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In Memory: Shianne Lombard-Treman, March 28, 2018

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Shianne was a Cushing’s Survivor who had just published a book, Be Your Own Doctor

After 17 years as a personal trainer, I ran into health problems of my own, eventually having a name put to it…“Cushing’s Syndrome,” a rare adrenal disease. Tumors were growing on my adrenal glands over-producing Cortisol, your stress hormone.

With 24/7 false fight-or-flight stress signals, the body goes haywire, producing horrific side effects such as weight gain around the midsection and back of neck, diabetes and blood sugar deregulation, inflammation, muscle deterioration, frail bones, hair loss, poor immunity, infertility, moonface, buffalo hump, extreme fatigue, brain fog, confusion, severe anxiety/depression and chemical imbalances.

Being constantly diagnosed as “healthy” caused me to be told, when I was finally diagnosed correctly, that I had maybe five years to live. Misdiagnosis can be a killer.… It is now my personal mission and obligation to help those suffering from any chronic illness that steals your joy, and bring awareness to Endocrine Disorders. From my journey through Cushing’s to Addison’s to recovery—from triathlete to barely being able to dress myself and finally to recovering into a stronger person I never knew I was.

 

 

Shianne Lombard Treman took her life on Wednesday, March 28th after a long struggle with depression brought on by the removal of her adrenal glands to the advancement of Cushing’s Syndrome. 

Shianne is survived by; her husband Timothy Treman, fur babies Molly & Charlie of Baltimore, her mother Geraldine Lombard, sister Danielle Huston, Husband John Huston and their 6 children, Caleb, Alaina, Juliana, Jeremy, Ashley, Aaron of Tawney Town, Brother Michael his wife Sue and brother Enzo and partner David of San Francisco and New Orleans. 

Shianne was born on May 3, 1977. She graduated from Towson University with a degree in Kinesiology. She used this degree to become a personal trainer. She loved helping people get healthy and ended up training two of the “Biggest Losers” on the reality TV show. This led to her being on Oprah as well as Dr. Phil to talk about fitness and health. 

She started her own business as a trainer in San Francisco for 5 years. It was in San Francisco that she met her dashing husband, Tim Treman. They were married in Bethany Beach Delaware in May of 2013 and moved to Baltimore in June of 2013 joining the O’Donnell Square neighborhood.

Among her accomplishments are a Black Belt in Taekwondo, multiple marathons, Tri Athlons and her work with charities.
Shianne changed lives. So many people have come forward to say that she changed their life by teaching them healthier ways to live. She inspired so many that when she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, a rare condition, she went into research mode to find out everything she could so she could keep doing this work of helping others. Again, she brought her knowledge of health into play by writing a book about the experience to help others with this disease. “Be Your Own Doctor” explains her battle to maintain fitness and recovery which had never been previously explored for folks dealing with Cushing’s. She was asked to speak at the Magic Johnson conference on rare diseases and in Congress about Cushings. She was also asked to speak at the National Institute of Health Conference. Unfortunately, that was never to be. Cushing’s took more than just her body, it slowly took her mind and spirit.

She was an extraordinary person who lived an extraordinary life… a bright star that burned out too soon.

Viewing will be from 4-7PM Wed April 4th at Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk 7110 Sollers Point Rd 410 – 285 – 2900.
Reception from 7:30- for close family and friends at Sparrows Point Country Club 919 Wise Avenue, Baltimore MD 21222

Her obituary can be read here.

 

Shianne F. Lombard-Treman
May 03, 1977 – March 28, 2018

Annie, Child With Pituitary Cushing’s

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We’re sharing the story of Annie, who was treated at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for Cushing Syndrome.

Thanks to the incredible doctors at NICHD & The NIH Clinical Center, she underwent an extremely successful clinical trial and surgery and is now thriving like a child should.

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Zoe, Pituitary Video

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Zoe shares her experience of living with Cushing’s disease, a rare condition that develops when your body produces too much of the hormone cortisol.

The commonest cause of spontaneous Cushing’s disease is a small benign tumour in the pituitary gland. Symptoms usually develop gradually and so the diagnosis may not be clear for some time.

