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MaryO, Pituitary Bio

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Adapted from Participatory Medicine

The Society for Participatory Medicine - MemberThis is kind of a “cheat” post since it’s a compilation of other posts, web pages, message board posts and some original thoughts. I’m writing it to submit to Robin’s Grand Rounds, hosted on her blog.

For all of my early life, I was the good, compliant, patient. I took whatever pills the doctor prescribed, did whatever tests h/she (most always a HE) wrote for. Believed that whatever he said was the absolute truth. He had been to med school. He knew what was wrong with me even though he didn’t live in my body 24/7 and experience what I did.

I know a lot of people are still like this. Their doctor is like a god to them. He can do no wrong – even if they don’t feel any better after treatment, even if they feel worse. “But the doctor said…”

Anyway, I digress.

All this changed for me in 1983.

At first I noticed I’d stopped having my periods and, of course, I thought I was pregnant. I went to my Gynecologist who had no explanation. Lots of women lose their periods for a variety of reasons so no one thought that this was really significant.

Then I got really tired, overly tired. I would take my son to a half hour Choir rehearsal and could not stay awake for the whole time. I would lie down in the back of the van, set an alarm and sleep for the 30 minutes.

A whole raft of other symptoms started appearing – I grew a beard (Hirsuitism), gained weight even though I was on Weight Watchers and working out at the gym nearly every day, lost my period, everything hurt, got what is called a “moon face” and a “buffalo hump” on the back of my neck. I also got stretch marks. I was very depressed but it’s hard to say if that was because of the hormone imbalance or because I felt so bad and no one would listen to me.

I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal magazine which said “If you have these symptoms…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”. After that, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s and asking my doctors. Due to all my reading at the library and medical books I bought, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. Doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.

I asked doctors for three years – PCP, gynecologist, neurologist, podiatrist – all said the now-famous refrain. It’s too rare. You couldn’t have Cushing’s. I kept persisting in my reading, making copies of library texts even when I didn’t understand them, keeping notes. I just knew that someone, somewhere would “discover” that I had Cushing’s.

My husband was on the doctors’ sides. He was sure it was all in my mind (as opposed to all in my head!) and he told me to just think “happy thoughts” and it would all go away.

A Neurologist gave me Xanax. Since he couldn’t see my tumor with his Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine there was “no possibility” that it existed. Boy was he wrong!

Later in 1986 I started bruising incredibly easily. I could touch my skin and get a bruise. On New Year’s Day of 1987 I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker, like the rings of a tree. When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.

Fortunately, the Hematologist/Oncologist ran a twenty-four hour urine test and really looked at me. Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s. Of course, he was sure that he did the diagnosis. No matter that I had been pursuing this with other doctors for 3 years.

It was not yet determined if it was Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary) or Syndrome (Adrenal). However, he couldn’t help me any further so the Hematologist referred me to an Endocrinologist.

The Endocrinologist, of course, didn’t trust the other tests I had had done so I was back to square one. He ran his own multitude of tests. He had to draw blood at certain times like 9 AM. and 5 PM. There was a dexamethasone suppression test where I took a pill at 10 p.m. and gave blood at 9 am the next day. I collected gallons of urine in BIG boxes (Fun in the fridge!). Those were from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. to be delivered to his office by 9 a.m. same day. I was always worried that I’d be stopped in rush hour and the police would ask about what was in that big container. I think I did those for a week. He also did standard neurological tests and asked lots of questions.

When the endo confirmed that I had Cushing’s in 1987 he sent me to a local hospital where they repeated all those same tests for another week and decided that it was not my adrenal gland (Cushing’s Syndrome) creating the problem. The doctors and nurses had no idea what to do with me, so they put me on the brain cancer ward.

When I left this hospital after a week, we didn’t know any more than we had before.

As luck would have it, NIH (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland) was doing a clinical trial of Cushing’s. I live in the same area as NIH so it was not too inconvenient but very scary at first to think of being tested there. At that time I only had a choice of NIH, Mayo Clinic and a place in Quebec to do this then-rare pituitary surgery called a Transsphenoidal Resection. I chose NIH – closest and free. After I was interviewed by the Doctors there, I got a letter that I had been accepted into the clinical trial. The first time I was there was for 6 weeks as an inpatient. More of the same tests.

There were about 12 of us there and it was nice not to be alone with this mystery disease. Many of these Cushies (mostly women) were getting bald, couldn’t walk, having strokes, had diabetes. One was blind, one had a heart attack while I was there. Towards the end of my testing period, I was looking forward to the surgery just to get this whole mess over with. While I was at NIH, I was gaining about a pound a day!

The MRI still showed nothing, so they did a Petrosal Sinus Sampling Test. That scared me more than the prospect of surgery. (This test carries the risk of stroke and uncontrollable bleeding from the incision points.) Catheters were fed from my groin area to my pituitary gland and dye was injected. I could watch the whole procedure on monitors. I could not move during this test or for several hours afterwards to prevent uncontrolable bleeding from a major artery. The test did show where the tumor probably was located. Also done were more sophisticated dexamethasone suppression tests where drugs were administered by IV and blood was drawn every hour (they put a heplock in my arm so they don’t have to keep sticking me). I got to go home for a weekend and then went back for the surgery – the Transsphenoidal Resection. I fully expected to die during surgery (and didn’t care if I did) so I signed my will and wrote last letters to those I wanted to say goodbye to. During the time I was home just before surgery, a college classmate of mine (I didn’t know her) did die at NIH of a Cushing’s-related problem. I’m so glad I didn’t find out until a couple months later!

November 3, 1987, the surgeon, Dr. Ed Oldfield, cut the gum above my front teeth under my upper lip so there is no scar. He used tiny tools and microscopes. My tumor was removed successfully. In some cases (not mine) the surgeon uses a plug of fat from the abdomen to help seal the cut. Afterwards, I was in intensive care overnight and went to a neurology ward for a few days until I could walk without being dizzy. I had some major headaches for a day or two but they gave me drugs (morphine) for those. Also, I had cotton plugs in my nostrils. It was a big day when they came out. I had diabetes insipidus (DI) for a little while, but that went away by itself – thank goodness!

