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In Memory: Liz Raftery, March 2012

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A Golden Oldie

We sadly learned that Liz died in March 2012 at the age of 45. She was an active member of the Cushing’s Help Message Boards.  She had a photo gallery there.  The photo below is from that gallery.

Liz in 2002The image at left is from 2002.

Liz wrote in her bio:

Hello, I’m from Hampton, just outside London. Same old story – at least 6 years of various illnesses, including four operations for various crap (kidney stones, gallbladder removal, and 2 cysts on my coccyx)

I then went from being very skinny (even after childbirth) to very fat in about a year (from 7.5 stones to 13 stones). You could roll me down our local hill! I wear maternity clothes as my tum is so disproportionate to my legs & arms (size 26 vs size 12!). My face, chest, neck and back look like someone’s put padding in, and my nice red glow brings all sort of compliments about how healthy i look, grr! I’ll post some photos later.

So far, a left adrenal tumor has turned up, but I have abnormally high ACTH (60) with a highish cortisol of about 600. This apparently implies a pituitary source – but the pituitary MRI was clear. I’m waiting on a second one with gadolinium this time, but here in London MRIs take AGES. The wait at our local hospital is currently 10 months.

In the meantime, I’m frustrated and feeling lousy and v tired. I have to work full time (luckily I’m an accountant, not something overly physical) as I’m a single mum to a lovely 8 year old girl who does not deserve all this. The guilt eats me up, but she is thankfully not the outward bound type!

Walking is a struggle as my legs seem to suddenly buckle on me, and sitting up without support at say the hairdressers or a restaurant is really difficult. So my (thinning) hair’s a mess and I don’t eat out much! I veer about – someone at work told my boss I couldn’t walk in a straight line! Highly amusing as I haven’t touched a drop in ages!

Other symptoms that have developed more recently include interimittently high blood sugar, intermittently high blood pressure, have to shave every day, horrid night and day sweats, red marks up my arms, but none on my body, intermittently rotten swollen ankles and feet, recurrently horrid kidney stones, and of course, an attractive buffalo hump (moo). And the final insult – can’t get into any of my shoes any more so shuffle about at work in my oversize carpet slippers. Very popular amongst my grey accountant colleagues.

As so many of the symptoms are intermittent, the endo says he is convinced it is cushing’s, but cylical, due to (again) interimittent high blood cortisol and ACTH, and non suppression on three low dose dex tests. Then the first 24 hr ufc came back normal which was very frustrating. I’m not particularly religious but i pray he won’t give up on me as it is a long journey compared to the diagnosis of other equally horrid diseases.

Feel quite isolated from my mates and lovely mum, although they are trying hard to be supportive – I’m surprised my mood swings haven’t frightened them all off lately. It’s so difficult to explain how rough it feels to take part in normal activities, especially when every symptom is something most people consider they have in everyday life to some degree. As well as the physical exhaustion/pain/weakness, my body image distresses me enormously. Recurrent kidney stones are pretty painful too (but not as bad as childbirth as a lot of men claim!).

Hope to be there soon. Great to read all your stories and know that so many of you know how it all feels – and have felt it for umpteen years too.

All the best.
Liz

Update April 21, 2005.

Following dex/CRH test, which even included a dexamethasone assay to make sure the levels were adequate (took forever to come back from the lab), my endo confirmed cushings. The bad news is I need the IPSS which will be in May. My ACTHs are between 80-100 so it is most likely a pituitary cause despite my adrenals showing a small adenoma – a red herring!

It’s a very odd feeling after waiting so long, knowing something was very wrong, but not knowing what, and thinking i would go on for ever in misery. So to all you guys out there feeling like this, and i know you’re out there(!), don’t give up!!

Wish me luck …

Posts in Liz’s memory:

Terry: Oh no, that is terribly sad.

Jenny: Oh no, what happened, did he say? ūüė¶

Beth: omg, I felt sick reading this. I knew of her, but never got to know her. I’m so sorry. ūüė¶

Regina: How tragic! :/

Liz: This is just so sad !! And yet he reaches out to us in his time of sadness, please forward to him my deepest sympathies

Nancy: Oh no!!” This makes my physically ill! I’m fighting tears.PLEASE get details so we can try to learn about what happened and prevent any other Cushie from loosing their life..  Hugs and prayers to Liz’s family!

MaryO: He didn’t say – I just responded to his email and we’ll see if he has any more to say.  I hate when Cushies die ūüė¶

Sandra: Omg liz was my friend! We used to chat on the phone when I was seriously ill too! Omg I cannot belkieve it! Mary cud u pm his email add pls xxx

Liz: Me too Mary me too, just brings everything to a scary place for all of us !!

Trisha: I am so sorry to hear this. I remember Liz from the boards.

Sandra: Have just spoken to ciara lizs daughter who said it was a massive heart attack in the end! Her funeral is on thursday! God bless u my friend xxxxx

Lisa: God bless her family..so sad ūüė¶

Kim: So sad

Jennyfer: Oh no no more cushies down please send my love

Judy: So sad. Does anyone know how old she was, I had never figured that out.

Mary: Oh no! I loved our Lizzy girl and have been thinking of her recently. I hadn’t heard from her in awhile. So very sad. Please pass along my deepest condolences.

Linda: No! Not Liz! No no no

MaryO: She was 45. On the C-H boards, her name was Lizr007

Shauna: News like this breaks my heart over and over again. Mary, please let him know that her Cushie family mourns her loss deeply.

Linda: Please do tell Liz’s brother how much she was loved. I can’t believe she is gone….

Judy: Thanks, Mary. I sometimes haven’t converted who they were on the boards to their real life name. I know who she was. That is so young.

