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Rachel, Undiagnosed Bio

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Hello, my name is Rachel, and I am 31, will be 32 in 2 weeks.

I have been suffering from this medical condition, which I believe to be Cushing’s Syndrome, Adrenal Fatigue, or Pheochromocytoma, or maybe a mixture of all 3. I have had this for around 16 years, maybe longer, as I have had the classic “buffalo hump” on the back of my neck since I was 9 years old and have always had trouble with my weight. I have been on many diets since mid-childhood.

When I was around 13, I discovered a weight loss supplement, which I diligently took and lost 20 pounds over a 2-year period. I felt the best I have ever felt my entire life. I eventually had to stop taking it, though, due to not being allowed to bring any meds or supplements to my high school. I was not totally thin, but I looked pretty good. But during that first year of high school, my insomnia returned, and the rest of my symptoms started to emerge.

Autumn 1999 (when I was 14): I started getting daily headaches. Sometimes, they were minor, where I could ignore them, and other times they were so debilitating that I had to miss school. Because I wasn’t allowed to bring medication to school, I had to take Ibuprofen every morning as a preventative.

Autumn 2000: I suddenly gained 20 pounds in one month without changing anything in my diet. The fat was especially much around my face, neck, and torso.

Spring 2001: I developed fatigue, loss of concentration or “spacey-ness”, and being easily physically and mentally drained. I lost contact with many of my neighborhood friends, since I avoided lengthy times spent with them, and sometimes wouldn’t be when them at all because of not having enough energy.

Autumn 2001: Thinking I had hypothyroidism, I had my first doctor’s appointment over these symptoms, especially of the weight gain that was getting worse. Nothing showed up in tests, and the doctor wanted to put me on a 900 calorie diet. I never went back.

Summer 2002: My menstrual cycles became irregular, skipping sometimes 2 or 3 months at a time. Finally, they stopped altogether. I also gained another 20 pounds that upcoming school semester (16 weeks).

Summer 2003: I went to another doctor. She put me on birth control pills to get my menstrual cycles back. It helped a little, but they were very light with severe cramping. I gained an additional 20 pounds from the birth control pills and did not feel good. Once I got off of them, my menstruation stopped again, and I never lost those 20 pounds.

Autumn 2003: I went to another doctor from the University of Chicago. He tested various hormones and found that my androgen levels (mainly testosterone) were so high that it was off the charts. He thought that I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, so he entered me in several studies he was conducting for people with PCOS. I was given several test medications and had more tests done testing insulin resistance, glucose tolerance, and other things. Nothing came up positive. During that time, I also had an ultrasound done on my ovaries to check for cysts. Nothing showed up. After other tests were done, he concluded that I did not have PCOS, and that I might actually have Cushing’s Syndrome. I couldn’t go back to him, though, as his regular appointments without the studies were really costly. This whole time of the studies lasted till summer of 2004.

I also gained an additional 30 pounds during this time.

>My symptoms of fatigue and loss of concentration continued to worsen, so I had to become a part time student to avoid exhaustion with classes. I felt my worst usually starting around 1 or 2pm, and lasting till around 5pm.

Summer 2005: Diarrhea started abruptly and has been continuing ever since. A year later, I had discovered that caffeine could cause it, so I got off of all caffeine, which alleviated it for a few months. However, it returned shortly after, blossoming into 3 different kinds and becoming worse and more frequent over the years. I used to have it only at night, but now, I have it in the morning as well, and some at night, and sometimes some in the afternoon. I can have even 5 or more bouts of it a day, which makes it difficult for me in any public place. It slows me down in the mornings (as I sometimes have to spend an hour in the restroom) and often makes me late for things.

2006-2010: I have gone to many doctors over this time, each one testing my cortisol, TSH, T3 and T4, testosterone, DHEA, progesterone, and insulin levels, and each one coming up with nothing abnormal except high testosterone.

Spring 2009: I developed a candida skin infection that has been reoccurring since then. Antifungals do not take it away, only antibiotic ointments. However, even the antibiotic ointments do not take it completely away, as it keeps reoccurring and showing discoloration in spots where it had been previously.