I had to use a foam product called “Toothies” to brush my teeth without hitting the incision. Before they let me go home, I had to learn to give myself an injection in my thigh. They sent me home with a supply of injectible cortisone in case my level ever fell too low (it didn’t). I was weaned gradually off cortisone pills (scary). I now take no medications. I had to get a Medic Alert bracelet. I will always need to tell medical staff when I have any kind of procedure – the effects of my excess cortisone will remain forever.

I went back to the NIH for several follow-up visits of a week each where they did all the blood and urine testing again. After a few years NIH set me free. Now I go to my “outside” endocrinologist every year for the dexamethasone suppression test, 24-hour urine and regular blood testing.

As I get further away from my surgery, I have less and less chance that my tumor will grow back. I have never lost all the weight I gained and I still have the hair on my chin but most of my other symptoms are gone. I am still and always tired and need a nap most days. I do not, however, still need to take whole days off just to sleep.

I consider myself very lucky that I was treated before I got as bad as some of the others on my floor at NIH but think it is crazy that these symptoms are not taken seriously by doctors.

My story goes on and if you’re interested some is on this blog and some is here:

Forbes Magazine | MaryO’s bio | Cushing’s and Cancer Blog | Guest Speakers | Interview Archive 1/3/08 | Cushing’s Awareness Day Testimonial Archive |

Because of this experience in getting a Cushing’s diagnosis – and later, a prescription for growth hormone – I was concerned that there were probably other people not being diagnosed with Cushing’s. When I searched online for Cushing’s, all the sites that came up were for dogs and horses with Cushing’s. Not what I was looking for!

In July of 2000, I was talking with my dear friend Alice, who runs a wonderful menopause site, Power Surge, wondering why there weren’t many support groups online (OR off!) for Cushing’s. This thought percolated through my mind for a few hours and I realized that maybe this was my calling. Maybe I should be the one to start a network of support for other “Cushies” to help them empower themselves.

I wanted to educate others about the awful disease that took doctors years of my life to diagnose and treat – even after I gave them the information to diagnose me. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer for years like I did. I wanted doctors to pay more attention to Cushing’s disease.

The first website (http://www.cushings-help.com) went “live” July 21, 2000. It was just a single page of information. The message boards began September 30, 2000 with a simple message board which then led to a larger one, and a larger. Today, in 2010, we have over 7 thousand members. Some “rare disease”!

The message boards are now very active and we have weekly online text chats, weekly live interviews, local meetings, conferences, email newsletters, a clothing exchange, a Cushing’s Awareness Day Forum, podcasts, phone support and much more. Because I wanted to spread the word to others not on “the boards” we have extended out to social networking sites – twitter groups, facebook groups, twines, friendfeeds, newsletters, websites, chat groups, multiply.com, and much, much more.

People are becoming more empowered and participating in their own diagnoses, testing and treatment. This have changed a lot since 1983!

When I had my Cushing’s over 20 years ago, I never thought that I would meet another Cushing’s patient in real life or online. Back then, I’d never even been aware that there was anything like an “online”. I’m so glad that people struggling with Cushing’s today don’t have to suffer anymore thinking that they’re the only one who deals with this.

Because of my work on the websites – and, believe me it is a ton of work! – I have had the honor of meeting over a hundred other Cushies personally at local meetings, conferences, at NIH (the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD where I had my final diagnosis and surgery). It occurred to me once that this is probably more than most endocrinologists will ever see in their entire career. I’ve also talked to countless others on the phone. Amazing for a “rare” disease!

I don’t know what pushed me in 1983, how I got the confidence and self-empowerment to challenge these doctors and their non-diagnoses over the years. I’m glad that I didn’t suffer any longer than I did and I’m glad that I have a role in helping others to find the medical help that they need.

What do *YOU* think? How are you becoming empowered? Comments welcome


• Medicine 2.0 (Toronto, Canada) September 17-18, 2009. Robin Smith (staticnrg), Mary O’Connor (MaryO) and Dr Ted Friedman will be panelists. The topic is “Paying It Forward in the Digital Age: Patient Empowerment 2.0 Using Web 2.0”. Robin submitted this topic. She wrote: Paying it Forward in the Digital Age: Patient Empowerment 2.0 using Web 2.0

An online community is usually defined by one or two things. These come from blogs, websites, forums, newsletters, and more. The emphasis is typically either totally support or education. But sometimes all of these meet. The Cushing’s community, bonded by the lack of education in the medical community and the necessity or self-education has become a community of all of these things.

Mary O’Connor, the founder and owner of the Cushings’ Help website and message boards started with one goal in mind. She wanted to educate others about the awful disease that took doctors years to diagnose and treat in her life. Armed only with information garned from her public library and a magazine article, she self-diagnosed in the days prior to the availability of the internet.

Mary’s hard work and dream have paid off. Others, with the same illness, the same frustrations, and the same non-diagnosis/treatment have been led by MaryO (as she’s lovingly called) to work with her to support, educate, and share.

The Cushing’s Help website soon led to a simple message board which then led to a larger one, and a larger. The site has numerous helpful webpages chock full of information. The members of this community have made a decision to increase awareness of the disease, the research that is ongoing with the disease, the doctors who understand it, and the lack of information about it in the medical field.

From this hub have come multiple Web 2.0 spokes. Many members have blogs, there is a non-profit corporation to continue the programs, a BlogTalkRadio show with shows almost every week, thousands of listeners to podcasts produced from the shows, twitter groups, facebook groups, twines, friendfeeds, newsletters, websites, chat groups and much, much more. The power of Web 2.0 is exponential, and it is making a huge difference in the lives of patients all over the world. It is Empowerment 2.0.

One patient said it well when she said, “Until this all began I was a hairstylist/soccer mom with a high school education. It’s been a learning curve. I am done with doctors who speak to me as if they know all; I know better now.” And she knows better because she’s part of our community. All patients need this type of community.

More info here.


