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Archived Interview: Rebecca D (Rebecca D), Pituitary Patient

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Hi Ladies and Gents, my fellow Cushies!

I am a currently mid 20s student living in Toronto, ON, CAN, with big dreams and a big heart. I have been part of this network for a while now and although I’m not always active on the site, I am always eager to spread the word, the love, the support for any of you!!! Just contact me, anytime!

As for myself, I began gaining weight and not being able to control it when I was in my late teens/early 20s.

In 2007/2008 I began trying to figure out what was going on with my current family Doctor with no success. My mother (xoxox) was the smart cookie who saw an episode of “mystery diagnosis” and said “THAT’S MY LITTLE GIRL IN A NUTSHELL!”

Ironically, my family MD at the time AND the one after that said that was a ridiculous idea and it couldn’t be that and simply DID NOT TEST ME.

Luckily, in 2009 when I moved to Toronto for my new degree, I met with a new Doctor who is an admitted “over tester”, however she did help steer me to my Endocrinologist for the diagnosis. It took nearly 2 years of testing, Dex-suppression tests, IPSS, vials of blood gone, MRI’s, CT’s, and too many jugs of 24-hour urine tests we had it narrowed to a pituitary cause but could not locate it on imagine or by approximate location (right, left, etc).

So the wait began as I was referred to my neurosurgeon and the Pituitary Clinic and their hospital until the day came and I went under!

After 6 months of excruciatingly long and painful recovery (which I know any of us who have gone, are going through, or are awaiting to go through where they mess with our signalling organs can understand) I was finally feeling back to myself, my cortisol was in its normal range after tapering off of oral hydrocortisone (oh the irony) and have been feeling pretty great since, Some weight has come off, my stripes have faded (don’t worry, if you look hard enough you can still see them) and I hope to stay on a positive road of recovery! *knock on wood*

I must say, I never expected to the one in a million… and it wasn’t the “one in a million” I expected to be…  You can’t change the past but you can make the best of your future. I’m proud to be a Cushie, I’m grateful to have you all as my “family”, and you are all “one in a million” as well 🙂

Be Proud, Be Strong, Be Fierce… but most importantly, Be Happy

Stay Beautiful xoxox

Archives are available at this same link after the interview and in the Cushie Podcast at http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/cushingshelp-cushie-chats/id350591438

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Archived Interview: Kathy C, Pituitary Patient

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Kathy was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor in 1991.

At the time the only symptom she was aware of was a severe headache. She had a transsphenoidal resection followed by radiation therapy for 23 days. They said they could not remove all of the tumor.  She is now on Signifor and Cabergoline.

Read Kathy’s entire bio at https://cushingsbios.com/2014/04/27/interview-may-7-with-kathy-c-pituitary-patient/

Listen to Kathy’s Interview here.

Kathy’s Interview is also on the CushingsHelp Podcast

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Sharmyn, In the Media

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Sharmyn, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My story is about the best kept secret in medicine…

I went from a petite dress size 2 to an obese size 22 in just one year. I went from athletically fit to barely able to walk upstairs. One of my closest girlfriends was a former Miss Universe and actor in Hollywood; we looked like sisters. We often hung out socially with those in the entertainment biz where anorexia is a compliment—not a disease.

But in 1993, at the age of thirty-one, I started to gain weight and lots of it. I ate a very healthy diet; I worked out five to seven days a week and trained with a fitness trainer just as I had always done, but the weight piled on. While my friends were busy planning their weddings and starting their families, I began my journey of the next seven years, seeking help from doctors all over California for a correct diagnosis and treatment. My beautiful thick, long blonde hair fell out by the handfuls. I got up to nearly 250 pounds, but the odd weight gain was mostly in my round moon face, and my stomach stuck out over fifty-four inches. Soon, many other symptoms started: I had constant anxiety, and I felt like I wanted to come out of my skin from the constant nervous energy racing through my body.

Nighttime was the worst; while I should have been sleeping, I paced my apartment to help slow down my racing heart. I felt nauseous from anxiety 24/7. I slept fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, but once I’d fall asleep, I would jolt awake with a shot of more nervousness pumping throughout my body. Sometimes I’d go days with only a few hours’ sleep.

Soon my blood pressure had to be controlled by medication; I also needed medication for anxiety and depression just to function. As a single woman, I needed to be able to keep my job; I needed to keep my medical insurance so I could keep seeking help from doctors. Although there were so many times when I wanted to give up, I had to keep going.