Watch and share Zoe’s story to raise awareness of this rare condition.

 

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A New Newspaper Article on Jordy

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Today’s article: Father-of-two, 42, who was scared of heights now skydives from 17,000ft with NO FEAR after surgeons removed his ADRENELIN gland

Mr Cernik suffers from ultra-rare Cushing’s syndrome which causes high levels of the hormone Cortisol – a steroid that regulates the metabolism and immune system.

In just three years, former Territorial Army recruit Mr Cernik, who is 5ft 8in tall, ballooned from 11st 5lb to almost 17st.

To treat the condition, Mr Cernik underwent a series of brain operations and two procedures to remove his adrenal glands, which also produce adrenalin….

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4418714/Father-two-42-no-fear-operation.html#ixzz4ebhHkMsI

Read more about Jordy.

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Necessary Silence, Undiagnosed Bio

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question

 

I was researching the term for the corner my spine makes (buffalo hump) because I was chronicling conditions for my Medical Adventures. This lead me into the tumble of discovering Cushing’s symptoms. So many issues began making sense.

Constantly flushed face, hair loss, heavy weight gain, slimmer limbs, rounded face, buffalo hump.

Fear of not being believed by Doctors (fat lady problem) lead me to buy an at-home test for cortisol levels. The result confirmed that something was going on. I took the evidence to my GP and was sent for a blood test and referred to the Endocrinology Clinic. “Oh my goodness. This is going to be so smooth.”

A month later and the Endo people still have not been in touch. Not even a letter!? I know that an appointment will take a while to come around, but I had hoped to be told kinda how long I would have to wait by now. More research in the interim has led me to a personal conclusion that a pituitary tumour (messing with various hormones) is the likely cause. “An MRI please”.

I’ll try to update you but in the meantime more details will be in my Medical Adventures series on https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD8MiGlEkjl3J718VsBZ3tw9YWfOYSGrv

I’ve read a lot of the bios on these Cushing’s sites. There are many accounts without follow-ups and I hope that those people are still fighting for recognition of what is going on.

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Correy D (Cushie Correy), Pituitary Bio

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pituitary-location
In the beginning:

This journey started long before I knew it did. I was healthy for the first 27 years of my life. Around 27 or 28 I started having problems. It started with high blood pressure. No problem, that runs in the family. Medication will solve that. Around 30 there was something more strange going on. I still produced milk even though my youngest was 5. My doctor sent me in for a galactogram (a mammogram with dye injected in my glands). It came back normal. My breast and mammary glands were fine.

Over the next few years came depression, weight gain regardless of diet and exercise, and random muscle strains. My doctor said to try a little harder and eat a little better. I threw my hands up in the air. I had already tried everything and still I was gaining. This went on from 2009 to about June of this year.

In June of 2013 I broke a rib when I was trying to crack my back. June of 2014 I broke another one on the opposite side when I was coughing. Finally, my doctor took notice. All the sudden my previous diagnosis were not individual issues, but symptoms of a bigger problem. Cushing’s disease has a laundry list of symptoms and I had almost all of them. I had already mentioned lactation, high blood pressure, depression, weight gain and brittle bones. I also had other symptoms I was not even aware of. My face had become round and red, most of my weight accumulated in my torso, there was a pronounced fat hump on my upper back, there were purple marks on my belly (striae) which I had thought were stretch marks, my face had become fuzzy, and I hadn’t had a period in at least 7 years.

The symptoms weren’t enough for a diagnosis. My doctor orders labs for hormone levels, cortisol levels, and I don’t know what else (about 5 blood vials worth). These came back with high cortisol levels and enough other oddities that I was referred on to an endocrinologist. This doctor did the first panel of tests over and added a few more. It seemed that everyone knew what it was but no one wanted to be the one to diagnose Cushing’s.

Now there are only a couple of things that can cause Cushing’s. The first is steroid abuse…ummm, no. The second is a tumor either on the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland. These marvelous tests determined that it was the pituitary version because if it was adrenal only cortisol would have been effected. The pituitary gland controls a myriad of chemicals in your body and all my levels were off.