Spring 2010: Episodes of light-headedness, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate started appearing, ranging anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour in duration. They would come completely at random, sometimes 3 or more times a week, and sometimes not for several months.

2011: I developed slow motility, where it takes hours for my meals to digest. This made it hard for me to get to bed at a normal bedtime like 10pm, since I couldn’t lie down without getting horribly nauseous. This also affected my diarrhea, making it where I have to push to make it come out, since my intestines do not contract much to squeeze it out or they contract very slowly.

Summer and Autumn 2011: I went to 2 doctors in New York who also tested my cortisol levels and catecholamine levels to test for pheocromocytoma, which all came out normal. I also had an MRI done on my brain to check for growths on my pituitary gland. Nothing showed up with that, either. I also went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. My results in those tests also were all normal, and no diagnosis was made.

Spring 2012: My menstruation returned to regular monthly cycles.

Winter/Spring 2013: I suddenly started to become sensitive to cold, so winter became almost unbearable for me. This cold sensitivity has been increasing every year thereafter. Even temperatures in the 60-degree Fahrenheit range make me feel chilled and forced me to dress in double and triple layers of clothing.

Also, around this time, my fatigue reached a new level of severity, making my “dead” time duration between 12pm-6pm.

Spring 2014: My menstrual cycles suddenly changed again, where I had constant menstruation for over 3 months.

2015: My fatigue, again, worsened, making me so tired that I could fall asleep throughout the afternoon and most of the evening. This extreme tiredness would come especially shortly after I would eat a meal, particularly in the midday. This made studying for my classes very difficult and time consuming, since I was so slow.

I also started to notice I could feel a small lump on my upper left side, just below my ribcage. This lump started out the size of a golf ball and has increased to the size of a baseball. It makes me feel nauseous if it’s pressed on with little pressure and hurts when it’s pressed on hard.

My menstrual cycles became irregular again and have stayed that way ever since.

Spring 2016: After getting nowhere with endocrinologists, I went to see a gastroenterologist because of my diarrhea and lump. A CAT scan was done of my abdominal area showing nothing abnormal. In fact, the space where the lump should be in the pictures just shows empty blackness, no organs or growths whatsoever.

Over the course of these years, I have done a lot of my own research and have noticed that my symptoms all match 3 possible conditions: Cushing’s Syndrome, Adrenal Fatigue, and Pheocromocytoma. I am wondering if all these three conditions can coexist in the same body. I know that Cushing’s results from a growth on either the pituitary gland or the adrenal cortex of the adrenal gland, making the adrenal gland produce too much cortisol.

I also know that pheocromocytoma results from a growth on the medulla of the adrenal gland, producing high levels of catecholamines, which, for some reason, does not always show up in a blood test. And I know that adrenal fatigue results when the adrenal glands become exhausted from constantly producing high levels of cortisol during stress that lasts over a long period of time, so they don’t produce enough. So could it be that I have a growth on one of my adrenal glands that extends from the adrenal cortex into the adrenal medulla, causing the symptoms of Cushing’s and pheocromocytoma, while my other adrenal gland has adrenal fatigue? That would make sense why nothing shows up on the tests, because one adrenal gland is producing too much cortisol, and the other is not producing enough. So the two would cancel each other out, yet I could still experience symptoms.

I have gone to 12 doctors over these 16 years, and not a one has ever come up with a diagnosis or even cared about investigating the cause. They resist doing further testing and evaluating, because nothing shows up in the initial blood and urine tests. They don’t even believe me and think that it must be depression or that I am just making it all up. I have been criticized, rebuked, and laughed at by them. I even had a doctor chuckle as he told me, “You better get your periods back or you could get cancer of the uterus”. I have run out of doctors and have basically given up hope.