All the medical professionals said there was nothing medically wrong with me; just eat well and exercise more was their sage medical advice. I knew they were missing something as none of this was in my nature. A person doesn’t go from being thin, happy, and full of life to gaining over 100 pounds and enduring chronic anxiety and depression for no reason.

I continued for seven long years seeking help from general doctors to endocrinologists to gastroenterology specialists, rheumatologists, hematology experts, and even psychologists. All were highly respected and highly educated; unfortunately, none were willing to think outside their narrow perspective; none of these medical professionals wanted to listen to me, who in their words “let herself go.”

They would not believe me when I told them I was truly eating well and exercising properly but instead, offered more and more prescription drugs. When I said I didn’t want to take the drugs, and I wanted to find out what was causing me to be so sick, they wrote me off as unwilling to help myself. I was madly frustrated and felt betrayed by the medical community as well as society.

Many friends and even some family members felt I was causing myself to be sick. I’m not a shy personality, and I had no problem speaking up. Loudly, I begged for proper diagnosis; I begged for proper treatment. I told everyone, loud and clear, there was something medically killing me, and I wanted my life back, but they continued to blame me for my laundry list of poor health issues.

Eventually, I was so sick, I accepted that this undiagnosed illness was going to kill me eventually, but I was determined NOT to die before I found out what disease had turned my health upside down! I wanted to make sure other people did not have to suffer from this horribly embarrassing, lonely, debilitating disease. So, I started my journey to save myself, and whoever else was suffering like me.

Unlike today, back then, I couldn’t simply Google my symptoms, so I had to research by going through all my medical records. I remained persistent until I got copies of everything I needed. Through the years many doctors suggested I had hormonal issues, but they attributed any hormonal abnormalities to the fact I was obese and suggested if I lost weight, all my health problems would be gone. They were like an annoying, broken record.

But I didn’t go to medical school, so I had to rely on my intuition and the fact that I knew my body better than anyone else. I had a hunch the hormone issues were causing ALL my health issues.  Fortunately, while going over thousands of pages of lab results and doctor’s notes, among innumerable discrepancies of the medical opinions and endless mismanagement of my healthcare, I also found a few clues of where to start.

I borrowed a friend’s computer and typed in Cortisol. According to my health records, this hormone had only been tested once in seven years, and it registered as Very High—Above Normal level. The doctors said it was high because I was overweight, but I wanted to see for myself. And up on the computer screen popped an article published by the Pituitary Network Association,www.pituitary.org.

The article’s headline read: “Cushing’s Disease.” In one of my previous medical reports, a doctor wrote he ruled out Cushing’s syndrome. This article proved him uneducated about proper testing for Cushing’s, and he was very wrong.

Cushing’s disease is a secondary disease caused by a pituitary brain tumor. The pituitary is a small, bean-shaped gland, less than one centimeter in size, and referred to as the master gland. It sits at the base of our brain between our optic nerves and carotid arteries. This small but powerful gland controls our quality of life by producing major hormones.

A Cushing’s tumor produces high levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone, (ACTH), which in turn signals the pituitary gland to stop producing the normal production of ACTH. One of the key functions of the pituitary gland is to keep us alive by signaling the adrenal glands when to produce and when not to produce Cortisol, our one life-sustaining hormone. However, the ACTH producing tumor never shuts off the production of ACTH, causing the pituitary to stop its normal feedback system with the adrenal glands.

Therefore, the adrenal glands never stop overproducing our fight or flight hormone, cortisol. For years the medical community and others told me that my health issues were all in my head. Well, in fairness, they were right. Luckily for me, I knew I was not causing this madness. Although it still sounds strange to say, I was so happy to find out that I had a serious and life-threatening pituitary tumor because, for the first time, I knew where to start my fight.

Once I suspected I had Cushing’s disease, I had to find the experts to confirm the often-complicated diagnosis. And that’s when the universe guided me through more research to meet the team that helped save my life! Dr. Pejman Cohan, my neuro-endocrinologist, and Dr. Daniel Kelly, my neurosurgeon, the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA. My angels were in my own backyard!

Dr. Cohan soon confirmed my diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, and it was Dr. Kelly’s difficult task to remove the tiny tumor that wreaked so much havoc. On April 14, 2000, Dr. Kelly successfully removed the tumor, and the next chapter of my journey began: helping others who suffer from this horribly underdiagnosed, misunderstood, life-threatening disease.