MaryO’s Original Bio

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Christmas 1981Around 1983 I first started to realize I was really sick. At first I noticed I’d stopped having my periods and, of course, I thought I was pregnant. I went to my Gynecologist who had no explanation. Then I got really tired. I would take my son to a half hour Choir rehearsal and could not stay awake for the whole time.

A whole raft of other symptoms started appearing – I grew a beard (Hirsuitism), gained weight even though I was on Weight Watchers and working out at the gym nearly every day, lost my period, everything hurt, got what is called a “moon face” and a “buffalo hump” on the back of my neck. I also got stretch marks. I was very depressed but it’s hard to say if that was because of the hormone imbalance or because I felt so bad and no one would listen to me.

I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal which said “If you have these symptoms…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”. After that, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s and asking my doctors. Due to all my reading at the library, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. Doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.

Gaining weight in 1986My husband just told me to think “happy thoughts” and it would all go away. A Neurologist gave me Xanax. Since he couldn’t see my tumorwith his Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine there was “no possibility” that it existed. Boy was he wrong!

In late 1986 I started bruising incredibly easily. I could touch my skin and get a bruise. On New Year’s Day of 1987 I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker. When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.
Fall 1986I was also having trouble with my feet and walking, so I had the distinction of going to two doctors in one day, a Podiatrist in the morning and the Hematologist/Oncologist in the afternoon.

Fortunately, the Hematologist/Oncologist ran a twenty-four hour urine test and really looked at me. Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s.

It was not yet determined if it was Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary) or Syndrome (Adrenal). However, he couldn’t help me any further so the Hematologist referred me to an Endocrinologist.

The Endocrinologist, of course, didn’t trust the other tests I had had done so I was back to square one. He ran his own multitude of tests. He had to draw blood at certain times like 9 AM. and 5 PM. There was a dexamethasone suppression test where I took a pill at 10 p.m. and gave blood at 9 am the next day. I collected gallons of urine in BIG boxes (Fun in the fridge!). Those were from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. to be delivered to his office by 9 a.m. same day. I was always worried that I’d be stopped in rush hour and the police would ask about what was in that big container. I think I did those for a week. He also did standard neurological tests and asked lots of questions.

March 1987 after a week of testingWhen he confirmed that I had Cushing’s he sent me to a local hospital where they repeated all those same tests for another week and decided that it was not my adrenal gland (Cushing’s Syndrome) creating the problem. The doctors and nurses had no idea what to do with me, so they put me on the brain cancer ward.

When I left this hospital after a week, we didn’t know any more than we had before.

As luck would have it, NIH (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland) was doing a clinical trial of Cushing’s. I live in the same area as NIH so it was not too inconvenient but very scary at first to think of being tested there. At that time I only had a choice of NIH, Mayo Clinic and a place in Quebec to do this then-rare pituitary surgery called a Transsphenoidal Resection. I chose NIH – closest and free. After I was interviewed by the Doctors there, I got a letter that I had been accepted into the clinical trial. The first time I was there was for 6 weeks as an inpatient. More of the same tests.

There were about 12 of us there and it was nice not to be alone with this mystery disease. Many of these Cushies (mostly women) were getting bald, couldn’t walk, having strokes, had diabetes. One was blind, one had a heart attack while I was there. Towards the end of my testing period, I was looking forward to the surgery just to get this whole mess over with. While I was at NIH, I was gaining about a pound a day!

The MRI still showed nothing, so they did a Petrosal Sinus Sampling Test. That scared me more than the prospect of surgery. (This test carries the risk of stroke and uncontrollable bleeding from the incision points.) Catheters were fed from my groin area to my pituitary gland and dye was injected. I could watch the whole procedure on monitors. I could not move during this test or for several hours afterwards to prevent uncontrolable bleeding from a major artery. The test did show where the tumor probably was located. Also done were more sophisticated dexamethasone suppression tests where drugs were administered by IV and blood was drawn every hour (they put a heplock in my arm so they don’t have to keep sticking me). I got to go home for a weekend and then went back for the surgery – the Transsphenoidal Resection. I fully expected to die during surgery (and didn’t care if I did) so I signed my will and wrote last letters to those I wanted to say goodbye to. During the time I was home just before surgery, a college classmate of mine (I didn’t know her) DID die at NIH of a Cushing’s-related problem. I’m so glad I didn’t find out until a couple months later!

November 3, 1987, the surgeon, Dr. Ed Oldfield, cut the gum above my front teeth under my upper lip so there is no scar. He used tiny tools and microscopes. My tumor was removed successfully. In some cases (not mine) the surgeon uses a plug of fat from the abdomen to help seal the cut. Afterwards, I was in intensive care overnight and went to a neurology ward for a few days until I could walk without being dizzy. I had some major headaches for a day or two but they gave me drugs (morphine) for those. Also, I had cotton plugs in my nostrils. It was a big day when they came out. I had diabetes insipidus (DI) for a little while, but that went away by itself – thank goodness!

I had to use a foam product called “Toothies” to brush my teeth without hitting the incision. Before they let me go home, I had to learn to give myself an injection in my thigh. They sent me home with a supply of injectible cortisone in case my level ever fell too low (it didn’t). I was weaned gradually off cortisone pills (scary). I now take no medications. I had to get a Medic Alert bracelet. I will always need to tell medical staff when I have any kind of procedure – the effects of my excess cortisone will remain forever.

I went back to the NIH for several follow-up visits of a week each where they did all the blood and urine testing again. After a few years NIH set me free. Now I go to my “outside” endocrinologist every year for the dexamethasone suppression test, 24-hour urine and regular blood testing.

As I get further away from my surgery, I have less and less chance that my tumor will grow back. I have never lost all the weight I gained and I still have the hair on my chin but most of my other symptoms are gone. I am still and always tired and need a nap most days. I do not, however, still need to take whole days off just to sleep.

I consider myself very lucky that I was treated before I got as bad as some of the others on my floor at NIH but think it is crazy that these symptoms are not taken seriously by doctors.

Tom and me in Barbados

Update: Fall, 1999:

I went for my regular testing with my private endocrinologist.

Besides the annual testing, he told me that my pituitary gland is shutting down, so I must always have extra cortisone (Cortef) for any medical stress such as surgery or the flu.

