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Jennifer, Undiagnosed Bio

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Hello, I am a 33 yearl old female who has been living a nightmare for the last 5 years as I have seen my total health delcine before my eyes.

I have gained massive amounts of weight with no medical reason, my monthly cycle has left me, insomnia, severe depression and anxiety for no reason, infertility, allmy obesity is in my stomach and upper back, I have developed sleep apnea from having a thick neck, I have the infamous buffalo hump, hair loss of 50% of my hair, I cannot lose weight no matter what I do, I take these weird week spells where I cannote even get out of bed, hair has literally stopped growing on my legs and other areas of my body, except on my chin and abdomen where I do not want it to grow, my face is round and red and people who see me cannot believe this transformation my body has undertaken and I then have to hear how could have let myself go? If you would just stay on a diet longer than 2 weeks? I am glad that my children are not fat? I could go on and on the emotionally abuse I have had to enudre the last 5-6 years.

I have exercised and exercised to no improvement other than I feel exhausted, I eat a very strict diet, my Mother had to move over here with us because I no longer can care for my children and need her help. I have medical bills back in the states that are like science fiction.

I finally got diagnosed with hypothyroidism and still feel horrible, I have to take Toprol XL for heart palpitations without no explanation from where they are coming from it is so much easier for some physicians to keep just giving you pills instead of trying to figure out what is the root problem.

I now live in a foreign country where it is even harder on me, but I do have an appointment after 10 months with an Endocrinologist here in Doha tomorrow and on November 9th I have an appointment to go see a Cushings Expert in the UAE in Dubai his name is Dr. Taher so I will give an update after theses two visits.

Jennifer
Doha, Qatar

Update December 30, 2007

Hello My name is Jennifer and I am a 33 year old American living in Doha, Qatar (Middle-East), I was finally sent to Dubai and seen an Endocrinologist and he did an MRI and i have two pituitary tumors and he believes that I do have Cushings so he referred me to see Dr. Bill Ludlam, MD in Seatte in January 2008 to get further testing.

I know that there were something worng with me a long time ago but I never knew it was something as stealthy as this disease possibly, I have all the classical symptoms. Also the tesing is so so expensive in the States so I am waiting for the Qatari Governments approval for my medical expenses in Seattle.

I will giva another update soon.

Update May 28, 2008

My current update. I did go see Dr. Ludlam with no avail since my insurance would not pay for him but he did state that I needed further testing so after I left Washington I went to my friends house in Alaska just to have time to think since my husband and I are seperated.

I decided to go back home to West Virginia to be with my family for support and see a Doctor there bringing all my reports and scans to him from the Dr. in the Middle-East and Dr. Ludlmas suggestions.

I seen Dr Yakub and they did tests and all of them came back positive for Cushings my urine, salivory and blood several times came back positive and high for Cushings , also my MRI in January showed that my pituitary tumors are still there.

He is a good doctor and is located in Huntington West Virginia and he not only practices Endocrinology but he is also a Professor of Endocrinology at Marshall University School of Medicine. I will keep all of you updated and thank you so much for your support through this trying time in my life and I pray that all of the Cushies on this board get diagnosed, treated and healed.

Update July 10, 2008

I have finally got my diagnosis and I am heading to the University of Virgnia in Charloettesville on July 23rd! I will update what happens from there. I would also like to say thank you to Christi who has helaped me and talked to me through this difficult time.

Update September 19, 2008

Hello Everyone I am so sorry that it has taken me son long to get back with you I had my Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling done this week at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and it is confirmed I have pituitary dependent Cushings and I am scheduled for surgery the first week of October with Dr. John Jane Jr. They are great at the University of Virginia and I am so thankful for them. I am hoping that someone will take me under their wing while I am getting ready for surgery and give me some advice. I would really appreciate the help.

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Melissa (SweetMelisa), Adrenal Bio

2 Comments

adrenal-glands

Hello everyone,

First, thank you all for sharing your stories. While I am not thrilled to me joining the group, it is nice not feeling alone in this journey anymore. My thoughts and prayers to all of you who have traveled this path and continue to do so.

My case is rather complex. It seems I have a myriad of problems going on and I am still navigating toward a diagnosis. I am a 41 year old who is 5’5 and last I checked, idling at 184 lbs despite a daily calorie intake of around 1200.