For the past nineteen years, I have been honored as a pituitary patient advocate spokesperson both nationally and internationally. Pituitary Tumors are the Best Kept Secret in Medicine. I’ve remained dedicated along with a team of pituitary neuro-endocrine experts to raise public awareness and help educate, and in some cases, reeducate the medical community on recognizing the symptoms of a pituitary tumor and/or hormonal issues related to the neuroendocrine system.

Pituitary disease is uncommon but not rare; however, there are commonly four types of pituitary tumors: prolactin-producing tumors, acromegaly, caused by too much growth hormone, Cushing’s disease, too much ACTH causes a secondary disease of too much cortisol hormone, and non-functioning tumors, which have their own set of problems.

For more information, visit www.hormones411.org, and https://www.pacificneuroscienceinstitute.org/pituitary-disorders/

Or email Sharmyn at pituitarybuddy@hotmail.com or sharmyn@hormone411.org

Join us for support and education Pituitary Patient Support Group Meetings: https://www.pacificneuroscienceinstitute.org/resources/patient-resources/patient-support-groups/.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I can say in all honesty the darkest part of my life, struggling for a correct diagnosis, has turned into the brightest part of my life. The pituitary tumor experts I work closely with: Dr. Daniel Kelly, Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian, Dr. Pejman Cohan, and a handful of others are truly amazing.

These teams of experts respect and value my patient advocate perspective, and they have restored my faith in our medical community. I’m honored to have traveled this difficult journey with these brilliant, caring, and compassionate doctors along with many others who are dedicated patient advocates.

But truly, what makes this journey rewarding and worth the endless hours we’ve all put into the proper treatment and awareness of pituitary disease is the patients. Seeing how far we have come to help raise public awareness and education in our medical communities makes me extremely proud I could be an important part of it.

Speaking with the patients, seeing them get their lives back, helping them to make good, educated decisions about their treatment is really what keeps us all going. And the icing on my cake has been meeting two of my closest friends, Krystina, who had a prolactin tumor, and Shady, who had acromegaly—both had pituitary surgery with Dr. Kelly, and they are leading healthy and productive lives. I love them like my sisters.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Hormones411 – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
When I was growing up, I struggled all through school; learning wasn’t easy for me. One of my high school teachers had me stand up in the middle of her class in front of my peers while she berated and humiliated me over my poor grammar and spelling. I walked out of her class and never went back.

After that, I was petrified to write so much as a greeting card that someone would read. After barely graduating from high school, I was unable to pass the entrance exam for English 101 at our local college. I tested at a fourth-grade level. Earlier that year, I was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.

My high school in Southern California was overcrowded with 2100 students in my graduating class. My home life was chaotic, and there was no one there to help me either. I felt that my dream of becoming a writer was impossible. This was long before computers, so I stuffed my dreams of writing lighthearted mysteries way down inside.

But instead, I excelled at drawing, painting, graphic design, cartooning and photography; anything I could draw, design, capture or paint, I did extremely well. And I still love anything to do with creating art. After my surgery for the pituitary tumor, my passion to help others was bigger than my fear of writing. I knew I would have to write articles and correspond with medical professionals if I wanted to get their help and/or attention.

I created my first flyer, “They Were Right; It Was All in My Head—Pituitary Tumors. The Best Kept Secret in Medicine.” I was scared to death to let anyone see it, but I created a good design layout because of my graphic arts studies, and I finally worked up enough nerve to ask Dr. Kelly to look it over and edit it for mistakes. Dr. Kelly loved it, so after he made a few minor corrections, I was off and running!

The flyer traveled without the help of emails or social media, but rather it was distributed all over the country by people who read it and passed the flyer to someone they thought might have the same disease. This one little flyer helped save so many lives, and it started my patient advocate ball rolling. I took a couple of writing classes because I wanted to learn to be a better writer; one of the classes was to learn how to write for magazines.

I sent out thirteen query letters and got twelve rejections. But when the health editor from Woman’s Day magazine called me and asked if they could buy my story, I said, “I’m a writer; may I write it? And she said, yes! From there I continued writing and publishing my story and raising awareness about Pituitary disease. I’m not sure what was more rewarding, overcoming the challenges that had held me back with dyslexia or raising awareness about Cushing’s to over ten million readers; they both felt amazing.

Nineteen years after my pituitary surgery, it’s finally time for me to write my fun mysteries! I’m working on a three-book mystery series. I’ve finished the first draft, and I’m working on my revisiona. I hope to have, Dying to Date: Looking for Mr. Right but Finding Mr. Wrong, out in 2019; book two: Dying to Marry and book three: Dying to Divorce out after that. My Dying series website and Facebook page are coming soon. Praise to Lillian Nader, my amazing editor for her patience.

