I be come a women now
The next 8 years were very bad
Almost worse than the first 9 years had

I lost some weight, most of the hair went away
With Nelson’s Syndrome some of the Cushing would stay
I woke up one day and the sun was shining
I was no longer bitching, no longer crying

I was almost me except for the pounds
And the thin arms and legs and the body so round
I was accepting me my life was changing
All I needed was a little more rearranging

I was out in public, I was acting and singing again
Working, volunteering, how did this happen, when!
I still get little bouts of depression but then
I know why, I’m not scared, I feel them coming and when

So hang in there and I promise you
You’ll be doing the things you used to do
Maybe a little slower, maybe not as long
Things will brighten up, I know I am not wrong

Keep on looking the right doctor is there
I know what you are going through, I really do care
I am here for anyone to help with what I can do
We all are rooting and praying for you.

 

1955 and 1962 [Photographer: Cookie’s family]

1980-81, 3 years old, 2000 [Photographer: Cookie’s family]

2000 and 1998 [Photographer: Cookie’s family]

 

From the message boards thread about Cookie:

When Sue left a message on my answering machine this afternoon (October 11, 2003), I knew that something was terribly wrong. It never occurred to me that it could Cookie, our Cookie. Always so positive, cheery, full of life. Even though she was as sick as she was, again, I really thought that she’d pull through, one more time. How could she not? She’d survived pituitary surgeries way back, adrenal surgery, Nelson’s, Cushing’s, more than any one person should have to endure.

Throughout her too-short life, she’s been far too sick, yet she’s carried it all off with grace and enthusiasm.

First diagnosed with PCOS, Cookie had an hysterectomy years ago. During the hysterectomy, they realized that her adrenal glands were greatly enlarged. Cookie had Cushing’s disease and in 1974, Cookie had her adrenal glands removed, in 1989 she had her first pituitary surgery and in 1994 her pituitary was removed completely. Then radiation. Since these are the major glands that run the body, she has been on major hormone replacement for a long, long time, pills and daily injections. Because she had both adrenals and pituitary gland removed, she was also saddled with Nelson’s syndrome…and more medications. Because of her Cushing’s experiences, she helped to found the international CUSH organization to promote awareness of Cushing’s disease/syndrome and served as it’s treasurer and fundraiser.

In November, 2002 she had surgery for E.Coli in her sinuses, of all places (she told the doctor that she wasn’t snorting hamburg!) and in December she had a pacemaker put in.

In Feb, 2003 Cookie suffered a Code Blue. Her heart stopped and she stopped breathing. There were 15 people working on her to bring her back. She couldn’t feel her feet, then her hands were cold, then every little thing imaginable was happening with her. Then cardiac care, a heart attack. Cookie went on permanent dialysis. Her hands suffered permanent damage, Raynaud’s Disease. Her fingers turned purple and she had to wear white gloves all the time. She was bleeding internally again and her platelets were down.

I talked to Cookie after this last assault on her body and she was as cheery as ever. She wasn’t really ready to go home, but she walked 60 feet at the nursing home in several tries and if she could walk a total of 60 feet then her insurance would pay any longer. Her dialysis times were terrible. Tu, Th and Sa 8-11 PM. But her main complaint was that she couldn’t go out of state to be at the birth of a new grandchild.

Then the recent surgery to install a dialysis shunt, infections, complications…

How much can one woman take? No wonder she was tired of it all 😦

No matter how sick she was, she was always ready with a joke, a little song. On the recorder where people leave messages for the toll-free number, Cookie left a message May 17, 2002. I’ve always left it in the answering machine, so I could get a lift by hearing Cookie sing one of her inimitable parodies. If you’d like to listen, you can hear Cookie singing and laughing, one more time [file is missing – I’ll try to find it again].

I just cannot believe this. I truly thought of Cookie as a wonder woman who could do it all, and she could pull through this, too.

I guess she got tired of dealing with illness after illness, medications, surgeries, injections, dialysis, everything. I know I get tired just thinking about dealing with any one of these. Cookie put up a very valiant front through everything. She did more to get the word out than almost anyone I know.

Rest in peace, Dear Cookie. I know that right now you’re organizing angels into working teams who will get heaven straightened out, with fun and laughter all the way. I guess G-d needs you now more than we do.

Many thanks to Erin for this last look…


We’ll miss you so much, Sweetie.

In Memory: Kate Myers ~ 2014

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kate-fbkate

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.

 

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