Adrienne: so sorry, so sad!!!

Linda: Please let Liz’s brother know that I adored her. She was one of the first people I met on the Cushings boards many years ago, and she was one of my “rocks”. She was such a supportive, loving person with a great sense of humor. I am heartbroken that she is gone.

Stephanie: How tragic!! Thoughts and Prayers for her family and friends.

Lisa: Poor Liz. My heart breaks for her family. I remember her struggles Mary: You have my permission to send my condolences.

Grace: This is such sad news! Prayers and hugs for Liz’s family. How sad that we lose even one of us to the complications of this disease.

Sandra:  RIP liz u were such a wonderful person and a dear friend! I’m sure suziQ was waiting for u along with all our other cushies that have past over! God bless u huni I will miss u! Xx

Joanne: Im so sorry to hear another precious life taken by this illness, prayers for her and her family..

Anne : Oh not Liz!! She was an awesome person! She had such a great spirit. How horribly awful.

Janelle: So sad.. Please let us know what the complications were.. ūüė¶

Alicia: So sad. We are losing way too many people to this disease. Praying for her family.

Robin: Oh, this breaks my heart. Please tell Liz’s brother we will miss her terribly.

Heather: I’m so sorry. I loved Liz. Her spirit and sense of humor were amazing. I was actually thinking about her the other day as well. Please feel free to convey my condolences to her family.

Melissa: As soon as I saw her name — Liz Rafferty — I started to cry. Liz was part of our group there on the Cushing’s- Help message boards. She posted over 2000 times. When you posted her screen name, I could see her avatar in my mind. I am so sad to hear that she is not with us, her family or friends. I am so upset as I wonder why this has to happened to her, to us, to our community. Please send my condolences along to Liz’ brother, and make sure they know that she was caring and supportive of many as well as loved by many. I will miss her.

And Mary, please be sure to tell him she was part of our group, too. I bet he would want to make a donation to you and Cushing’s-Help if he knew how extensively she participated in our group.

Hugging all of you a little tighter today.

— Melissa, TX

Beth: Another person with my disease has passed. I didn’t know her personally, but the hurt is still there.. As is the fear. RIP Liz R.

Chanelle: Omg!! Ugh my head hurts :((

Sandra: Beth she was a dear friend and such a sweet sweet girl! Even at her worst she was cheerful and lovely ! She has left behind her daughter and her mum god bless em x

Christina: ūüė¶ so sad to hear this, RIP to her.

Mary: I loved Liz. She was so funny and upbeat and helpful. RIP old friend.

Linda: Rest in peace, Liz. You were very loved and and I’m thankful to have met you on my Cushings journey.

Susan: Thanks for posting this, MaryO. My sympathies to Liz’s family for their loss. As a member of this community, we will miss you.

missaf: My heart goes out to her family. I’m glad she started to feel better for a little while and got to smile more in life. Damn Cushing’s.

Sherry: Not another Cushie:( I am so sad to hear this news, Liz was well known on the boards and she will be greatly missed. I just hate this. My deepest sympathies go out to her family.

Elizabeth: Deepest sympathy & many prayers. This is so heartbreaking.

Dawn: I did not know her, but her passing has affected me. I am sorry that the world has lost her and I’m sad that it was a result of this horrible disease. It always hits close to the heart. My condolences to her family and friends.

Ami: I am completely heartbroken. She was a dear. Please include my condolences to her brother. I too would very much like to hear what the cause of death was.

Kristin: I’m so upset about this, all I can say is I’m sorry for her family. Leaving a 16 yo without her mommy is so terrible. Somehow the medical community needs to realize how many of our group are not making it needlessly… Prayers for her family. Very nice of her brother to let us know.

Melanie: OMG! I feel ill. I loved Liz dearly, she helped me keep my sanity when I first arrived on the biards and gave me such great support – we had some great laughs together and spoke on the phone for hours at a time. I cannot believe another one of us has gone. This damn disease is so bloody unfair.

Just read it was a heart attack (Thanks Sandra).  – heartbreaking.

Gumdrop: So sad to hear this. I pray her family is comforted.

Sandra: If I find any more info out I will post

Mary: She and I had SIADH in common and the continuing electrolyte issues afterwards, too. I think when I was hospitalized with it, she was the only other person on the boards who’d experienced it at that time.

Bernadette: I didn’t know her, but am so saddened by her much-too-early death. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, and with all the rest of you who knew her.

Ami: I know she and I exchanged posts on the boards. I wish I remembered more about her…

Shelley: I’m sorry to hear about her passing. She and her family and loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.

Mary: oh no! devastating news. so sorry and saddened to hear. ūüė¶

Amy: I am so broken hearted. ūüė¶ Liz was one of the very first people to make friends with me on the cushings website. So sweet and funny, what a wonderful person she was. I have just cried and cried ever since learning of her passing. She really struggled to get her BLA for a long time. May God rest her soul. She truly was “one of a kind”

Dacia: Please send my love, my thoughts and prayers to all…

AuntSha: Condolences to her family…. My prayers and thoughts are with them. She certainly has been taken too young and much too soon :-(!!!

Diane: My beautiful, funny, smart dear friend Liz. You carried me through my journey and held my hand through some of the worst times I can remember. You were my rock, you were my shoulder. Words cannot express how I feel right now. I am heartbroken. I am so sad. The heavens are blessed with another beautiful soul. Love to you my dear friend xx

The last time we saw each other was when you had your adrenal operation. I was so thrilled to finally see you in the flesh after spending months posting to each other here and emailing and chatting on the phone. I met Liz at Cromwell Hospital in London where she was recovering from her adrenal operation. I bought her a massive bunch of stocks that filled her hospital room with a glorious heady scent and I bought along a few things to pamper her with. We spent the afternoon chatting non-stop and I remember giving her Mum a big hug. Those memories will stay with me and that is how I remember Liz. A happy smile and a big heart.