My goal is to get involved with speaking for schools to encourage kids not to let people discourage them from their dreams. It will always take hard work, but with dedication and a lot of effort, you can do what you love.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I have seen a lot of wonderful progress in  the work Dr. Kelly and his colleagues are doing at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute to advance treatments and improve the quality of life for their patients with cancerous brain tumors, pituitary tumors and so many other areas of the neurosciences. They are truly a comprehensive Center of Excellence.

I plan to continue helping them and their patients, and I am also excited to write my mystery stories. I will continue to use my public platform to help raise awareness for pituitary disease. I hope to have the opportunity one day to inspiring children the importance of reading great books and telling their stories.

Contact Info:

From http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-sharmyn-mcgraw-hormones411-santa-monica/?platform=hootsuite


Women’s Day, March 9, 2004 issue

Woman's Day, March 9, 2004 issue

What’s Wrong with Me?

I’d never heard of Cushing’s disease, until it was revealed as the culprit behind my mysterious illness

By Sharmyn McGraw
Photographed by Brett Panelli

What's Wrong with Me?For years I was a size two. I worked hard to maintain my weight by exercising and eating a healthy diet—I even had a personal trainer. But in 1993, at the age of 31, my body rapidly changed. In four days I gained 11 pounds, and by six months it was 85. I tried eating less and working out more, but my weight just kept going up.

One year and 100 extra pounds later, my appearance was drastically changed. With most of the weight centered around my stomach, I looked as if I were pregnant with twins. My face and chin were round and the back of my neck had a buffalo hump. On top of it all, my thick blond hair began falling out in handfuls.

The anxiety and depression were nearly unbearable. I was a 31-year-old woman with a 227-pound body living in Newport Beach, California, a town south of Los Angeles where there’s no such thing as being too thin. Obesity just does not exist, especially among my peers. As an interior designer, I was often invited to social events, but I was so embarrassed by my appearance that I started avoiding them.

What was going on inside my body was just as troubling. I felt as if I’d had a triple espresso on an empty stomach. I was flying at top speed with constant jitters and chronic indigestion, rarely sleeping more than two hours a night. Mentally and physically, I was exhausted.

Searching for an Answer

While my girlfriends were busy planning their weddings and starting their families, I went from doctor to doctor hoping that someone would figure out what was wrong with me. In seven years, I sought help from more than 15 highly recommended physicians, as well as nutritionists, psychotherapists, an acupuncturist and a naturopath. Pleading my case as if I was on trial for a crime I did not commit, my closing argument was always the same: “I eat a healthy diet and exercise fanatically. This rapid weight gain, anxiety and depression is completely out of my nature.”

Nearly ever doctor I saw, convinced that I was a compulsive overeater with a mood disorder, simply offered advice on dieting and exercise. “Maybe you just think you work out as often as Jane Fonda,” was one physician’s comment.

One doctor labeled me a hypochondriac, and another said I had too much yeast in my system. Over the course of seven years, I also heard that I had fibromyalgia, a spastic colon, acid reflux and a sleep disorder, was prediabetic and premenopausal. I endured painful and expensive medical tests, including two endoscopies, a colonoscopy, a bone marrow biopsy and multiple CAT scans and ultrasounds. I had my thyroid removed and ankle and knee surgery (due to the excess weight on my joints).

During this time, with my family living far away in Illinois, I relied on my friends for support. Many of them were helpful, but some just continued to drop subtle hints about the latest diets they had read about. As for having a relationship—anxiety, chronic muscle pain and uncontrollable diarrhea were just a few of the reasons I stopped dating completely.

As days turned into years, I knew my symptoms were getting worse. My mind was no longer sharp and quick, and I stuttered to complete even simple sentences. I was not sure how much more I could endure, but I was determined that my obituary would not read, “Obese woman dies of unknown causes.”

I gathered all of my medical records and went to work studying every line. I found there was just one thing almost every doctor agreed on: My cortisol level was too high. In fact, it was three times the normal level for this hormone, yet none of the doctors felt that it had anything to do with my laundry list of complaints. By this point, I was fairly certain that it did.

Borrowing a friend’s computer, I went on the Internet and typed in the word “cortisol.” Up popped an article on Cushing’s syndrome, a hormonal disorder caused by excessively high blood levels of cortisol, and there on the screen were every one of my symptoms. I couldn’t believe it! Had I possibly diagnosed myself seven long years after my symptoms began?