In brief, I have battled weight issues since puberty despite being a relatively healthy eater and involved in sports until I was 16. Other than weight issues I have had a relatively healthy life until I decided to start having kids in 2004 (age 28).

First pregnancy: diagnosed with “borderline” gestational diabetes. Monitored with finger sticks before meals and controlled by diet. Despite healthy eating, I gained over 60lbs with my first pregnancy and gave birth to a nearly 10 lb baby via c-section. My cycles became horrible thereafter.

Second pregnancy: experienced secondary infertility issues (it took us 13 months to conceive). I was diagnosed with low Progesterone and put on a supplement into the beginning of my second trimester. Delivered a healthy baby, nearly 9lbs, via c-section. I gained 35-40lbs with that pregnancy.

About a year or a little less after my second pregnancy (around 2010) I was diagnosed with hypertension after my readings stayed in the 140-150s/80s-mid 90s. I was placed on a hypertension medication but I discontinued it after about 6 months because of the development of a chronic cough (and thinking I could change my lifestyle a bit and the BP issue would follow suit). I was also experiencing pretty bad fluid retention in my feet and ankles but nothing was done about that.

During 2011 to the end of 2014 I lost my health insurance and therefore did not seek any medical care. In 2015 I regained it and changed PCPs to an internist since I was approaching 40 and knew the next phase of life could bring on major health changes. Boy did I plan that right.

Feb 2015 I had a routine workup done with my new doctor. The labs showed elevated triglycerides, a BP of 182/128 (yikes), continued fluid retention (so bad at times I can’t fit into anything other than slide on shoes) and a very low Vitamin D level. My new doctor placed my on a BP med with a diuretic, ordered me to go on the Atkins diet, watch my sodium intake and to take 5000mg of Vitamin D a day. Then follow up in 6 months.

At the 6 month follow up, my triglycerides barely decreased, instead of losing weight on Atkins, I gained 6 lbs and despite the diuretic, I was still having fluid retention (though not consistent). (They did not believe that I had changed my eating habits by the way). I was told I needed to really focus on eating better and I was scheduled for a 3 month follow up and if I didn’t lose weight then we would have to have a more serious talk (I was 172lbs at my first appointment). I missed the 3 month follow up because I am also a caregiver to a chronically ill parent.

Fast forward to March 2016 (late March), I developed an upper respiratory infection. I typically get them every April but this one was very different. The fatigue was debilitating. It hit me like a ton of bricks at the checkout counter of a drug store and it took every single remaining ounce of energy for me to walk to my car, a mere 100′ away. I was diagnosed as having a bad viral bug but………..they also found a new heart murmur and I had informed them about a couple episodes of shortness of breath and waking up with a racing heartbeat (110 beats per minute). They put me on a steroid and had me follow up in a week or so.

April 2016 I followed up and while there, pointed out a palpable mass just above my navel and slightly to the right. I told them about a weird abdominal “catching” type pain I had been experiencing since last Fall and maybe it was adhesions from c-sections or a hernia. And so began the unfolding of many many tests and findings ever since……….

During the journey to figure out the hernia (which was finally picked up by a 2nd surgeon at a teaching hospital) I began experiencing relentless right upper quadrant pain which led to a lot more tests, several specialists (a GI doc, 2 surgeons, 1 OB Nurse Practitioner, 1 OBGYN and my PCP).

Findings:
Gallbladder normal on ultrasound, normal on CT with contrast and normal on MRI but HIDA Scan shows an ejection fraction rate of 18% (Cholecystectomy recommended). The 24/7 pain has subsided but I do have pain daily though oddly enough, it is triggered by not eating as well as eating (and more often by healthy food than fatty ones).

CT with contrast showed bilateral adrenal adenomas. An in phase/outphase MRI was ordered. MRI result: 2.6cm adenoma on right adrenal, 1.7cm adenoma on left adrenal 3 lesions (cystic type) on my liver. (I asked my PCP if I should be concerned about these, He said no “They’re incidentalomas”. I don’t think they have anything to do with what is going on with you.” I told him I had read the Endocrinology Society recommended a workup to see if they are functioning or nonfunctioning and that I was concerned about my weight gain (difficulty losing it over the years), increasingly bad blood pressure and fluid retention issues. He said he would to the 1mg dexamethasone suppression test but to wait to have it done after I had other workups done). I could tell he was only ordering the test to appease me. More on that in a minute.