Many people are now finding that they need HgH after pituitary surgery, so an Insulin Tolerance Test was performed. My endocrinologist painted a very rosey picture of how wonderful I’d feel on Growth Hormone. It sounded like a miracle drug to me!

I was only asked to fast before the ITT and to bring someone with me to take me home. There is no way I could have driven home. I got very cold during the test and they let me have a blanket. Also, though, lying still on that table for so long, my back hurt later. I’d definitely take – or ask for – a pillow for my back next time. They gave me a rolled up blanket for under my knees, too.

I don’t remember much about the test at all. I remember lying very still on the table. The phlebotomist took blood first, then tried to insert the IV (it took a few tries, of course). Then the endo himself put the insulin in through the IV and took the blood out of that. I remember the nurse kept asking me stupid questions – I’m sure to see how I was doing on the consciousness level. I’d imagine I sounded like a raving lunatic, although I believed that I was giving rational answers at the time.

Then everything just got black…I have no idea for how long, and the next thing I knew I was becoming aware of my surroundings again and the doctor was mumbling something. They gave me some juice and had me sit up very slowly, then sit on the edge of the table for a while. When I thought I could get up, they gave me some glucose tablets “for the road” and called my friend in. I was still kind of woozy, but they let her take me out, very wobbly, kind of drunk feeling.

My friend took me to a close-by restaurant – I was famished – but I still had trouble with walking and felt kind of dazed for a while. When I got home, I fell asleep on the sofa for the rest of the day.

But the most amazing thing happened. Saturday and Sunday I felt better than I had for 20 years. I had all this energy and I was flying high! It was so wonderful and I hoped that that was from the HgH they gave me to wake me up.

Edgewater Inn, BarbadosI will have to take this test annually until I do I do qualify for HgH. I got a small taste of what I would feel like on this drug – that weekend I felt much better than I can remember feeling in a very long time. Hopefully, at some point, I will “qualify” for this drug, even though it means a daily injection. I would really like to feel better sometime – less tired, less depressed, more human.

In July of 2000, I was talking with my dear friend Alice, who runs a wonderful menopause site, Power Surge, wondering why there weren’t many support groups online (OR off!) for Cushing’s and I wondered if I could start one myself and we decided that I could. This website (http://www.cushings-help.com) first went “live” July 21, 2000 and the message boards September 30, 2000. Hopefully, with this site, I’m going to make some helpful differences in someone else’s life.

The message boards are very active and we have weekly online text chats, weekly live interviews, local meetings, email newsletters, a clothing exchange, aCushing’s Awareness Day Forum, podcasts, phone support and much more.

Whenever one of the members of the boards gets into NIH, I try to go to visit them there. Other board members participate in the “Cushie Helper” programwhere they support others with one-on-one support, doctor/hospital visits, transportation issues and more.

My husband, Tom (PICTURED ABOVE) posted this on the message boards:

“I just read your description of the 9 year ordeal. I am Mary’s husband and much of your story was familiar.Mary diagnosed her own illness. After a prolonged journey from doctor to doctor.

After her surgery and recovery, I found myself at a neurologist’s office for some trivial ailment and the place seemed familiar.

Then it dawned on me that I had been there before with Mary. This was one of the doctors who had failed to listen. Or perhaps simply had no knowledge base about Cushing’s.

In any event, I stopped the process I was there for and changed the subject to the previous visit 4 years ago. I told the doctor to look up his records on Mary O’Connor and study them. Told him that what he would see in his files was a case of Cushing’s, misdiagnosed as something that might respond to Valium.

I said he could learn something and perhaps help the next person who arrived with Cushing’s.

Out of fairness to the medics, the ailment is so rare that a doctor can go his entire career and never see a single case. And it is certainly possible that the doctor may fail to diagnose the few cases they may see.

Mary’s surgery was done at NIH. It came down to them or the Mayo Clinic. At the time we did not realize that NIH was free and we selected them over Mayo based on their success and treatment record. They were happy to learn they had beat Mayo without a price advantage. We were happy to hear it was free.

During the same time Mary was at NIH, another woman had the same operation. She came from Mary’s home town. They were class mates at college. They had the same major. They were the same age. They had the same surgical and medical team. Mary recovered. The other woman died during surgery.

I am an aggressive person who deals directly with problems. I enjoy conflict and I thrive in it.

This experience made clear how little we control. And how much depends on the grace of God.

This year we celebrated our 28th anniversary. Our son has grown into a fine young man and is succeeding admirably in college.
Life is the answer. We keep going on….undaunted and ever hopeful.

Tom O’Connor”

Update July 26, 2001

I saw the endo today. My pituitary function is continuing to drop, so August 6, I’ll Be having another ITT, as described above. Hopefully, after this one, I’ll be able to take Growth Hormone and start feeling better!

Update August 6, 2001

I had the ITT this morning. I don’t get any results until a week from Thursday, but I do know that I didn’t recover from the insulin injection as quickly as I did last time. The endo made a graph for my husband of me today and a “normal” person, although I can’t imagine what normal person would do this awful test! A normal person’s blood sugar would drop very quickly then rise again at about a right angle on the graph.

I dropped a little more slowly, then stayed very low for a long time, then slowly started to rise. On the graph, mine never recovered as much as the normal person, but I’m sure that I did, eventually.

The test this time wasn’t as difficult as I remember it being, which is good. Last time around, I felt very sweaty, heart pounding. I don’t remember any of that this time around. I do know that I “lost” about an hour, though. The phlebotomist took the first blood at 9:15, then the endo injected the insulin and took blood every 15 minutes after that. I counted (or remembered) only 4 of the blood draws, but it was 11:30 when they told me that my sugar wasn’t coming up enough yet and I’d have to stay another 30 minutes. It actually ended up being another hour.

Kim, the phlebotomist, asked me if I got a headache when they “crashed me” and I have no recollection of any of that.

Like last time, I was very, very cold, even with the blanket and my left arm – where the heplock was – fell asleep. Other than that – and my back hurting from lying on one of those tables all that time this wasn’t as bad as I remembered.