Suddenly I remembered that I had seen the word “Cushing’s” in a report from a clinic I’d been to four years earlier. Ironically, the doctors had ruled it out because my eyes weren’t yellow and I didn’t have mouth sores. Now my next step was to convince a doctor that I had this disease.

Finally, a Diagnosis!

I’ll never forget the day I was ushered into the office of endocrinologist Andre Van Herle, M.D., at UCLA Medical Center. I was prepared to once again plead my case. But without knowing anything about me, he simply shook my hand and said, “So you are here because you have Cushing’s.”

This was a doctor with more than 40 years of experience in diagnosing people with the syndrome, and he knew at first glance that I had the physical appearance of someone with the disorder. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and tears streamed down my face. Most importantly, I realized I was not crazy and someone was willing to help me.

Dr. Van Herle and his colleague, Pejman Cohan, M.D., soon confirmed through blood tests that I did have Cushing’s syndrome. In my case, as in about 70 percent of cases, the problem was a tumor in my pituitary gland that was causing the overproduction of the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). This hormone stimulates the body’s adrenal glands to produce cortisol, the life-sustaining “fight or flight” hormone, which has many important functions. High amounts of cortisol, however, can wreak havoc, causing rapid weight gain, upper-body obesity, a rounded face, increased fat around the neck, anxiety and depression. Over time, abnormally high levels can even be life-threatening.

The next step was surgery to remove the tumor in my pituitary, located at the base of the brain, but there was one more obstacle. Although my hormone levels indicated I had a tumor, it was apparently so small that it wasn’t picked up on an MRI. So there was a chance that my surgeon, Daniel Kelly, M.D., director of UCLA’s Pituitary Tumor and Neuroendocrine Program, wouldn’t be able to locate it. Thankfully, he didn’t encounter that problem. On April 14, 2000, Dr. Kelly was successful in removing the tiny tumor though an incision in the back of my nasal cavity.

Today, four years later, I am 100 percent cured, and my body and mind are finally free from the horrible effects of Cushing’s. I’ve been able to lose 40 of the 100 pounds that I gained and am confident I can lose the rest. As a volunteer, I help facilitate a UCLA pituitary tumor support group, and I recently spoke to medical students at UCLA School of Medicine, explaining my difficulties obtaining a correct diagnosis. Looking back over nearly 10 years, it’s painful to think about all that I’ve been through. But I am so proud of myself for never giving up. I hope my story will help encourage and empower other women to do the same.

Sharmyn McGraw is a member of the Cushing’s Help and Support Message Boards.


Pituitary Cushing’s: Sharmyn (sharm on the boards) was featured on the Montel Show.

In 1993 at the age of 31, Sharmyn went from a socially acceptable dress size two and full of life to an obese size 22 and barely able to function in just one year. Despite the years of dedication to maintain a shapely muscular body, she suddenly had no control over the rapid weight gain. Her hours of personal fitness training and a healthy diet did nothing to stop the pounds from piling on. Sharmyn gained as much as eleven pounds in four days, 85 pounds in six months and 100 pounds in a year. Soon the weight gain was the least of her health problems; her hair fell out by the handfuls, her stomach stuck out like she was pregnant with twins, emotionally she felt like a misfit, and much more.

For seven horrific years Sharmyn searched the medical community for help, but over and over doctors told her there was nothing medically wrong with her…nothing some good old dieting and exercise couldn’t fix.

In spite of the many years of challenges within our healthcare system, Sharmyn ultimately diagnosed herself via the Internet and was fortunate to find a team of experts at UCLA Medical Center who confirmed her diagnosis. On April 14, 2000. Dr. Daniel Kelly, a world-renowned pituitary neurosurgeon—her angel – successfully removed the tumor and literally gave Sharmyn her life back.

Discuss this TV show.


Pituitary Cushing’s – interview with Sharmyn (sharm on the boards)


Cushing’s disease-Pituitary Gland

Sharmyn McGraw searched for answers for seven years for whatever it was that was killing her; finally she diagnosed herself via the Internet with Cushing’s disease, caused by a pituitary brain tumor.

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Jayne, In The Media

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From http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2004/032004/03092004/1287556

Cushing’s didn’t rob woman of her fertility

Jayne Kerns

Photo by Scott Neville / The Free Lance-Star

Jayne Kerns holds her 5-year-old daughter, Catherine, and 2-month-old son, Brian, at their home in Spotsylvania. Kerns, who was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease two years ago, became pregnant despite her illness, which usually makes women infertile.