Rest in peace lovely lady….

Your Cushy friend, always,

Diane

x

Ellen: My deepest condolences to her family. This is such a stark reminder of how cruel this disease is.

Monica:  Oh Liz. I’ll miss her, she was such a good person and gave support to us all even while fighting her own battle.

Melly: So tragic! May God welcome Liz and bless her family with peace and strength during this horrible time. Such a reminder that each day I breathe is a gift.

love,

melly

3v3:  I am new here so I am not familiar with Liz, but I am so sorry to read this. Condolences to her friends and family. I was trying to find her bio info/old posts and it seemed like she was cured or at least recovering? ūüė¶

Judy:  Mine too. It’s just so sad. I pray for the family.

Beth: Such a tragic loss.. I wish her family and friends strength and peace. ūüė¶

Sandra: Have spoken to aLex woore who was also a cushie friend wiv liz and apparantly she had a bla smtime ago but they cudnt get her sodium n potassium levels right so whether that had anything to do with it I dnt knw but have left my no wiv ciara and her nan so if they call I will let u all knw! X

Karen: Please send my condolences also, such sad news . This disease is awful, we are losing so many amazing people to it. Many prayers,

Monica: Thinking of Liz tonight. I pray for comfort for her family, especially her 16 year old daughter. Far too many friends lost to this disease over the years.

Stanley : I’m sorry to hear that.

Melissa: This makes me cry all over again.

Mary, could you offer our services in helping to decipher what could have led to Liz’s death? For example, we could guide the family on getting copies of her hospital, doctor, surgical, and lab records.

Susan: I am just devastated by this news. Liz was so kind and caring. So tragic to lose someone so young.

Rissa: This is so sad. Praying for Liz and her family tonight.

Ikho: This news makes me so sad. My condolences to her family.

Lorrie: I am so sorry. My prayers go out to her family. 45 years old….such a young woman. God Bless them.

Amy: I’m still just in shock. Thinking back I can remember that sweet pic she had of her cat playing with something. I never could figure out what that cat was doing though. LOL This is just surreal to me . . . ūüė¶

Jenny: Please pass on my condolences, her family will be in my prayers. Just so unbelievably sad. ūüė•

Jo: cant believe it.  very sad, god bless our dear friend Liz.taken far too soon.

Jenny: The Cushings community has lost yet another dear member. Liz was only 45, please pray for her family and friends. ūüė¶

Lisa: One of our fellow “cushies” (Cushings patient) sadly passed away.  Liz was a wonderful 45 yr old mother of a 16 yr old and a friend to us that got so many through this. She was an inspiration and someone that kept her chin up and a smile on her face and ours on our message board. She will be missed.

Mary R:  We’ve lost another Cushing’s Warrior from complications of this rotten disease. Her name is Liz and leaves behind a 16 yr old daughter. This is the 3rd Cushie in 8 months!!! It doesn’t have to be this way! Just because it’s rare, doesn’t mean that the Dr.s should doubt us and our biochemical/imaging evidence. Please say a prayer for Liz’s daughter and family.

PLEASE promise me that if this disease takes me from my family at a young age, that you will bring Cushing’s awareness & education to others on my behalf.

Jen: I remember Liz well and I am so sorry to hear that she has passed. My condolences to her family.

Diane: It’s been a day since I found out and I am still numb with shock. There are moments in your life when things happen that change your whole outlook on things. Cushings was that something for me. However with all the difficulties of coping with such a terrible disease I managed to find many special friendships and was given support by such a special group of ladies that I will treasure in my heart forever. Liz was one of those special people. We had a giggle, we had a moan about the whole NHS process and testing, we shared some of our most painful moments going through this disease. I will miss you so much Liz. Shine a bright light in heaven lovely lady xxx Mary – you certainly have my permission xx Thank you for creating a place where I had an opportunity to meet someone like Liz xx

Amy: I was so very fond of Liz and my heart is still broken in two. ūüė¶

Diane:  I’ve just been reading some of Liz’s old posts on the site…more tears are flowing but with a big smile on my face. I forgot just how much of a laugh we had despite the fact we were going through hell…I particularly like the fact that alot of people didn’t understand Liz and my British sense of humour. It just reminded that some great bonds were forged during hours of such need and loneliness, stress and depression, and a fight to get heard and a struggle to get diagnosed.

Jo: do you remember when her endo put her in the priory, & she met Ronnie Wood ? Liz Thought she looked better than he did.I cant count how many times K didn’t get his dinner because we were too busy on the phone.Still cant believe it.

Sally: I am so sad to read this. Liz, myself and a few others had said we needed to get together in Bermuda (half way) when we were all finally healthy to celebrate our 40th birthdays. I don’t know if any of us managed to hit that milestone healthy, I know I didn’t and I know Liz didn’t. I’m heartbroken, it’s so very sad.

betseebee: Such devastating news! Liz’s bio was one of the first I read when I joined the boards. I also distinctly remember her kitty avatar and that I could relate to things in her bio, like being grateful that my daughter was also not an outward bound type, which made it a little easier to be at home so much. My most heartfelt condolences to her beautiful daughter, Ciara, as well as the rest of her family.

Liz, may you rest in peace, and dance among the angels.

Sherry: My deepest sympaties go out to her family. This disease is awful, Liz was a wonderful person, she and I joined around the same time, I am very sad to hear of this disease taking another precoius life. RIP Liz.