So, I waited for 10 days…

Update Fall, 2002

The endo refused to discuss my fatigue or anything at all with me until I lost 10 pounds. He said I wasn’t worth treating in my overweight condition and that I was setting myself up for a heart attack. He gave me 3 months to lose this weight. Those 3 months included Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

I know that I would like to lose weight, but I’d like to do it on my own terms, not over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, not because this endo was rude about it. I left his office in tears. I’m now looking for a new one…

Update Fall, 2004

I left my previous endo in November of 2002. He was just too rude, telling me that I was setting myself up for a heart attack and that I wasn’t worth treating. I had left his office in tears.

Anyway, I tried for awhile to get my records. He wouldn’t send them, even at doctors’ or my requests. Finally, my husband went to his office and threatened him with a court order, The office manager managed to come up with about 13 pages of records. For going to him from 1986 to 2001, that doesn’t seem like enough records to me.

I had emailed NIH and they said that they would be “happy” to treat me, but it was long between emails, and it looked like things were moving s-l-o-w-l-y. I had also contacted UVa, but they couldn’t do anything without those records.

Last April, many of us from the message boards went to the UVa Pituitary Days Convention. By chance, we met a wonderful woman named Barbara Craven. She sat at our table for lunch on the last day and, after we learned that she was a dietitian who had had Cushing’s, one of us jokingly asked her if she’d do a guest chat for us. I didn’t follow through on this until she emailed me one day last summer. In the email, she asked how I was doing. Usually I say “fine” or “ok” but for some reason, I told her exactly how awful I was feeling.

Barbara emailed me back and said I should see a doctor at Johns Hopkins. And I said I didn’t think I could get a recommendation to there, so SHE referred me. The doctor got right back to me, set up an appointment. Between his vacation and mine, that first appointment turned out to be Tuesday, Sept 14, 2004.

Just getting through the maze at Johns Hopkins was amazing. They have the whole system down to a science, moving from one place to another to sign in, then go here, then window 6, then… But it was very efficient.

My new doctor was wonderful. Understanding, knowledgeable. He never once said that I was “too fat” or “depressed” or that all this was my own fault. I feel so validated, finally.

He looked through my records, especially at my 2 previous Insulin Tolerance Tests. From those, he determined that my growth hormone has been low since at least August 2001 and I’ve been adrenal insufficient since at least Fall, 1999 – possibly as much as 10 years! I was amazed to hear all this, and astounded that my former endo not only didn’t tell me any of this, he did nothing. He had known both of these things – they were in the past records that I took with me. Perhaps that was why he had been so reluctant to share copies of those records. He had given me Cortef in the fall of 1999 to take just in case I had “stress” and that was it.

The new endo took a lot of blood (no urine!) for cortisol and thyroid stuff. I’m going back on Sept. 28, 2004 for arginine, cortrosyn and IGF testing.

He has said that I will end up on daily cortisone – a “sprinkling” – and some form of GH, based on the testing the 28th.

So, in a couple weeks, I might start feeling better! Wowee!

For those who are interested, my new endo is Roberto Salvatori, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins

Medical School: Catholic University School of Medicine, Rome, Italy
Residency: Montefiore Medical Center
Fellowship: Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University
Board Certification: Endocrinology and Metabolism, Internal Medicine

Clinical Interests: Neuroendocrinology, pituitary disorders, adrenal disorders

Research Interests: Control of growth hormone secretion, genetic causes of growth hormone deficiency, consequences of growth hormone deficiency.

Update October, 2004

I had cortrosyn and arginine-GHRH stimulation test at Johns Hopkins. They confirmed what the doctor learned from reading my 4 year old records – that I’m both adrenal-deficient and growth hormone-deficient. I started on my “sprinkle” (5 mg twice a day) of Cortef now and my new doctor has started the paperwork for GH so maybe I’m on my way…

Yea!!!

It feels weird to be going back on the cortisone after being off for so many years but at this point, I think I’d sell my soul to the devil not to feel the way I’ve been feeling for the last several years.

Update November, 2004

Although I have this wonderful doctor, a specialist in growth hormone deficiency at Johns Hopkins, my insurance company saw fit to over-ride his opinions and his test results based on my past pharmaceutical history! Hello??? How could I have a history of taking GH when I’ve never taken it before?

Of course, I found out late on a Friday afternoon. By then it was too late to call my case worker at the drug company, so we’ll see on Monday what to do about an appeal. My local insurance person is also working on an appeal, but the whole thing sounds like just another long ordeal of finding paperwork, calling people, FedExing stuff, too much work when I just wanted to start feeling better by Thanksgiving. I guess that’s not going to happen, at least by the 2004 one.

As it turns out the insurance company rejected the brand of hGH that was prescribed for me. They gave me the ok for a growth hormone was just FDA-approved for adults on 11/4/04. The day this medication was approved for adults was the day after my insurance said that’s what is preferred for me. In the past, this form of hGH was only approved for children with height issues. Am I going to be a ginuea pig again? The new GH company has assigned a rep for me, has submitted info to pharmacy, waiting for insurance approval, again.

Update December 7, 2004

I finally started the Growth Hormone last night – it’s like a rebirth for me. I look forward to having my life back in a few months!

Update January 3, 2005

After a lot of phone calls and paperwork, the insurance company finally came through at the very last minute, just as I needed my second month’s supply. Of course, the pharmacy wouldn’t send it unless they were paid for the first month. They had verbal approval from the insurance, but the actual claim was denied. Talk about a cliff hanger!

Update January 25, 2005

I’ve been on the growth hormone for 7 weeks now, and see no change in my tiredness and fatigue. A couple weeks ago, I thought there was a bit of improvement. I even exercised a little again, but that was short lived.

I feel like my stomach is getting bigger, and Tom says my face is looking more Cushie again. Maybe from the cortisone I’ve been taking since October. I can’t wait until my next endo appointment in March to increase my GH. I want to feel better already!

Update March 21, 2005

My endo appointment is over. My endo thinks that my weight gain is from the cortisone, as I’d suspected. He cut that amount in half to see if I would stop gaining weight and maybe lose a little. Because of the adrenal insufficiency, I can’t completely stop it, thought. My IGF-1 was “normal” so I can’t increase the GH.