 

Baby boy is miracle to mother with Cushing’s disease

By MARCIA ARMSTRONG
The Free Lance-Star

DATE PUBLISHED: 3/9/2004

THERE WAS A moment in 1999 when Jayne Kerns just knew that something was wrong with her body.

The Spotsylvania County resident was tired and irritable. Her muscles hurt. Her hair was falling out.

The silvery stretch marks acquired while pregnant with her daughter Catherine turned into angry, purple streaks. Kerns wasn’t losing the pregnancy weight, either. In fact, the pounds were still piling on.

“I was walking every day, eating right, doing the ‘Best Odds’ diet,” said Kerns, 40. “But, it wasn’t helping. I just didn’t feel right.”

One doctor said Kerns’ complaints were not unusual for a postpartum body. When another told her to exercise more and eat less, she kept a diary of the fat, carbohydrate and caloric content of everything she ate and began walking a mile three times a day.

But, a year later, Kerns was even heavier and her health was getting worse.

The slightest bumps caused her skin to bruise. Hair began to grow on her face and arms. Her eyesight was plagued by double vision, tunnel vision and spots. She had trouble concentrating and was beset with short-term memory loss. Her blood pressure skyrocketed to stroke level. Her menses stopped.

The symptoms worsen

Doctors tested for lupus, diabetes and fibromyalgia, but the results were negative. One physician gave up on a diagnosis, telling Kerns he didn’t have time to listen to her roster of complaints. He referred her to a psychiatrist for a prescription for antidepressants. Another told her to see a nutritionist.

By then, Kerns’ muscles hurt so badly it was hard for her to hold Catherine or let her climb onto her lap. She couldn’t get down on the floor to play blocks with her daughter or push her on the swing set. Bedtime became a struggle.

“I’d go upstairs and she’d run downstairs, and there was no way I could grab her and carry her back up,” Kerns said.

Kerns’ appearance took on that of a much older woman, even though she was only in her mid-30s. She had a hump in her back. Her thinning hair was turning gray. People who didn’t know her thought she was Catherine’s grandmother.

Then, in May 2000, a physician’s assistant told Kerns her symptoms matched those of Cushing’s disease, a hormonal disorder caused by the overproduction of cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone needed in times of stress.

The diagnosis was a long shot, as the disease is rare, affecting only 10 to 15 people out of 1 million each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But, tests revealed that Kerns’ cortisol levels were 25 times higher than normal.

The physician’s assistant was right. Kerns had Cushing’s.

A tumor on Kerns’ pituitary gland was causing her adrenal glands to produce the overabundance of cortisol, but the mass was so small doctors couldn’t find it.

Kerns had four options.

Doctors could remove her pituitary, taking the obscure tumor with it. Or, they could zap the gland with gamma-knife radiation. The third choice was to put Kerns on medication that would lessen cortisol production. And last, she could have her adrenal glands removed.

With any of the choices, she was unlikely to ever have another baby.

“Usually, people who have Cushing’s are infertile because the disease alters the normal endocrine milieu of the body and interferes with ovulation,” said Dr. Fay Redwine, a perinatologist with Richmond-based Central Virginia Perinatal Associates.

In fact, it is so rare for a woman with Cushing’s disease to get pregnant that Redwine said she expects to see only two or three such cases during her medical career.

Baby surprise

Kerns took the cortisol-suppressing medication until it began to destroy her liver. Then, she had her adrenal glands removed.

Immediately after the surgery, Kerns’ eyesight cleared. Her blood pressure dropped to normal levels. And, three months after the operation, something else changed, too.

Kerns became pregnant.

“That was a surprise, a big surprise,” she said. “I was happy to know that I was still fertile.”

The pregnancy lasted only 10 weeks before ending in miscarriage. But, 15 months later, Kerns was pregnant again.

“The first thing I felt was total elation, then total fear of losing the baby,” she said.

Her anxiety was warranted, Redwine said, because the fetus of a mother with Cushing’s is at much greater risk of intrauterine fetal death and pre-term birth.

But, it was during this pregnancy that Kerns began to feel almost normal again.

Her muscles quit aching. Her moods leveled out.

“My body somehow said, ‘We’re going to have this baby, so we have to be healthy,'” she said.

Kerns’ obstetrician, Dr. William Hamilton, increased the dosage of Kerns’ hydrocortisone pills to cover the stress pregnancy put on her body. Redwine monitored the baby’s growth and movements.

And, on Dec. 15, 2003, Brian Matthew Kerns was born, full-term and healthy.

“He is our miracle baby,” Kerns said.