OK, so they were convinced it was Cushing’s, now we just had to see the tumor to prove it…MRI time. I don’t know if you have ever had an MRI but I despise them. Reasons, I am claustrophobic and very large. It was a horrible experience resulting in fuzzy images, but they were clear enough to show a tumor sitting square on my pituitary gland. For those who have not looked it up by now the pituitary is on the front (face) side of your brain, settled in between the major artery and vein in your head, right behind your eye balls and sinus cavity. This is not a convenient place to have a tumor.

The endocrinologist then referred me to a neurosurgeon. The local surgeon referred my case to Mayo Clinic of Minnesota. So, we are talking tests and waiting from June through September. I was told to report to Mayo September 23rd. I was given the impression I would meet the doc and be scheduled for surgery Wednesday or Thursday. This was not so.

I brought a team with me: my sister, Amanda and her friend Athena and my bestie Lauren. We first met with the Mayo endocrinologist, Dr. Abboud. He decided he wanted to run his own tests there before there would be a surgery. He did blood test, urine tests, even saliva tests. In the meantime, I met the neurosurgeon up there, Dr. Von Gompel. He explained the surgery and scheduled it for September 30th 2014.

Here are my Facebook posts from this time:

9/23 First Mayo Update:

I met with Dr. Charles Abboud, Endocrinologist and we did an in-depth evaluation of my symptoms, physical characteristics, and medical history. There are so many things that I have considered normal for me over the past 8 years that are related to this disease. It’s nutso pants.

Anyways, it was determined before surgery they want to do more scans and testing because although it is likely the pituitary tumor is the cause, I may have other contributing tumors elsewhere. This means I will likely be up here longer than anticipated with surgery delayed for a minimum of 3 days to get results on this battery of testing. More to follow…

9/23 Second Mayo Update:

I have now received the schedule for the week. I will have more scans to be sure there are no tumors elsewhere. I will also have various test on bodily fluids, secretions, swabbings and their reactions to different medications throughout the week.

I met with the neurosurgeon, Dr. Jamie Van Gompel this afternoon. This was the appointment in which they gave me the assessment of what the surgery would entail for my case specifically, risks, odds of complications and most importantly a date. The trans sphenoidal endoscopic surgery (I feel so smart) will be next Tuesday now. Until then more waiting…and testing…and more waiting.

Sept. 24

Yesterday was information overload. Between consultations and running floors 1-19 of the clinic multiple times then making extended hotel arrangements and Walgreen’s runs I was exhausted x12.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On to today: I am finally closing out day one of excessive testing. Upon arrival at the clinic I turned in samples of #’s 1 and 2 and saliva (all separate, thank gods). Due to my claustrophobia, we opted for wheelchair when using the elevators (I had collapsed yesterday when one got too full on me.)

At 8 am there were 6 vials of blood drawn, 9:30 a chest x-ray, then a info session for my sleep study tonight, next a midsection CT scan with contrast (holy warm sauce) and finally another blood draw for my PM cortisol levels. Whew…donsies!!!

Sept 24

I have difficulty sleeping without a fan. I have not slept well the past couple of nights because of lack of air movement. I was all ready to run to Target and buy one when Lauren was like, I’ll just call the front desk and see if they have them. This is me being used to self-reliance vs actual customer service. My sleep study is saved. Now we’ll see if I legitimately stop breathing.

Sept 26

Friday update:

The past couple of days have been kind of slow compared to the first couple here. Yesterday completed my sleep study and CT looking for additional Timons, results still pending. Today I had a bone density test. This shit gave me osteoporosis. That’s why my ribs kept breaking. Over the weekend, I’ll have more ‘sample collections’ and blood draws and attempt to not be bored to death in between.

On the plus side the weather has been gorgeous, I have had muchos girl/sissy time, and in a town like this survival stories abound.

Have a GREAT weekend!!

Sept 29

Case of the Mayo Mondays:

Today began with another blood test. This one, the lab tech had to get an IV which is generally not an issue for me. This time the guy blew out two veins. The 3rd try he “kind of” a clear one in my hand. Through this he had to do medication injections and blood draws at 15 minute intervals for an hour and a half. This resulted in knots in 3 places where veins used to reside.