Diane:  That is so funny Jo, I did not know that. I think Liz would have had no problem looking better than Ronnie!! Have you seen his program on SkyArts right now?!! Sally – I am 40 in June and this has just brought home to me how precious life is and. Not sure I’ll get to Bermuda, maybe Bognor…!! xx

Sandra: Sally I remember that convo ! I was one of them then, and yes I made my 40 th prob the healthiest I’m ever going to b now despite battling fibro still! And diane I knw what u mean about the british sense of humour! So not only did we laugh about the joke we cracked up with the fall out of being misunderstood (in a goodway) of course! Lol …..I thought about her sooo much yesterday and poor ciara bless her! Just stil can’t beleve it x

Jean: Im soo sorry to hear abt this ;( Really shows how this disease is serious n deadly, if not treated properly or from complications from surgery…my condolences to her family n all who knew her.

Dave: Liz, we never got to share that coffee. You were so helpful to me in researching my various problems and I know that there are many many friends who don’t come here any more but we will all miss you. Sincere sympathies to all your loved ones.

Sheila: A tragic loss at such a young age. Sad to know that death happens with Cushing’s when we are in the year of 2012.  Hopefully more doctors will take an interest in this little known disease of Cushing’s Syndrome.

Tanya: ūüė¶ OMG rest in peace Liz. I’ve heard “I wish cancer would get cancer and die.” Well ‘I wish cushing’s would get cushing’s and die.’

Rare Disease Day 2021: MaryO, Pituitary/Kidney Cancer Bio

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rare disease day

Adapted from Participatory Medicine

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

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

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

Anyway, I digress.

All this changed for me in 1983.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More info here.


MaryO’s Original Bio

Click on pictures to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom and me in Barbados

Update: Fall, 1999:

I went for my regular testing with my private endocrinologist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom O’Connor”

Update July 26, 2001

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

Update August 6, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

So, I waited for 10 days…

Update Fall, 2002

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

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

Update Fall, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinical Interests: Neuroendocrinology, pituitary disorders, adrenal disorders

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

Update October, 2004

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

Yea!!!

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

Update November, 2004

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

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

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

Update December 7, 2004

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

Update January 3, 2005

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

Update January 25, 2005

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

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

Update March 21, 2005

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

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

Update September, 2005.

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

Update January, 2006.

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

Update April 14, 2006

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

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

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

Update June 2, 2006: Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update August 19, 2006

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

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

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

Whine, whine!

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

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

Update October 26, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update December 2006

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

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

Update March 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update October 2018

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

No return of cancer (Hooray!)

I’ve developed a new allergy to blackberries

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

Update February 2020

Since then, in 2019, I had 2 more cortisone injections.¬† They’re only lasting about a week to 10 days now so I figure they’re not worth the potential side effects.¬† I’ll have one once a year before a big trip or cruise, so the next will be in August of 2020.

I’m still on growth hormone but I don’t see any improvement.¬† I’m still napping as many hours a day as I can.

The facial hair is still with me and I haven’t lost all the weight, despite 3 days a week of water aerobics (mostly for my knee).

Update February 2021

Not much of an update from last year.¬† I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not.¬† Thanks to COVID, we didn’t get to do any “big trip or cruise”.¬† Our August cruise from last year was rescheduled for August 2021 but it’s already looking like that won’t happen.¬† It was to go to Alaska and Canada has blocked cruises from sailing through their waters so…

Our son and his wife are due to have their first child in the next week or so but I can’t even go to NYC without quarantining – even though I will be completely vaccinated on March 15.¬† I’ve had my first Moderna shot, so far.¬† I wrote about my experiences here and will share how the second one goes when the time comes.

I’m still on Growth Hormone and my endo is saying it will be forever, as will my daily Cortef.¬† I haven’t had any more cortisone shots because I haven’t been anywhere to warrant them.

Naps and facial hair continue as last year’s update.

This year I have developed a basal cell carcinoma on my nose.¬† It was removed with liquid nitrogen and it started growing back almost immediately.¬† At the liquid nitrogen appointment I was told that the next step would most likely be MOHS surgery for a recurrence so I’m gearing up for that fun in March.

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

And so I wait…


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

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

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

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

Listen to CushingsHelp on internet talk radio

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In Memory of Lenise Petersen ~ October 2, 2002

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in-memory

Lenise’s Original Bio

Lenise, 22 years old, single mother.

After the birth of my daughter I was breast feeding. I stopped, but did not stop producing milk. My doctor told me it was normal. So, I ignored it, and the anxiety, weight gain.

Then I went and saw a different doctor. He ran an MRI and found a pituitary tumor. That was in June. He sent me to my Endo. She diagnosed me with Cushing’s and sent me to a Neurosurgeon.

I’m now waiting to have surgery. I am tired all the time (I have a two year old). I’ve gotten so fat I can hardly move. My face is red all the time, acne too. I can’t sleep at night, and have a hard time staying awake during the day. I’m getting so tired of being tired it’s not even funny.

It’s almost been a year now, since I’ve known, and I really want something done. I want to feel normal again. I want to have the energy to play with my daughter. I feel bad for her. It takes all of my energy just to take care of her all day. I’ve had some depression with this, mainly because of the way I look. I used to look good. Not now. I have major issues with anxiety, I shake all the time. It’s like my nerves are shot to you know where. But, I’m so ready to have this surgery and hopefully get on with my life. I feel like my life is at a stand still waiting for this surgery. So, wish me luck. God Bless.

Lenise

Note: Lenise passed away Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002 at 23 years old, just after her surgery.

Official obituary.