What’s in the future

Cushing’s has taken a permanent toll on Kerns’ life.

The purple stretch marks will never go away. Weight will always be a problem.

Kerns must have a magnetic resonance imaging scan every six months as doctors keep looking for her pituitary tumor.

Kerns regrets that she was so sick when Catherine was an infant and toddler that she couldn’t devote herself to mothering. And, it’s hard for Kerns to keep from crying when Catherine, now 4, doesn’t recognize her in the pre-surgery pictures in the family photo albums.

Even so, life is still very, very good.

Kerns spends her days cuddling her son and playing with her daughter. She’s getting stronger. She feels much better.

She’s thankful that the only effect the disease had on her relationship with her husband, Robin, was to make it stronger.

“Some men can’t handle it,” Kerns said. “I’ve read stories online about women who are getting a diagnosis and a divorce. But, Robin stood by me through everything: the surgery, doctor’s appointments, all the questions.

“He has kissed my stretch marks and said ‘No matter what happens, you are still a beautiful person.'”

Heal and share

But, for all it’s taken from Kerns, Cushing’s has given her something back: the courage to speak out.

She recently contacted Gov. Mark Warner’s office to enlist his support of a national day for Cushing’s awareness.

And last September, she approached a woman in the grocery store who she thought looked like a mirror image of herself: the same moon face, the same upper-body obesity, the same hairy arms.

“Excuse me,” she said to the woman. “I have to tell you my story.”

“I was a little taken aback,” said Laura Zastrow, who lives in Locust Grove. “I’d never heard of Cushing’s.”

Zastrow, 34, told Kerns she’d been looking for a diagnosis for her weight gain, mood swings and stretch marks for four years.

Kerns referred Zastrow to an Internet Cushing’s support group that features a lengthy list of Cushing’s symptoms.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Zastrow said. “It was like me, all the symptoms, everything.”

Tests showed that Zastrow has a tumor on her pituitary. But, unlike Kerns’ tumor, doctors know exactly where it is. She will have it removed this spring.

Zastrow calls Kerns her guardian angel.

“If she hadn’t said anything,” Zastrow said, “I’d still be wondering what in the world is wrong with me.”

For more information about Cushing’s disease, visit the Web site cushings-help.com.

To reach MARCIA ARMSTRONG: 540/374-5000, ext. 5697 marciaa@freelancestar.com


JAYNE KERNS IS A MEMBER OF THE CUSHING’S HELP AND SUPPORT MESSAGE BOARDS.

Jayne has seen several potential Cushies and spoken to them. Many have contacted their doctors and turned out to have Cushing’s Syndrome. She was also instrumental in setting up the first Cushing’s Awareness Day and continues to provide Cushing’s Awareness tables at local health fairs.

One of the patients Jayne urged to check out Cushing’s is Laura Zastrow. In the article about Laura, all the credit is given to Jayne.

Jayne answered questions in an online Voice Chat January 31, 2008 at 6:30 PM eastern. Archives are available.

Jayne and Robin also hosted a Special Cushing’s Awareness Day live chat April 8, 2008. Archives are available.

Listen to CushingsHelp on internet talk radio

 Subscribe to the CushingsHelp podcasts on iTunes

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Sheryl, Adrenal Patient

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I was diagnosed with Cushings Syndrome of the adrenal glands in September, 1973. I underwent a bi-lateral adrenalectomy in January, 1974. 30 years ago.

I’m sure some things have changed since then; I was in the hospital for 3 weeks post-op. I had all of the symptoms listed on this site. I originally was in the ER for what turned out to be a kidney stone. While there the doctors noticed a few oddities. For me the symptoms had been coming along so gradual that no one really noticed. The kidney stone was one result of Cushings. From the ER I was sent for many tests. MRI was not available then, and a test was done by threading a catheter into the groin area artery and shooting dye into it in order for the doc. to see the tumor(s). I tried to find it interesting and it was except every time they pushed more dye into me it was painful and eventually passed out.

By that time I had entered the hospital knowing surgery would happen and that was the final test to make sure exactly where the tumors were. The surgeon told me afterwards that each adrenal had a huge tumor-benign-fortunately-each one the size of a grapefruit. The surgical incisions were made in my back, one on each side of the spine, in a sort of half moon shape. They are quite large because the tumors were so large. The replacement therapies required are hydro-cortisone and florinef. Because everyone is different you may have a different dose than I do. It took quite some time for my body to really become adjusted to the replacements. At least 5 years for me. I would hope for you newcomers that medical progress has considerably lessened that time!