GI specialist did an endoscopy and colonoscopy: Endo fine, colonoscopy discovered 3 polyps (2 benign, 1 precancerous adenomatous) and a diagnosis of mild diverticulosis

OB visit led to 3 vaginal ultrasounds and the discovery and tracking of a suspicious, large ovarian cyst (turned out to be hemorrhagic) and a thickened endometrium. Endometrial biopsy done – negative for hyperplasia and cancer.

After all of my other testing sessions slowed down, I went in to have the 1mg dexamethasone suppression test done (July). My AM cortisol came back with a result of 5.9 (my PCP is calling this borderline). He ordered the 2 day test per endo protocol…..the AM cortisol came back 7.1 and my ACTH came back undetectable. I sent him a journal from the Endo Society with a bunch of hi-lighting and that I wondered if we needed to check for Aldosterone issues because of the fluid retention. He ordered an Aldosterone/Renin Ratio and 1 other lab test. Thursday will be 2 weeks and I have still not received the results. I do have an appointment to meet with him next week for him to “discuss” all of these findings. I am suspecting at this point, that I have sub-clinical cushings or something of that nature.

I have been delaying my cholecystectomy and hernia repair surgery pending these tests. Now I am concerned that I will be adding at least, a unilateral adrenalectomy to the list, if not bilateral which frankly, scares me quite a bit. I will be requesting a referral to Johns Hopkins or Duke to see an Endocrinologist. I asked my PCP early on when the adrenal adenomas were found if I should be referred to one and he said he didn’t think it was necessary. I am losing quick confidence in my PCP though he is well respected by other patients that I know.

Anyway, thus is my story…….and I know more is to come.

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Michelle (ingledoo), Cyclic Pituitary Bio

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golden-oldie

 

Dear Cushies, (if I have spelling boo boos please over look them, I don’t have the spelling gene)

I would like to say that I was new on my road to a diagnosis, but I am not. I begain to complain to my Dr’s in my 30’s (I am 3 weeks away from 50th B-day) about my symptoms. I have led a very stressful life from the start. No need to go into details, but it has taken a life time to heal from them. One day (it seemed like over night) I felt extreme weakness in my legs and arms.

I begain to have dizzy spells and began to gain weight for no reason. A very strange fatty hump begain to grow at the base of my neck and my periods began to disappear. I don’t mean I missed them, the just began to become very light and last only one or two days. And I became infertile. Happily I had two children and I was alright with the news.

I started to have high blood pressure (sometimes, it goes up and down for no reason). My Dr. said I must be forgetting my meds. I DO NOT! She (I have two Dr’s same office, one male other female) gave one of what was to be hundreds of eyebrow raises that mean your lying to yourself, if not coming right out and saying it. In the begining I had all my weight bulging around my middle. People used to say “you have such nice legs” (for a fat person).

But after so many years of extreme waekness in legs and arms and not being able to be as active as I used to love to be, fat begain to advance over the rest of my body as well. My Dr’s kept telling me to diet and stay away from sweets. No matter how hard I would tell them that I don’t eat many sweets (I like a goodie now and then, but I never have them around as a rule) they would tell me that I had to be pigging out and I was just in denial. I can’t describe the frustration and helplessness I feel when no one belives what I’m saying.

Finally My male Dr. believed me enough or just wanted me to be quiet about it and sent me to the Endocrinologist. I had to wait for months to get there. I had been looking up my symptoms on line and Cushings came up over and over again. I cried when I read all of my sysmptoms facing me from the screen. I have everyone!

I have lost over half of my hair, mostly on top. I have purple marks on my side, I have blured vision, I have to have my glasses changed every two years and I still can’t see. I bruse easily and I heal very, very slowly. I had a hernia operation and the wound opened up and it took 5 months to close. I have the most embarassing hair on my face, I can grow a full beard, and I have a thick hair line on my belly. I lactated for 15 years after the birth of my son. For no reason. I live with anxiety every day of my life. I have off and on depression. I have tried every class of anti-depressent with bad side effects. I will never use them again. I can’t sleep and I’m so tired. I can’t raise my arms for more than a minute before they literally fall down on their own. My blood sugar is up a tiny bit but as i said, I don’t eat many sweets and there is NO diabetes in my family at all.