Next up was a head CT to map my brain. This was interesting to me. I got another IV (a clear one this time) for contrast dye, nodes stuck all over my face and head, and run through a CT scanner. From this they will make a map of the blood vessels through my head to help the surgeon navigate tomorrow. They removed the nodes but left dots in permanent marker and tape over them so they do not get wiped off before tomorrow. It will be interesting walking around town tonight.

I am done with appointments for the day. Whoop!

The good news of the day: The chest CT showed “multiple healing rib fractures” but no more Timones. Yay!!

At 8:30 tonight I will call an automated system, enter my patient ID, and find out what time to report for duty tomorrow. I must find distraction. I am starting to get anxious. Can it be next week already?

Sept 29 Post 2

Reporting for duty at 5:45 am central.

Tomorrow determines if I get to continue to eat vegetables or become one…

Sept 30 I registered at St. Mary’s Hospital and got settled in. Surgery began at 9:25. I was done around 13:00.

Oct 1

My first post-surgery post

Timone is gone. I am tired.

Oct 2

Hey all, got behind on the updates because a lot has changed very quickly. I have “complications”. Please keep positive energy pointed this direction. I may be up here for a while now.later Oct 2

If medical stuff makes you icky, keep scrolling.

So here’s the run down after surgery. The tumor removal itself went well. They believe they got the whole thing without much damage to the pituitary gland. The two issues that remain are post-surgery my cerebral spinal fluid (csf) sprung a leak and the Cushing’s disease that the tumor caused kicked in.

A few hours after surgery I started dripping/ running clear “snot” from my nose. It only happened when I was upright or leaned forward. The fluid was tested and determined to be csf. Now a person cannot just go around leaking brain juice so action had to be taken. The doctors put in a lumbar puncture and are draining spinal fluid every two hours. This will take the pressure off my head and give it a chance to heal. This means I am here at least till Sunday. If this does not work, they must go back in and manually patch the leak.

The Cushing disease also kicked in full effect today. That meant today with the tumor gone the excess amounts of cortisol my body was used to stopped and I crashed. This would be like a meth head going cold turkey. This morning was spent trying to find the right steroid/ dose to balance me back out. With luck, I will be able to wean off these eventually.

As they steroids are currently wearing off again I’m going to sleep because I don’t really have a choice. NITE ALL!!!

Oct 6

So I know it’s been a while….

The day after my last update they put in a lumbar puncture and connected a drain to it. 10 ml of csf was drained every 2 hours for 2 days. This took the pressure off my brain= no more leakage= time to heal. I have also been sleeping almost nonstop. It seems to have worked, no more nose leakage. They drained 30 ml this morning and will do one more drain tomorrow AM and if no more leakage I will get all my departing instructions and GET TO LEAVE.

Next challenge: re-balancing my chemical physiology.

Oct 7

This morning I woke up in Minnesota, still in the hospital. They stole more blood, drained more csf, and pulled that thing out of my back. Best news of the day: After they pulled out the drain my nose did not start leaking again. This meant I was clear to leave…woot!

Paperwork, discharge instructions, shower because ewww hospital, prescriptions, freedom. Oh no, not yet, doctor appointment with my favorite endocrinologist of all time, Dr. Abboud. So, it took a while but home we came.

I have a fuzzy head but full heart. Thank you all so much for your kind words.

Home at last and then the real Cushing’s journey began.

Home Sweet What?!?!?

I came home from Mayo October 7. Home to me may be considered a madhouse to others. My house contains my children (17-year-old girl, 10-year-old boy), my sister, 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 3 turtles. Upstairs contains my dittos and 2 of the cats; the basement homes my sister, her two dogs, and the other 2 cats; and the main level is myself, my dog (Toby), and the stupid turtles. I was happy to be going home to my madhouse.

Before the surgery I had done quite a bit of research about the symptoms of Cushing’s, the causes, the surgery itself. I had not, however researched much about Cushing’s recovery. While still in the hospital I remember sleeping, in between all the intermittent blood draws, vitals checks, and med administering. There was not much else. Once home I was initially just concerned with watching for brain juice leakage. I was not prepared for reality.