In Memory of Kate Myers ~ June 23, 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 of Sarah Fraik ~ June 13, 2011

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in-memory

 

Sarah recently had surgery to remove a tumor from her pituitary gland in the hopes of treating her Cushing’s Disease.¬† She died on June 13, 2011 after a brief illness at the age of 28.

More information will be provided when it becomes available.

~~~~~~~

Sarah F’s mom posted this: “we will be setting up an account at the royal bank tomorrow afternoon for sarah. we are planning on having a bench put in her name at transfer beach in ladysmith after we get her home. if you would like to help you can make a donation instead of sending flowers. we will post when we have everything set up. thank you everyone for your support and kind words for sarah…..”

Also from Sarah’s mom: “a account is set up for sarah fraik at any royal bank the number is 02000 5000823 any donation is welcome to help with bringing sarah home and getting a bench with her name put on it at transfer beach ladysmith thanks everyone.”

Beth Grant writes: “I already have asked her about how people from out of the country can donate and I’m still waiting to hear back. But my offer also stands to have people paypal me or send cheques and I can just go to the bank here and deposit it to the account. There’s an option to Send Money, so you just click on a few things and it gets sent. I’ve sent and received through paypal many times and never had trouble.”

Conversion from US to CAN: http://www.advfn.com/currency-converter/us-to-canadian-dollar.html

~~~

From the Acromegaly Community:

Taking a Lesson From a Tragic Loss

on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Posted in Blog

Wayne Brown
AcromegalyCommunity.com

Last night I was at an open-air concert; and while waiting for the show to start, I was unexpectedly faced with mortality.  Everyone at the show was fine, but when I was reading social networking posts, I kept reading people’s messages of peaceful rest to a woman I didn’t know; but I could totally relate to her struggles with a rare disease.  Sarah, a young woman dealing with the effects of Cushings Syndrome, passed away from a head cold- a medical complication at the ripe old age of 28.  I didn’t need to know Sarah to know that this was just wrong!

Based on what I have read from many of Sarah’s friends, I got a brief snapshot of the situation.  Not only was she a very special woman that many people loved, her passing was made more tragic because maybe it was avoidable.  It seems that several people were concerned that the quality of her medical care was at least partly to blame for her early passing.  Now I did not know Sarah or her issues to agree or disagree, but it brings up a really important topic of discussion for the rest of us: what is a good relationship with your medical professional?  For those who are unfamiliar, Cushings Syndrome is a hormonal disease that impacts people who have a consistently high exposure to cortisol (a hormone released into the body as a response to stress).  I have had cause to learn a lot about Cushings because of the number of Acromegaly patients who have to juggle the effects of both diseases.

While I know this discussion can be uncomfortable, I would like for you to ask yourself honestly: DO YOU TRUST YOUR MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL?  Please understand the question I am asking is different than whether you like your doctor.  While it is nice if you like your doctor, it is not as critically important that you like your doctor, as it is that you trust him or her.  I promise you that I am not golfing buddies with any of my medical professionals; but… I am confident that they are providing me with the best possible medical care I could ask for, without my traveling to a dozen other cities.  Ultimately, this is an essential question you need to answer for yourself because your answer can directly impact the quality of your health care, and therefore the length and quality of your overall life.

Now does trusting your doctor mean they know everything there is to know about all things medical?¬† NO!¬† Just because you trust your doctor or nurse does not guarantee that they know everything about every disease you may ever have.¬† Willingness to learn accentuates, not lessens a doctor‚Äôs credentials as a diagnostician.¬† Many of us have had cause to teach our doctors something about our disease not covered in the textbooks yet.¬† When I was growing up, I knew a doctor‚Äôs wife who used to love to joke that ‚Äėthat‚Äôs why it‚Äôs called practicing medicine.¬† They have to keep trying till they get it right.‚Äô¬† It is impossible for any one medical professional to know everything about everything.¬† The question you need to answer for yourself is whether you trust them to listen to what you say and help you to make your life more pleasant, because of or in spite of your medical situation.

Sadly, for some of us, our medical issues are not a joke but a depressing reality- that we have to go years before we find the right medical professional who can both treat us medically AND handle our personalities in a way that will help us to trust our doctor/nurse/physician assistant.

Now, if it is true that the doc is merely practicing, why is our trusting them so essential to the relationship?  That is simple.  Honesty.  If you are anything like me, you would rather go to a medical office than a psychic for your medical care.  If you are withholding from your doctor, for any reason, you are detracting from your own medical care Рand making it nearly impossible for your doctor to properly treat you!  I am not saying you should call your doctor’s office because you stubbed your toe getting into bed last night and your nail is bruised in the morning, but if you stubbed your toe last night and you were in so much pain that you woke up and took seventeen aspirin, this is an issue worthy of a chat.  Your medical professionals need to understand who you are, how you feel, what your pain threshold is, and how you manage your medical issues when he or she is not around (yes, this means your OTC treatments AND if some of your self-treatments do not necessarily come from recognized pharmacies- while this may be an awkward conversation and you may get scolded, such decisions by you can effect your treatment too!).  Medical professionals and their patients must know they can trust each other.

Ultimately, we are the patients- its kind of like being the customer at a store.  If you want to do hours of research before you buy the best can opener, or if you want to consistently look over your doctor’s shoulder, that is your right; but ultimately you need to have faith in the purchase you make at the store, just as you need to have faith in your doctor’s course of treatment.  If you do not feel comfortable enough doing that, then you have a decision to make: is your lack of trust in the doctor their fault, or is it yours (as the patient)?  Again, not an easy question to honestly answer, but essential in our long-term well-being!  If you have been withholding too much from the doctor, waiting for the doc to miraculously figure out what’s wrong seems both unlikely and unfair- and largely a mess of your own doing.  Going to another doctor is simply going to slow your treatment, and likely perpetuate the problem.  It is not the doctor’s fault that you are not honest with them about your issues.  Open up with your doctor and have a frank discussion- see where things go from there.  But if you are honest with your doctor, and you still feel like the doctor is either uninterested, unable or unwilling to figure out your issues, or is flat out too busy to give you the focus you require and deserve, well then you need to look at possibly seeking a new medical professional.