At last I found the answer I have been seeking for for years. And now I could have some hope. I went to my first Endo appiontment and told the Dr. that I was at the end of my hope and I was preying for his help. After he examind me and took my history he told me he believed that I had Cushings too. At last someone who believed me, I cried buckets. He ordered a AM Crtisol and a 24 hour urine. And he told me to come back in 3 months! In the mean time the AM cortisol came back to my Dr’s office, NEGATIVE. I was dumbfounded. All I could say to my Dr was, I don’t understand? What about the weakness in my legs and everything? She said, and I still hurt to this day: TOO BAD YOUR LEGS WEREN’T WEAK ON YOUR WAY TO THE FRIDGE! I wanted to die. The one 24 urine came back normal too.

I have lost all hope. Then I remembered that the Endo Dr. said he would find the problem and I still held out some hope for help. When I finally got back to see him he said, I the the test were negative and I don’t have Cushings, good-bye and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I will be honest here, the thought I had in my head was “I guess I need to die so they can disect my pituitary to find the tumors” an awefull thought huh? But that’s how low and dejected I felt. That was last month and I know something is very wrong with me. I have lost who I am and my ability to be a part of life. I know with all that I am that I have Cushings. It is the only thing that answers every one of my symptoms.

Read about it I have found that many Cushies have gone through what I have, but I have no-one to turn to and no Dr. will believe me after their test prove to THEM that I’m nuts. If anyone knows what I can do, please please help me. I do not have money and can not pay for tests myself. I need a Dr. to refer me in Canada. I’m putting it out there for help.

Thank you all,
Michelle in Richmond BC

Update August 24, 2009

Hello Cushies,

Please disreguard spelling boo boo’s! This site needs spell check!

I felt I needed to up date where I am at this point in my Cushings journey. (Please read my first Bio posting Nov. 19th ’08)

I was in the pit of dispair as to what to due about my health and with no one to turn to, I went into a horrible depression. I had just ended a 20 year marriage that included abuse about my weight. Blame from everyone that my sysmptoms were all my fault and in my head. My grown children were no better. I live in a VERY image focused city and if you are not a size two, there is something wrong with you. Most people look at you as a freak. Fat biggots are everywhere. I wish I was joking, but it’s true.

One morning I woke up and felt I had nothing to loose by making a pain out of myself with my Dr’s or anyone that I thought could help. I came back to Cushing’s Help.com and looked up helpful Dr’s in my area listed on this site. I found two in my city and proceeded to write a 5 page history of the last 20 years of my life and the test that had been done on me (or not done) and 24 symptoms that I have. When they started and where they are up to now. I poured my heart out. I had nothing to loose by sending out this letter on my own but dead air space coming back to me. And I wouldn’t be worse off than I already was. So what the heck.

A couple of months past and I gave up on hearing anything back from these Dr.s, when low and behold, my phone rang when I was walking down the street. There was this Crisp South African accent on the other end saying her was Dr. Tom Elliot. It tool me a few minutes to have my brain put him in the right place and I was shocked that he called! He said he read my letter and he agreed with me that I was not properly tested! I was dumbfounded! He said he was going to leave some tests for me to pick up at his office and if they came back showing anything then he would see me, other wise I wouldn’t hear from him again.

I raced to his office and picked up. Two 24/hour Urines and an order for cortisol suppession blood test and 2 salavery test tubes. This was what I dreamed of. And I was so scared! What if it was true! What if I was really crazy and it was all in my head!

Anyway, I did all the test and took them to the labs myself. Months past. I thought the worst. Till one day I was walking down the street again and there was that crisp accent on the other end again! He said I need you to come in and see me! Some of your tests came back as abnormal!

He added me as a regular patiant and I discovered that it is almost imposible to get in to see this Dr. He doesn’t take new pateints unless he feels that they are a special case! I had hope at last! He gave me a physical and he kept saying yep and there it is and nodding his head. Finally we sat down and he asked me one question. He said: of all your symptoms, what one bothers you the most? I didn’t hesitate and said: the extreem weakness in my legs and all muscles. The painful fatigue. I feel that if I could have my body back, I could have a life again, He looked at me with understanding eyes and said he wanted to do one more salavry test and the he would see me in Oct. to discuss treatment for Cyclic Pituary Cushings! I couldn’t help myself. I started balling my eyes out! I wanted to hug him and bake him cookies. But he just didn’t seem like that kind of guy! He would have seen me sooner, but he was leaving on holidays. Now when I see my GP’s they don’t give me that “look” anymore and can hardly look me in the eye.