I did have to be hospitalized on 3 or 4 occasions afterwards just because my body was still adjusting and because this is a rare disease not too many docs understand it. At any rate here I am 30 years later and this is the first time I have ever been able to really talk to anyone like me.

I kept asking my docs if there was anyone I could talk to, but they were not aware of any. I am 51 years old now, and feel so very uplifted that I can finally share with others my experiences of ups and down. I am married to the most wonderful man in the world, who is very supportive in every way. We have 2 children, our daughter is 21 and our son is 19. Our son is also a special needs person, having been born with cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair and is mentally delayed. PLEASE NOTE: His birth defect was not in any form or fashion caused by my having had Cushings. Do not be afraid to become pregnant and give birth. Unless medical information has changed for this area-we were told by many specialists and OB’s etc. that CP did not result from the Cushings.

I have been going through perimenopause and menopause since I was 38. (I was 21 when I had my surgery.) It has been difficult finding a doc who believed what I was telling him. I have been on various hormone medications for the menopause. At present I am taking Prempro for it. In all, the medications I am on include 30 mg. of hydro-cortisone, 1mg of Florinef and 30 mg. of Prozac. I know Prozac has been bad for some women, but for me it was a life saver. I had severe mood swings more than just once a month.

I would like to correspond with anyone who would like to know what may lie ahead after surgery, and also anyone who might be in the “older surgery” area. Just knowing that this site exists is heart warming! Hope to hear from you all soon. Love you all-Sheryl


Listen to Sheryl’s Interview here.

 

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Sam in the News

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Sam is Jackie’s daughter.  There is more info about their family’s Cushing’s experiences here: https://cushingsbios.com/2013/06/23/jackie-samsmom-adrenal-bio/

Sam and her mom also participated in a Cushing’s Help interview which you can read here: http://www.cushie.info/index.php/cushing-s/about-us/interviews/207-sam-and-her-mom-jackie-february-2-2005

And one to listen to on BlogTalkRadio at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cushingshelp/2008/05/15/interview-with-jackie-samsmon-jordan

This article was posted by long-time message board member Samsmom about her daughter Sam.

AIM senior Samantha Edgar doesn’t let health issues hold her down

superkidedgar

SNOHOMISH — Samantha Edgar, 17, has faced limitations with serious health issues, including Addison’s disease and osteoporosis. But the AIM High School senior is overcoming them in amazing ways.

Question: Your school administrator says you come to school every day with a smile despite some serious health challenges.

Answer: I’ve had adrenal deficiency since I was 4 years old because my adrenal glands were infected with a lot of tumors. The guy who diagnosed me (Dr. Constantine Stratakis) I’m actually doing an internship with this summer at the National Institutes of Health. It’s pretty nerve-wracking. It will be fun.

Q: Wow. How did you end up with that?

A: (My mom and I) were talking about asking for an internship, and joking that he’d probably just say apply, like he normally does. … I asked “if I can maybe shadow you this summer and, um, hang out?” He was like, “Of course.” All the interns just stared at me. (Most of them are in medical degree programs) who’ve applied five times.

Q: What do you hope to get from it?

A: I’m hoping to understand my own thing a little bit more afterward, and then have opportunities after that stem from it. It’ll be interesting at least.

Q: Your mom is planning to rent an apartment and live out there with you.

A: I’m still her baby. … If anything, though, it’s the best place to have an issue.

Q: Your last life-threatening experience was when you were 10. You had the flu and were unable to keep down your medications, which you need to take three times a day. What other issues are you susceptible to?

A: If I am to break a bone or something I could go into what’s called adrenal crisis. (The body) goes into shock.

Q: And yet …

A: I do mounted archery, which is horseback archery. My mom is pretty much nervous every time I go down the course because I’m probably going around 30 (mph) and shooting an arrow at a target or five.

Read the rest of the article here: http://www.heraldnet.com/news/aim-senior-samantha-edgar-doesnt-let-health-issues-hold-her-down/

samhorse

 

Joslyn (Joslyn), Adrenal Bio

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golden-oldie

 

Originally posted Monday, June 8, 2009

 

I’m 25 years old and was diagnosed last week with cushings syndrome.

I’m one of the lucky 1% and I do mean lucky since it’s curable, to have a a tumor on my adrenal. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear “you have a tumor”

I have surgery schgeduled for 7/6. I’m quite scared but excited.

She was interviewed in the Cushings Help Voice Chat / Podcast series after her surgery.
Listen to Joslyn’s interview.

 

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