I made a vacation of this trip, though. A friend and I stayed 2 nights in a hotel and had some fun. The hotel had an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, exercise room, wireless internet access, free shuttles to Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore Inner Harbor. We had a good time for ourselves, so I came home from this endo trip more tired than ever. Over the weekend, I took 7-hour naps on both Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully, that will get better as my body adjusts to the loser dose of Cortef.

Update September, 2005.

My last endo appointment I had lost some weight but not enough. My energy levels are down again, so my endo increased the cortisone slightly. I hope I don’t start gaining again. I don’t see any benefit with the growth hormone.

Update January, 2006.

A new year, a new insurance battle. Once again, they don’t want to pay so I have to go through the whole approval process again. This involves phone calls to Norditropin (the company that makes the GH), my endo, iCore Specialty Pharmacy (the people who prepare and ship the meds) and my insurance company. This is turning into a full-time job!

Update April 14, 2006

I just went to see my endo again on Thursday to see how things are. Although I know how they are – I’m still tired, gaining a little weight, getting some red spots (petechiae) on my midsection. He also noted that I have a “little” buffalo hump again.

My endo appointment is over. Turns out that the argenine test that was done 2 years ago was done incorrectly. The directions were written unclearly and the test run incorrectly, not just for me but for everyone who had this test done there for a couple years. My endo discovered this when he was writing up a research paper and went to the lab to check on something.

So, I’m off GH again for 2 weeks, then I’m supposed to be retested. The “good news” is that the argenine test is only 90 minutes now instead of 3 hours.

Update June 2, 2006

Wow, what a nightmare my argenine retest started! I went back for that Thursday, April 27, 2006. Although the test was shorter, I got back to my hotel and just slept and slept. I was so glad that I hadn’t decided to go home after the test.

Friday I felt fine and drove back home, no problem. I picked up my husband for a biopsy and took him to an outpatient surgical center. While I was there waiting for the biopsy to be completed, I started noticing blood in my urine and major abdominal cramps. I left messages for several of my doctors on what I should do. I finally decided to see my PCP after I got my husband home.

When Tom was done with his testing, his doctor took one look at me and asked if I wanted an ambulance. I said no, that I thought I could make it to the emergency room ok – Tom couldn’t drive because of the anaesthetic they had given him. I barely made it to the ER and left the car with Tom to park. Tom’s doctor followed us to the ER and became my new doctor.

They took me in pretty fast since I was in so much pain, and had the blood in my urine. They thought it was a kidney stone. After a CT scan, my new doctor said that, yes, I had a kidney stone but it wasn’t the worst of my problems, that I had kidney cancer. Wow, what a surprise that was! I was admitted to that hospital, had more CT scans, MRIs, bone scans, they looked everywhere.

My open radical nephrectomy was May 9, 2006 in another hospital from the one where the initial diagnosis was made. My surgeon felt that he needed a specialist from that hospital because he believed preop that my tumor had invaded into the vena cava because of its appearance on the various scans. Luckily, that was not the case.

My entire left kidney and the encapsulated cancer (10 pounds worth!) were removed, along with my left adrenal gland and some lymph nodes. Although the cancer (renal cell carcinoma AKA RCC) was very close to hemorrhaging, the surgeon believes he got it all. He said I was so lucky. If the surgery had been delayed any longer, the outcome would have been much different. I will be repeating the CT scans every 3 months, just to be sure that there is no cancer hiding anywhere. As it turns out, I can never say I’m cured, just NED (no evidence of disease). This thing can recur at any time, anywhere in my body.

I credit the argenine re-test with somehow aggravating my kidneys and revealing this cancer. Before the test, I had no clue that there was any problem. The argenine test showed that my IGF is still low but due to the kidney cancer I cannot take my growth hormone for another 5 years – so the test was useless anyway, except to hasten this newest diagnosis.

Update August 19, 2006

I’ve been even more tired than usual now that I’m off GH. I can’t take my arthritis meds, or anything like Excedrin (no NSAIDs) so my joints are nearly always bothering me and I have to wait out any headaches. I’m also just getting over a UTI.

I just had my 3 month post-op CT scans and I hope they come out ok. At first I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to have chemo or radiation come to find out that neither has been discovered yet which works well with kidney cancer. Apparently, it can resurface any time for the rest of my life. I’m hoping that some of the chemo clinical trials show some good results so I can get this thing before it metastasizes somewhere.

I’m having trouble sleeping (1:20 AM here, now) although I’m always tired.

Whine, whine!

On the plus side – I survived the kidney cancer surgery, and it’s almost vacation time!

Even vacation will be bittersweet, though. 2 years ago, Sue went with us on vacation. She had a great time and she had asked if she could go with us again this year. Of course, we had said yes…

Update October 26, 2006

I went to see my Johns Hopkins endo again last week. He doesn’t “think” that my cancer was caused by the growth hormone although it may well have encouraged the tumor to grow faster than it would have.

He was happy to see that I had lost 22 pounds since my last 6 month visit. Not all of that was from surgery! He reminded me that I can take more cortisone, but I hate to do that because I gain weight so fast when I take more.

He thought that my blood pressure was low – for me, not for “normal” people. He took my pressure several times, lying down, getting up quickly. But I never got dizzy. Maybe my pressure increase was temporary when the cancer started. All these mysteries I have that no one can answer.

My energy levels are lower than when I was on GH, and they’re lower again because I had the adrenal removed, because of my panhypopit, because of my cancer even though currently NED, it can come back at any time, because of my GH deficiency…

Every day is a challenge getting up, doing something useful, doing something without arthritic pain and weakness, having the energy to finish even something “easy”. I’m starting to get very depressed over all this. If this is the way the rest of my life is going to be, why bother?

People mostly assume that everything is OK with me because I am not getting chemo or radiation and because I look so “healthy” (thanks to the Cushing’s/daily Cortef!). They figure that if there was any real danger of the cancer metastasizing that I would be on chemo, like other cancer patients do. They don’t understand that I have to wait and pray because there are no approved adjuvant treatments. If/when my cancer returns, it’s just more surgery. If I’m “lucky” enough and get to a stage 4 THEN I can have chemo/radiation as a palliative measure.