Just remember, starting with a new doc can be difficult.  If he or she is popular, you might wait at least a month or two just to get that first appointment where no treatment might legitimately get started. During this time that you wait, your issues are not being treated at all.  On top of that, you and your new doc both need to figure each other out, and again you need to try to build that trust and understanding with a new doctor and staff, working toward a momentum of medical stability.  All that being said, if you are not happy, and are ready for the switch, then go for it!  Remember, you are most responsible for your own medical care, since you are the person most greatly invested in your own well-being!  Don’t stay with a doctor simply because you are afraid to leave.  If you are ready to move on to a new doctor’s office, just make sure you are doing it for the best reasons.  Hopefully your new doctor’s office will offer you the ability to trust and be totally forthright.

I am just saying that if you are dealing with some sort of extraordinary medical condition, please invest your time to be totally honest with your physician(s).  Talk with him or her in a frank and honest way.  If your disease has major issues that are kind of sensitive to talk about, and you are afraid to talk face-to-face with your doctor but feel you can be more frank with the nurse or physician assistant, then do that!  If the issue is particularly awkward for you, then at the very least, keep a journal and share that with your doctor’s office.  At least the information is being conveyed.  While there are preferred methods of sharing, getting the information is more essential than the method of delivery.

I don’t know what the facts are that surround Sarah’s case, but it is a tragedy any time a 20-something person passes away.  Don’t let her passing be for nothing.  We can learn from her.  Take care of yourself medically, and work to foster a relationship of openness and trust with your medical professionals.  Without trusting our medical professionals, how can we expect them to treat us in a way to actually improve our health?  And at the end of the day, what is more important than our health?  Dare I say it… nothing.

In Memory: Alena Renea Weeks Greenhill ~ March 30, 2007

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in-memory

March 30, 2007

AIKEN ‚Äď Ms. Alena Renea Weeks Greenhill, 31, of Aiken, died Friday, March 30, 2007 at her residence. Funeral services will be held at 3:00 PM Wednesday in the Shellhouse-Rivers Funeral Home Chapel. Reverend Robert Rish will officiate. Interment will follow in the Clearwater Branch Baptist Church Cemetery.

Pallbearers will be Joshua Weeks, Jim Rutland, Morgan Weeks, Greg Smith, Jimmy Jones, and Charles Jones.

Renea was born in Aiken, a daughter of Gail Weeks, Aiken; and James “Randy” and Debbie Weeks, Aiken. She was a lifelong resident, and worked as a medical assistant at the Women’s Health Association.

In addition to her children, Olivia Ann “Libby” and David Randall “DJ” Greenhill, survivors are a sister, Dawn Rutland (Jim) Aiken; a brother Joshua Weeks (Melissa) Aiken; Nikki Weeks, Aiken, Danielle Smith, Aiken; Greg Smith (Maria), Aiken; Kasey Smith, Aiken; JerriLynn Smith, Lincolnton; a maternal grandmother, Joyce Weeks, Aiken; a paternal grandmother, Harriette Weeks, Aiken; twelve nieces and nephews; and her special friend, Jimmy Jones, Aiken.

A niece, Taylor Weeks, and a grandfather, Gene Weeks, preceded her in death.

Please visit Renea’s online memorial at shellhouseriversfuneralhome.com

The family will receive friends at the residence of Joshua Weeks, 2334 Wire Road, Aiken on Tuesday from 12-5 PM and from 6-8 PM Tuesday evening at Shellhouse-Rivers Funeral Home, Inc., 715 East Pine Log Rd., Aiken, SC.


From my email:

Mary, I got a call tonight from Renea Greenhill’s mom who told me that Renea died Friday night. Renea was from Aiken, SC and was on the board until she did not have a computer anymore. She had tried to get groups together in SC. She had left a note that if she died that her mother was to call me and I was to let everyone on the Cushing’s board know of her death. Her mother had seen her on Friday night and talked with her later. Her boyfriend came over and found her on the floor. He called her mother who told him to call 911. He did and her mother got right over there. 911 got there, but did not attempt to revive her and she was to be an organ donor and the organs could not be used. She was dead. An autopsy found nothing wrong with her physically. I told her mother that I bet she died of an adrenal crisis and told her mother to call the coroner to have them do tests for that. She was very appreciative of my thinking of this and was going to call. Renea had been to see Dr. Laws for surgery several years ago. She ended up with meningitis from surgery there. She ended up in critical care at the Medical University of SC. Later had her adrenal glands removed. She had “beat” cushings her mother said. She had lost over 300 lbs. She has two young children who are now without a mother. Her husband had divorced her several years ago, so she was rearing the children as a single mom. Please pass this on to everyone for me for Renea at her request if this happened to her. She loved her Cushing’s friends. Below is her obit. Memorials are to be made to the Cushing’s group.

On the message boards:

‚ÄĘ I knew Renea – I met her the Tennessee CUSH Conference. What a shame sad.gif

‚ÄĘ I am sorry to hear of Renea’s passing…thank you for sharing with us. Condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.

‚ÄĘ So very young — so very sad.

‚ÄĘ My Goodness, she was so very young. This is a startling reminder how serious an adrenal crisis can be. Thank you for carrying out her wishes to let us know.