Remember all you Cushie out there, never give up! Keep rattling you cage and be heard. Someone somewhere will hear you!

All my best to all,
Michelle G.
Richmond BC

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Teresa G (HB), Pituitary Bio

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pituitary-location

 

I am a 47 year old woman diagnosed with Cushings Disease June 2014. I have always been one of those girls who was curvy, but was a yo-yo in the weight department.

About 1o years ago I was diagnosed with PCOS. I had extra facial hair, extra weight, irregular periods, infertility problems. Boy did I feel good about knowing what was wrong with me!

Then a couple of years after that I had a stress fracture in my right foot. I seemed to take forever to heal, but finally did. I had several uneventful years. I did have pain in my pelvic area for quite sometime before deciding something had to be done. Four years ago, after visiting my gyno, it was decided that I should have a hysterectomy due to fibroids. That is when the fun really started for me.

I really didn’t noticed, but sometime after that my skin became really oily, I had acne (for the first time in my life), and the weight had come on. My hair became quite wavy. And the stress factures started.

First my left foot, the 2nd metatarsal, then the 3rd metatarsal. All in all I have had four different instances of stress fractures in my feet, and one on my ankle. What got everyone’s attention though, was when my hip broke.

I had been seeing a chiropractor for back problems I figured were due to wearing a boot for my fractures on and off for years. My back did not seem to be getting any better. As a matter of fact my hip area seemed to hurt worse. Then, early the morning of January 8, 2014, I was trying to make my way to the bathroom, when I heard this awful noise, felt an even worse pain and down I went. Later the doctors figured I had had a stress fracture that had started to heal in the femoral neck of my hip, but broke.

All of my doctors were scratching their heads. But that was about all. My PCP ran some blood and urine tests, but really did not find anything out. I FINALLY asked every one of my doctors, since they did not know what was wrong, where did they suggest I turn. Each one said and endocrinologist. Of course my next question was “What is an endocrinologist?”.

That was in February 2014. I was referred to Dr. Ferries, one of the few endos in Wyoming. It took a while to hear from her, but when I did, I was disappointed to hear that the soonest I could get in to see her was in June.

In the meantime, I had refractured my ankle. April 1, 2014 I had the ankle repaired. April 7, 2014 I passed my first kidney stone. I let Dr. Ferris know about it. Shortly after that my appointment got moved to May.

My appointment with Dr. Ferries last about 2 hours. After asking all the questions, listening to my story and an exam, she told us she thought it may be Cushings, but needed to do several tests. She let us know that it was something that would take some time.

I did the urine tests, the blood tests, and an MRI. My cortisol levels were way out of the norm. The MRI showed a 6mm microadenoma on my pituitary. I was ecstatic! After deciding to have my little friend removed in Denver, Co, Dr. Ferries sent my referral to Dr. Lillehei at University Colorado Hospital.

I took a few days, but they called to make an appointment. July 31, 2014 was my appointment with the brain surgeon. I was so happy to be on my way to feeling better! I had to tell my story again to Dr. Lillehei, the brain surgeon. He did not see the tumor, so he wanted me to see his endocrinologist. Then I had to tell my story yet again to Dr. Wierman. She told me she was not impressed by my previous tests and MRI. She would like me to do them all again. She told us they had their protocols, and when they did not follow them, they usually got bit. I was disappointed, but understood.

Those results of those tests were inconclusive. My cortisol was not nearly as high. So the next step was IPSS. The petrosal was scheduled for August 18, 2014. The results of the that test were quite definitive. There was an ACTH secreting tumor on the right side of my pituitary. Hooray!! My surgery was scheduled for September 5, 2014.

The surgery went off without a hitch. Colin, Dr. Lillehei’s PA, then informed me that the surgery was the easiest part. He said I would pretty much feel like sh@%. He was right. I am feeling better and better. My skin is not a grease pit any more. I am loosing weight. My appetite sucks and sweets make me even more nauseated. I can manage to make it to aquacise several times a week, though. I am looking forward to the days when I have energy!

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MaryO, Pituitary Bio

23 Comments

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 enarge.

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 metasticizing 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 ajuvant 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 pallative 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 travelled 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.

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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