So where I am right now, spring 2017: My symptoms have gotten so bad that I am almost debilitated. Every day, I always wake up feeling just as tired as I did the night before. No matter how much sleep I get, I do not feel rejuvenated whatsoever. This makes it impossible for me to get up before noon, so often times, I am just eating breakfast/lunch around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I have no energy all day long, and the fatigue makes me unable to do much of anything during the times I am awake. Most of the time, I feel like I am moving in slow motion, because time seems to pass by so quickly. I have to take frequent breaks from mental or physical tasks just to regain some strength and energy. I try to avoid social events, as I don’t have the energy to be with people and get easily stressed and drained. So I am alone much of the time. I can only take one class per semester in college now, as I don’t have enough energy to study.

I have acquired muscle weakness in my arms, hands and legs, that makes it incredibly difficult, and sometimes painful, to go up and down stairs, along with doing the process of going from sitting to standing or vise-versa. I appear as “lazy” since I can’t even get up from my chair to get something that is just a few feet away from me. The muscle weakness in my arms and hands makes it difficult to even do handwriting.

My memory if often foggy, also making studying difficult, as I can’t remember what I am reading. Many times, if a friend asks me what I have done during the last few days, I can’t remember. I can experience a fun event, and I still will forget and have to force myself to think about what it was. I feel like in a fog all day.

Almost every day, I will wake up with a headache, or I will get one over the course of the day. I have to take painkillers, such as Alleve, everyday just to keep my headaches under control. And sometimes, my headaches are so bad that they debilitate me. With those kinds of headaches, taking up to 12 Alleve in one day will not take them away.

Painful diarrhea keeps me in the restroom sometimes up to an hour or longer with each bout. I have to eat my evening meal earlier and earlier, so I don’t have to sit up late waiting for it to digest. I even have to keep from lying down for over an hour after drinking just water.

My immune system is also impaired, so I can get sick easily and have reoccurring candida infections. Colds and the flu hit me hard, often debilitating me for weeks. I take vitamin D3 to enhance my immune system to not get sick as often, since I have to ride the train and bus going to and from school. I have also acquired more allergies over these years. My nose has gotten really sensitive to perfumes and fragrances. I never used to be allergic to animals, but now, I can’t even go into a house that has pets without getting a bad sore throat and runny nose for 3 days after. And in general, I have noticed my lungs and nasal passages are producing more mucous, so I have to keep coughing and blowing my nose frequently, or I get a sore throat.

My menstrual cycles are very light and almost non-existent. I haven’t had one since January, and it’s now the beginning of April.

I am now 100 pounds overweight and can’t lose it, even with the same weight loss supplement I took before my first year of high school. The majority of the fat is around my face, neck, and torso, with some now accumulating on my upper arms and upper legs and pale purple stretch marks on my belly and upper arms. I have the typical fat distribution and appearance of Cushing’s Syndrome.

I still get the episodes where I experience a rapid heart rate, light-headedness, and shortness of breath. During those times, I have to breathe harder and just stop whatever I am doing. I have even almost felt like passing out at times.

I will be graduating in 4 weeks and am very afraid, as I don’t know how I will handle the stress and demands of a full time job, especially if I have to interact with people. I have very few friends, and half of my own family doesn’t believe me when I talk about my condition. I feel ugly and boring and have become very depressed. Is there ANYONE IN THE WORLD who will help me??? I hope someone (like a doctor perhaps) will read this bio of mine, and have compassion in their heart and be eager to help me.

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Annette S (Annette), Undiagnosed Bio

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undiagnosed3

 

43 yr old female- trying to get diagnosed
I have about 41 out of 42 Cushing Symptoms
Have been diagnosed as insulin resistant and as of recent was told I am not insulin resistant
Have had one Dex Suppression test – negative and 2 – 24 hour urine negative
I am at a complete loss- Can I have Cushing’s and these test come back negative?

 

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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: Kate Myers

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kate-fb kate

 

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.

 

Michelle (Michelle), Undiagnosed Bio

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Hi, I am a Mother of 3 boys, 20, 18 and 13.  My youngest has been steadily gaining weight, has a large round face with red cheecks and large torso.