‚ÄĘ Oh my…

I talked with Renea a few months ago. It may not have been adrenal crisis, but it may have, as Renea, after her BLA, didn’t need replacement. She hadn’t taken hydro for some year(s), and yet her cortisol was always “0”. The doctors would just scratch their heads.

Thanks for posting Mary. My prayers are with her and her family.

‚ÄĘ I am so sorry to hear about this. My prayers go out to her children and her family. What is scary to me is the fact that, considering her history no one there thought to check to see if an adrenal crisis was responsible.

‚ÄĘ How terribly sad. And the two young kiddies too. She sounds a remarkable woman. Very sad indeed.

‚ÄĘ I am absolutely heartbroken over Renea’s death. She was far too young and she already suffered so much. I hope her kids know how much she loved them. I have been struggling with my own health issues lately and her death brings home just how dangerous our lives can be.

I hope she is at peace and that her family is able to cope with her death. I am so very sorry that we lost such a great person. Renea was a great source of strength for me and I will miss her dearly.

‚ÄĘ Very sad news! My thoughts are with her family and her children.

‚ÄĘ Thoughts with her family and children. Her mother must be devastated. I hope she can read the posts and know she’s thought of.
Very sad for these children to lose their mother at such a young age.

‚ÄĘ My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

‚ÄĘ How very sad. So young, and had already been through so much.

My thoughts are with her family & friends

‚ÄĘ So very sad. So young , & so much still ahead of her.

In my prayers

‚ÄĘ I wonder if they checked her for Nelson’s also? She looks very tan. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

‚ÄĘ Such a sad ending to a beautiful life. Sending peaceful thoughts to her family..

‚ÄĘ It is very sad to fight that hard… and then the family does not know why… my thoughts and prayers are with them… It breaks my heart to think that she had to suffer so much, but she must have been such a strong, brave person to go through it. My prayers are with the family..

‚ÄĘ How sad – she was so young. My sympathies to her children and all of her family.

‚ÄĘ I’m so sorry to hear that another Dear Cushie was lost, I remember Renea from the old board mostly and remember how, very sick she was after her surgery, as others said she was way too young, and I’m sure her family and friends will miss her so very much. Someone we have to get all doctors on board to realize how very serious this illness is, not just a few who are out West, we all know they are good doctors, but we need some good ones in the Midwest, in the South, in the East, I know there are some, but we need more pit centers and more pit spealist on understands the devastating and life or death realality some of these pituitary tumors or adrenal tumors can cause.

I’m so sorry to learn on this happening to a dear cushie I remember from the boards.

‚ÄĘ My prayers to her family. May God bless and keep her children. I can’t imagine how hard this is for them.

In Memory: Erica Michelle “GaGa” Meno ~ March 6, 2015

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in-memory

Erica was a fellow Cushing’s Disease survivor. She had been through pituitary surgery, radiation, and a BLA in an effort to receive her cure.

I didn’t know her myself, and I don’t know if she was a member of the Cushing’s Help boards but it’s so depressing to know that we have lost another so young from the damage done by this horrible disease.

Erica’s official obituary:¬†http://thomasjustinmemorial.com/tribute/details/575/Erica_Meno/obituary.html#content-start

Erica Michelle Meno returned to her heavenly home on March 6, 2015. Nicknamed, ‚ÄúGaGa,‚ÄĚ she was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was 38 years old. She graduated from Sycamore High School, Northern Kentucky University and Eastern Kentucky University. Erica had a zest for life and just loved being with her family. She loved sports of all kind and loved to cook. She was an avid reader and volunteered much of her time and many years at The Ronald Mc Donald House.

In addition to her family she had a great love for her pets especially her lively dog, Chesney. She is preceded in death by her grandparents Anthony and Mary C. Meno and Joseph and Katherine Terzo and Aunt, Karen Meno and Uncle, Bruce Ficke.