Update December 2006

According to my PCP my blood pressure is truly low. But can I go off these bp meds? Nope…because I have only one kidney, these would have been prescribed anyway as a support for my kidney. Can’t win!

I am maintaining my weight loss but none of my clothes are loose, I can’t fit in anything smaller. Belly is still there. So the weight loss is just a numbers game.

Update March 2007

I posted this on the message boards in late February but many missed it and are still asking…

Walking Wounded, the sequel! Wow! I guess I haven’t been on the boards for 2 weeks or so. I see that I have dozens of PMs to read, many emails to check/answer and I missed at least one person who had ordered an Awareness Bracelet that I never sent.

My Monday appointment with the surgeon went ok. He took blood/urine and was going to send me for CT scans. That day, as I recall was very cold here with a wind chill of something like -7o

I came home and taught my piano students, as usual.

Tuesday morning I woke up and my back hurt. I assumed it was from the cold combined with my arthritis. That got worse throughout the day so I called my PCP. Naturally, he was away until the 19th but had a substitute I could see Wed. I didn’t want to wait because the pain was excruciating by now and I couldn’t get out of chairs or sofa without using the walker I had from surgery to help pull me up.

So I called my husband at work and he said he’d come home and take me to the ER. I had been supposed to have handbell rehearsal that night so I called my director and let her know I wouldn’t make it. She assumed that Tom (husband) would be home sooner than he was, so she got the associate pastor from my church and they headed to the ER to wait with us.

They asked about me at the front desk and were assured that I was there although they didn’t see me. I guess they thought I was with the triage nurse or something. So they waited. Then a Melissa O’Connor was called… My people realized it wasn’t me and left.

Finally, Tom got home – he had really important work to do (sarcastically said!) and I got to the ER about 6:00PM. Last time I was there, they told me I had kidney cancer, so I was hoping that there was no rerun of that experience!

The triage nurse let me wait on a gurney instead of one of the hard plastic chairs in the waiting room.

Unfortunately, they also wanted blood and urine. My only good arm had been used by the neurosurgeon the day before. Luckily the nurse finally got the IV in to my other arm. I guess my veins are a bit better post-Cushing’s. No collapses this time.

They did CT scans (so I don’t have to do my surgeon’s ones – YEA!) and XRays and found basically nothing except lung nodules that hadn’t grown much since my last scan – say what? I didn’t know I HAD lung nodules.

I got some percocet and they sent me home with orders to see the sub PCP in 2 days. The percocet didn’t do much except make me sleepy/groggy. My days were spent watching TV and sleeping. Even sitting at the computer or the table was too painful.

Tom took me to the sub PCP on that Friday and she’s sending me to physical therapy.

Until yesterday, I didn’t drive at all, and the weather has been awful, so I haven’t even called about the PT yet.

There is still a little pain, and I need the walker to get out of bed, but I’m doing much better.

A weird side thing – Tom was driving my car since it’s a van and much heavier than his midlife crisis sports car. The van does much better with snow and ice that we had the last couple weeks.

One day he got it home, slammed the door – and the window slid down into the door. Somehow it got off the tracks. Luckily the glass didn’t break. So that was a bit of a problem and $$. No one had ever even heard of this problem before.

Anyway, I hope to get to your PMs, emails and whatever ASAP!

It feels a bit weird being here – like my baby has grown up, left home and doesn’t need me anymore. Can you have Empty Nest Syndrome for message boards? LOL

I have started a new Blog called Cushing’s, Cancer & Music and I plan to keep that updated a little more often than this bio. Rather than the actual events that have taken place, I am letting some of my pent-up feelings out. NOTE: This blog was destroyed by hackers in June 2008 😦 I don’t know when or if I will ever have the energy to rebuild it. Find the newest blog here: Cushing’s and Cancer Blog

Alaskan Cruise, 2007On an Alaskan cruise, June 2007. More about the cruise.

As of the Chicago meeting in July, 2012 I have met 90 members of the message boards (listed as Friends) in addition to Cushies who are NOT on the boards! I have traveled to meet Cushies at NIH in Bethesda, MD, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Florida, Tennessee, Connecticut, UVa in Southern Virginia and Oregon.

Update October 2018

Well, I haven’t been so great keeping this updated.  I have made other single posts after I went back on Growth Hormone in June, 2017 (Omnitrope this time).   I am posting some of how that’s going here.

No return of cancer (Hooray!)

I’ve developed a new allergy to blackberries

I’ve had a lot of problems with my knees.  This post needs to be updated since I had a cortisone shot in my knee on September 12, 2018 – best thing I ever did, even though my endo will not be happy.

 

I was so stupid way back in 1987 when I thought that all my troubles would be over when my pituitary surgery was over.

And so I wait…


Cushings-Help.com, and quotes from MaryO was included in the Cover Story of this issue of FORBES Magazine, BEST OF THE WEB Issue. The title: “Use With Care” by Matthew Schifrin and Howard Wolinsky.

Hopefully, this kind of mainstream exposure will help increase awareness for this often misunderstood disease. Read the article here.

MaryOVOICE Chat
Listen live to an archived interview from Thursday, January 3, 2008 with MaryO. Achived audio is available through the Podcast page of this siteBlogTalkRadio, the CushingsHelp Podcast or through iTunes Podcasts

Jayne and Robin also hosted a Special Cushing’s Awareness Day live chat April 8, 2008. This chat included a lot of comments about MaryO. Archives are available.

Listen to CushingsHelp on internet talk radio

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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!

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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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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.

Margaret S (Maggierose), Possible Adrenal Bio

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undiagnosed 5

Hi

I’m new to cushings and just looking for some insight into this disease. I’m 67 yrs and for the last 15 yrs I have not felt good and problems getting worse with no explanations in the past. After discussing problems with my Dr I was tested twice for thyroid but tests came back normal.