I’ve been to 3 endocrinologists so far and have not been given a diagnosis of Cushing’s.  All of his cortisol levels were considered normal.  He also had an MRI of his pituitary and adrenals which were also negative.

The last endo diagnosed him with insulin resistance and he was put on Metformin. He has suffered from depression, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, buffalo hump, add gastrointestinal issues etc.  He has all of the symptoms except for the obvious stretch marks.

I believe he has cyclical cushing’s, which my sister found out she has after many years of testing.  A lot of the drs. I spoke to about this said they don’t believe in cyclical cushing’s.

It has been so difficult watching my son suffer and be ridiculed by other children. The doctors tell me to make him exercise and eat healthy (really? No kidding!)

Has anyone else had cushing’s WITHOUT the deep red stretch marks.  He does have stretch marks, but not the typical type you see in cushing’s.

Thanks so much

Michelle

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Miriam, Undiagnosed Bio

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golden-oldie

Hi. I am M and I have had healthy problems for as long as I can remember.

It started when I was 10 with severe anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Luckily, I don’t remember most of the details, but I remember being under the care of a child psychiatrist and a psychologist. I was on a cocktail of medications for about a year. As some point, my mother read a bunch about the dangers of these medications and somehow weaned me off of them. I remained under the care of my psychologist for a year or two after that.

I think we hoped at that point that things would go back to normal, or something like that, but sadly, we were very wrong. A couple of months (possibly a year) later, I was diagnosed with diabetes, shortly before my 12th birthday. This was 12 years ago, when type two diabetes wasn’t often (if at all) diagnosed in kids that age. It took the doctors a while to determine if I was type two or type one, but they eventually settled on type two. In reality, it barely made a difference, as I was on insulin and oral medication- in essence being treated for both types.

Again, I wish I could say that this was the end of my health problems, but it wasn’t. For starters, my insulin resistance was (and still is) so bad that I am on enormous doses of insulin just to maintain a non-dangerous blood sugar level. I have  been plagued by nasty skin (bacterial, yeast and abcess) infections since high school requiring hospitalization from time to time, and anti-biotics terribly frequently.

I was diagnosed with PCOS at some point, having all of the typical symptoms: facial har (I actually bought myself a hot wax pot to avoid the cost and nuisance of going to get it all removed every week or two!). My period has never been regular. I have gone as many as six months without it, but it can be more frequent also. Obviously, I am quite heavy and have struggled with weight my entire life. Dieting is a horrible situation, as it takes extreme effort for me just to maintain my weight.

About two years ago I had terrible gallstones attacks, finally having my gallbladder removed after a week in the hospital with a gallbladder infection. I also have problems with nausea and heartburn which can be very severe at times. About 10 months ago I was diagnosed with an ulcer.

At some point my endocrinologist (whom I see for the diabetes) asked about my family history at length, and then concluded that it simply didn’t all add up. I do have a family histoty of obesity and type two diabetes on both sides of my family, but nobody has ever had a problem before 45-50, other than gestational diabetes. My siblings are on the heavy side, but not obese like I am. I don’t eat differently than they do, I don’t live differently than they do. He ordered a 24 hour urine test, assuring me that he is sure it is nothing but he wants to be thorough. I pressed him for details and he admitted he is testing my cortisol levels as he suspects they may be high and causing some of my problems.

I left the doctor’s office and (against my better judgement!) googled cortisol levels. I stumbled upon cushings disease and lists of symptoms and it all just clicked. I started crying, half in fear but also half in relief. As scary as cushing sounds, I promise it can’t be worse than everything I have endured. The idea that we might be able to treat the root cause of all of my health problems sounded dreamy and amazing.

Then I got back the results of the 24 hour urine test, and it was on the high side, but still within the normal range. The doctor is completely unconcerned, but something in the back of my head can’t let this go so easily (especially reading here and on other sites about the inacuracy of that test in diagnosing cushings).