She is survived by her parents Michael and Mary Meno, devoted brother Ryan Meno and sister-in-law Melanie, loving niece and nephew, Leah and AJ Meno, her aunts and uncles: Frank and Terri Terzo, John Terzo, Judy (Terzo) and Chris Tocatlian, Victoria Ficke and Teri Zingale, cousins: Joseph and Kristen Terzo, John and Lesli Terzo , Amanda (Terzo) and Mike Stewart, Dominique and Natalie Tocatlian, Kati (Terzo) and Chris Mottershead, Dana (Terzo) and Omar Qureshy, Joe Granato, Kelly Ficke, Alex and Melanie Ficke, Vincent, Sam, and Remy Zingale. Erica was deeply loved and will be missed and remembered by many friends and family. Visitation will be 9am until time of Mass of Christian Burial at 10am on Friday, March 13th at The Community of the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 8815 E. Kemper Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45249.In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations may be made to the Ronald McDonald House Charities in Erica’s memory.https://www.rmhcincinnati.org/help/donate/donate-online or you may also donate by check, made payable to RMHC – Greater Cincinnati, and mailed to Ronald McDonald House Charities, 350 Erkenbrecher Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45229. Thomas-Justin Memorial serving the family. – See more at: http://thomasjustinmemorial.com/tribute/details/575/Erica_Meno/obituary.html#content-start

~~~~~~

Some of the comments from other Cushies:

My condolences to Erica’s friends and family and to our Cushie community.I too am afflicted with Cushings and a part of me dies every time I lose another fellow Cushie!The world just got a little bit dimmer without her beautiful soul!May she rest in peace and may her memory live on.She was a wonderful person.

~~

Dear Meno family, My name is Melanie and I’m a survivor of Cushing’s Disease. Your daughter and I corresponded a few times on a message board dedicated to this disease. Please accept my heartfelt condolences at the loss of your beautiful daughter. Every time a member of our Cushing’s Family leaves this earth it sends a wave of sadness throughout the world-wide members who live with this disease daily. The tribute you’ve written about Erica is lovely and indicates what a beloved daughter of God she is and how special she is to you and your family. I believe our lives continue on in the next life and believe Erica is now free from pain and sorrow. May God grant you peace and comfort in the days ahead. With love,

~~

My prayers go out to all who knew and loved Erica. Having had surgery for Cushing’s Disease and dealing with it’s consequences myself, I am inspired by her strength and determination to keep pushing forward for her cure. My heart aches that she was taken so early, and I pray she can now rest from her struggles and is at peace.

~~

I wanted to express my sincere condolences to Erica’s family and friends at this difficult time, my thoughts and prayers are with you. Sadly I never got a chance to meet Erica in person, we met though Bobbi Phillips on FB. We both have Cushing’s disease or as Erica called us Cushies and there aren’t many people that understand, it was a comfort to have someone that does. I will miss hearing from her, she will hold a special place in my heart. God Bless Erica!

~~

 

For Rare Disease Day: MaryO, Pituitary/Kidney Cancer Bio

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rare disease day

 

Adapted from Participatory Medicine

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

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

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

Anyway, I digress.

All this changed for me in 1983.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More info here.


MaryO’s Original Bio

Click on pictures to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom and me in Barbados

Update: Fall, 1999:

I went for my regular testing with my private endocrinologist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom O’Connor”

Update July 26, 2001

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

Update August 6, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

So, I waited for 10 days…

Update Fall, 2002

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

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

Update Fall, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinical Interests: Neuroendocrinology, pituitary disorders, adrenal disorders

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

Update October, 2004

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

Yea!!!

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

Update November, 2004

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

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

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

Update December 7, 2004

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

Update January 3, 2005

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

Update January 25, 2005

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

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

Update March 21, 2005

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

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

Update September, 2005.

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

Update January, 2006.

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

Update April 14, 2006

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

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

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

Update June 2, 2006: Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update August 19, 2006

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

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

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

Whine, whine!

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

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

Update October 26, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update December 2006

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

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

Update March 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update October 2018

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

No return of cancer (Hooray!)

I’ve developed a new allergy to blackberries

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

Update February 2020

Since then, in 2019, I had 2 more cortisone injections.¬† They’re only lasting about a week to 10 days now so I figure they’re not worth the potential side effects.¬† I’ll have one once a year before a big trip or cruise, so the next will be in August 0f 2020.

I’m still on growth hormone but I don’t see any improvement.¬† I’m still napping as many hours a day as I can.

The facial hair is still with me and I haven’t lost all the weight, despite 3 days a week of water aerobics (mostly for my knee).

 

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

And so I wait…


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

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

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

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

Listen to CushingsHelp on internet talk radio

HOME¬†|¬†Contents¬†|¬†Search¬†|¬†Adrenal Crisis!¬†|¬†CushieWiki¬†|¬†Glossary¬†|¬†Forums¬†|¬†Donate¬†|¬†Interactive¬†|¬†Bios¬†|¬†Bios¬†Listed¬†by¬†Date¬†|¬†Add¬†Your¬†Bio¬†|¬†Pituitary¬†|¬†Media¬†|¬†Forbes¬†Magazine¬†|‚Äʬ†MaryO¬†|¬†Addison’s¬†Help¬†Blog¬†|¬†¬†Cushing’s¬†and¬†Cancer¬†Blog¬†¬†|¬†Archived¬†Interview¬†|¬†Archived¬†Interview¬†The¬†Coffee¬†Klatch |¬†Cushing’s¬†Awareness¬†Day¬†Testimonial¬†|Patient¬†Empowerment | On¬†Patient¬†Commando¬†|

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In Memory of Lenise Petersen ~ October 2, 2002

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in-memory

Lenise’s Original Bio

Lenise, 22 years old, single mother.

After the birth of my daughter I was breast feeding. I stopped, but did not stop producing milk. My doctor told me it was normal. So, I ignored it, and the anxiety, weight gain.

Then I went and saw a different doctor. He ran an MRI and found a pituitary tumor. That was in June. He sent me to my Endo. She diagnosed me with Cushing’s and sent me to a Neurosurgeon.

I’m now waiting to have surgery. I am tired all the time (I have a two year old). I’ve gotten so fat I can hardly move. My face is red all the time, acne too. I can’t sleep at night, and have a hard time staying awake during the day. I’m getting so tired of being tired it’s not even funny.

It’s almost been a year now, since I’ve known, and I really want something done. I want to feel normal again. I want to have the energy to play with my daughter. I feel bad for her. It takes all of my energy just to take care of her all day. I’ve had some depression with this, mainly because of the way I look. I used to look good. Not now. I have major issues with anxiety, I shake all the time. It’s like my nerves are shot to you know where. But, I’m so ready to have this surgery and hopefully get on with my life. I feel like my life is at a stand still waiting for this surgery. So, wish me luck. God Bless.

Lenise

Note: Lenise passed away Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002 at 23 years old, just after her surgery.

Official obituary.

Barbara S (Babs1953), Adrenal Bio

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Was finally diagnosed in Feb of this year.

Had surgery mid March to take left adrenal.

Am still on 3mg prednisone daily. Lots of joint muscle aches, headaches, hair falling out, dry skin, split nails… sleeping a bit better but tired during day,can‚Äôt walk long or stand without feeling like I’ll hit the ground any minute.

Any weight lost right after surgery is back!

 

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