I do have other problems due to surgeries in the past, I have adhesions, scar tissue etc. I am now type 2 diabetic since last 5 yrs.

I was admitted to hospital because of stomach pain in July this year, I had a cat scan which showed I had tumours on my adrenal glands. The left being the largest. I am waiting to see the endo surgeon in November but have just finished some tests I’ve blood, 12 hr and 24 hr urine specimen. No results as yet.

My symptoms are as follows.

Sweating mainly evening time around 9pm

Can’t sleep until 3am, but could easily sleep on afternoon if I allowed myself.

Changes in face. When I look in mirror I often think this does not look like me.

I have put weight on but not a lot. I have been noticing a lot of facial hair on my face.

I had very, very thick hair and it’s now extremely thin. I have a type of rash on my face which has got worse over the years. It seems like my legs and arms are much thinner than they used to be but my abdomen is getting larger, mainly my upper abdomen. I don’t have any stria but have similar marks on my legs especially around my knees. My skin marks easily. I also seem to have a small buffalo hump on my back. Seem to have brain fog but usually put that down to age. Feel tired all the time.

Some things I can maybe put down to age.

I would appreciate any comments from members. I will let you know when I get results.

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Lauren (Iskah), Undiagnosed Bio

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undiagnosed6

 

My name is Lauren. I am currently being tested for Cushing’s Disease. I’ve read that every patient is different, and from what I can see it is completely true.

I am not entirely sure how long ago my story started. I began seeing my family doctor in high school because I was having menstrual issues. At the time my Mom’s biggest concern was that I was having very irregular periods. She had also noticed that I had been growing hair on my face, under my chin and side burns. I was referred to two different specialists – an Endocrinologist and a Gynecologist to try and determine that root cause.

After multiple appointments with both specialists, the Endocrinologist said that I was on the edge of being Hypo(?) Thyrodism (it’s the one that makes you gain weight) and the Gynecologist said that I had PCOS (or PCOD – the name has recently changed, but I prefer to think of it as a Syndrome instead of a disease). I had a large amount of weight gain between grades 10-11, bumps (or cysts) all over my ovaries, facial hair growth and very irregular periods. I disagreed with the diagnosis.

Even at the age of 15 I felt that it was not the right diagnosis. I had friends with PCOS, and every one of them had insanely painful menstruation and small breasts. This may sound silly, but it was honestly the boobs that made me feel like the diagnosis was wrong. I may have small boobs for my family, but I still carry around size D (or DD depending on my weight) breasts. Either way, the voice of a 15 year old does not tend to carry far and I ended up being prescribed Glumetza (Metformin – used in Diabetes patients) and Yaz (Birth Control).

The Glumetza has always made me sick. I can’t eat my favourite foods with out feeling sick, if I can even get it in my mouth. The one thing I’ve always told my family is that it’s like being pregnant 24/7 with no bun in the oven. I’ve been on and off the medication for years now.

About 6 months ago I went in to see my family Nurse (I’ve stopped seeing my family doctor since, as the diagnosis is always “Lose weight”). I had been having chest pains while working out. Now although I say chest pains, it was more like severe pressure in my left shoulder. I would get dizzy and light headed while running with my sister, and on one occasion I threw up (Just bring it up to my sister, and she will start describing the cheesy spagetti coming flying out of my mouth and on to the yard of one our neighbours.. she still will not run that way).

At the point Erin (the amazing family nurse) also mentioned that my blood pressure had been high, not just recently, but for the last year. Furthermore I was hypertensive. I had heard this term before because for the last year my Mother had been going through her own set of genetic heart issues. My Mom had just been diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease (genetic form of it) and Superventrical Tachycardia (SVT – PSVT specifically). My Mother was also Hypertensive. This was concerning to Erin, as it had already been determined that my Mom’s condition was genetically given to her.

After monitoring my blood pressure for 3 months, with no improvements I was referred to an Internalist who also specialized in Cardiology. He’s great, just for the record. It’s not very often I that I get to speak with a doctor who understands sarcastic humour. Dr. A-R immediately removed me from Mavik (Blood Pressure Pill) as it was actually doing more harm then good. The palpitations that I was having on those pills were beyond intense, and the worst I ever had. They were never long lasting, never lasting more than 20 seconds at absolute most, but I can definitely say that I do not envy my Mom. Dr. A-R diagnosed me with SVT after a 14 day heart monitor. He literally called me the following Monday after I handed the monitor in. He immediately changed my medication from Mavik to a Calcium Channel Blocker. I still have heart episodes but not nearly as many or as bad as when I was on Mavik.

At my 3 month check in last week he said that he was concerned, because he did not believe that the blood pressure and the SVT were actually connected. He believes that I also have Cushing’s Disease. I had some blood work done a few weeks back that showed a very high number for a stress hormone in my blood. Now I am new to this whole thing, and my memory is horrendous, so I honestly do not remember what that hormone is called. I laughed when he said it though, for two reasons. 1. When I was diagnosed with PCOS, I was told that my body didn’t make hormones, hence the thoroughly detested Glumetza. Apparently that’s a different hormone. 2. It’s a stress hormone? Seriously? I am stressed 24/7 between work, home and my constantly changing relationship with the love of my life. I asked him if that would affect the number. As all of you know, it didn’t. At 8am when I had my blood work done, it shouldn’t be that high. He asked that I do a 24 hour Urine test. I waited until this weekend to do it, and I can honestly say that I did not enjoy a single moment of that test.

My Symptoms:

> Weight Gain

> Facial hair

> Irregular Periods

> High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

> Back Pain (Which I always assumed was from my curved spine – scoliosis)

> I have a little bump on my shoulders, but unless you’re looking for it, you won’t see it.

> High levels of stress hormone.. and waiting on results for Cortisol.

> I recently have been struggling with depression

> Anxiety & Irritability are a constant.

> Acne

I am currently waiting on my urine results.. and I have no idea what to expect. I do not even know how long it will take to get results.

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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.

 

In Memory: Diana Crosley

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diana2003a

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

diana2003b

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

diana2005

Brighton, MI: Cushing’s Weekend, October 2005

diana2007

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

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