I am facing this alone, am not a good advocate for myself, and am overwhelmed already, so I let it go. But now I have a new symptom, and when googling it (again, bad idea) I came across cushings again. And now I just can’t let it go. A couple of months ago I started experiencing severe pain deep in my legs (it feels like it’s the bone) when I walk. At first, I ignored it and started to cut down my walking. Eventually it got so bad that a walk down the block brought me to tears from pain. I finally went to my GP, who sent me for an MRI of my lower back. It turns out that I have a herniated disc in my back, but the doctor explained that he doesn’t think that actually explains the matching pain in both legs, as it is only on my right side.

He checked my vitamin D level, and said it was so low it is undectable. He sent me to an orthopedist, but I am still waiting to see that doctor. I am at my wits end right now. I am not yet 24 years old, and my body is in shambles. I can’t walk a block without pain, and when I push myself to walk and stand on my feet the pain gets so bad that I have to spend a couple of days in bed recovering. My friends talk about doing all kinds of things like going on hikes or visiting the statue of liberty, and I make excuses because I know there’s no way I could physically do something like that.

Right now I am so torn. On the one hand, I have a family history of obesity and diabetes, and have been clinicly diagnosed with that. On the other hand, I read through the list of symptoms thinking “check, check, check…” I am quite large around the middle, but have super skinny wrists, ankles, fingers, etc. I don’t want to be diagnosed with cushings (or any other scary disease) but I can’t stop thinking that nobody’s luck is as bad as mine!

What do you think? Does it sound like I have cushings? If so, how should I proceed? Remeber, I am completely alone in this, I have limited resources and money, and I am timid and terrible at standing up for myself. I hope that someone here can help, because I have never felt so alone and desperate in my life.

Thank you in advance,

M

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Jeannine, Pituitary Bio

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A “Golden Oldie” from 2008.

Hi everyone. My name is Jeannine and I am an old member of this site. I haven’t been on it since 2003 because I thought my problems were over. Obviously, this is not the case.

I am a 49…soon to be 50. I’ve been married for 29 years and have two sons(26 & 20) and one daughter-in-law. After 3 long years of being told I was crazy and lazy, and searching for answers for my rapid weight gain, fatigue, and lots of other weird symptoms, an adrenal adenoma was accidentally discovered when having a CT scan before my hysterectomy.

After initial testing, I only had very mild elevations in a few tests and negative results in most others. I was told to wait and watch. As the year progressed, I became sicker and heavier. I begged, demanded and finagled tests, still only to be told I just “wasn’t sick enough.” One year and 100 lbs. later, my 24 hr. urines were finally high enough to convince the dr. to do surgery.

My test results were never very clear and I was never given a diagnosis, even after surgery. The weird part about my test results were that I tested positive for a pheochromocytoma as well as for a cortical adenoma. I had my left adrenal gland removed in April of 2003. It was not a pheo and the pathology listed “adrenal cortical adenoma”.

I never had to have any hormone replacement, and aside from not losing the weight and becoming insulin resistant, I was cured. I couldn’t lose the weight on my own, so I joined Optifast, the medical liquid diet program. Over the course of about 6 months, I lost 60 lbs.

Unfortunately, as I started to re-enter normal eating patterns, the weight began to return. There was a steady weight gain almost every week for the past 12 months. I have now gained 50 lbs back. Aside from gaining weight, A few months ago, I started to feel badly again. I immediately had my endo send me for 24 hr. urines and basic blood work, but everything was negative.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went to a new opthamologist to have my eyes examined. I mentioned to him that I sometimes got weird visual symptoms with blurry lines in my eyes. I had first noticed them a few months after my adrenal surgery four years before and they had continued to occur sporatically ever since. I had my eyes examined twice during these last 4 years and nothing was ever shown to be wrong. The new dr. suspected occular migraines, but because of my history with the adrenal tumor, he decided to do a cranial MRI. Lo and behold, I was just diagnosed with a 3-4mm pituitary tumor. So…..here I am, back on the boards looking for answers. I have an appt. in three weeks to see my endocrinologist and the testing will begin.

While I really don’t want to be here, it’s nice to be able to come “home.”

 

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