Read reality:

http://csrf.net/doctors-articles/recovery/recovery-from-cushings-and-coping-with-recovery/

My reality also included my madhouse. For as full as my house is I spend most of my days alone. My sis works nights so she is sleeping during my waking hours and gone overnight, the dittos are in school and the girl works nights. The cats are on their respective floors. It’s just me and my Toby since the turtles are not for me. When I’m awake, I look around and see all the things I could be doing if I was mobile. The floors need swept, dishes need done, general tidying and dusting required. It’s not that these things never get done but they could be done faster if I were able.

I have now been home a month. Physically, I was more ok when I got home than now. At that point I was still tapering down prednisone. I was still sleeping quite a bit, especially after dropping my dosage, but by the end of the week I was moving around more. After a few weeks, the tapering was done and I crashed once again. I am sleeping till the afternoon. I am weak to the point that moving from room to room is exercise, painful exercise. I stopped taking the prescribed pain killers so I am depending on Tylenol. Tylenol sucks ass. I also still lose words. Often, I cannot complete a sentence. I know exactly what needs to be said but the term, phrase, or name is completely gone. In my “before Cushing’s life” I was pretty flipping eloquent so this is extremely frustrating. To be honest the whole thing is frustrating. I am a strong intelligent independent woman reduced to incapable and not so eloquent blob.

A series of unfortunate events…the sequel.

I suppose I should start at the end of my last post which was flippin January for gods sake. I don’t know why I felt the need to stop writing when things started getting bad again. Documenting my recovery was so much more positive than writing about a relapse but now it’s time to catch up. Cushing’s is a journey with highs and lows. Jump on the coaster with me.

At the end of January I was on the way over a big hill on the coaster. I was doing water aerobics, getting more mobile, working with dogs again. I had my appointment with the local endo and she was dismissive. She basically said the tumor was gone and I should be losing weight faster. This is the exact reason that not just any endo should deal with Cushing’s patients. They don’t get it. Removing the tumor is only step one. Next is re-balancing hormones, then dealing with all the havoc Cushing’s has left behind. My January cortisol labs had been normal, as in recovered norm which was a recovery from the crash post op 0. It is not usual to be at normal range so soon after weaning of prednisone, but we took it for good news anyways.

By mid Feb I was starting to get nervous. I was starting to feel things, previous symptom kind of things. My skin started to break out again, I had headaches again, and I started to gain weight to spite moving more than I had in over a year. I had a follow-up MRI in February. There was the post op variances they expected and then, there it was, a new 2 mm regrowth. FML!

I did not feel good about continuing with the local endo. I could not shake the feeling she had blown me off as just another fat hypochondriac. My GP referred me down to U of I where I met Dr. Christina Ogrin. Our first appointment she took a whole afternoon to listen to my story. She told me she had never dealt with Cushing’s before but she wanted to help and she would work with her colleagues and research to see where we needed to go from if the tests confirmed a recurrence. We repeated the cortisol and other hormone tests that had just been performed in January and there was the confirmation. My cortisol was back above normal range. Dr. Ogrin contacted Dr. Abboud, my Mayo endo, to get his take on the situation. After consulting the U of I team, Dr. Abboud, and her own research, Dr. Ogrin laid out the options.

1. Operate again

2. Go on ketoconazole and get radiation

3. Try a newer medication (Signifor) to counter the cortisol and possibly shrink the tumor.

As I was just coming off of my first trans sphenoidal adenectomy, I was not eager to jump on that again. I had heard horrible things about ketoconazole so that was not a happy thought. Signifor sounded like my best option.

There were many baseline tests that had to be performed to start this process. We tested cortisol levels from blood, pee, and spit. We did a new MRI (April) which showed Marty* had already grown. I had an EKG and ultrasound of my gallbladder because Signifor can affected the heart and cause gallstones. When we did the gallbladder ultrasound there were already about 9 good sized stones present. At that point it was decided I should have it removed prior to starting the medication. Signifor also causes an increase in blood sugar and since mine was already borderline high they started me on Metformin. They tell me my gallbladder has to come out, a preventative measure since the odds if it causing problems if it stayed were close to 100%. Sweet. Here I am taking it all in stride. If that’s the next step, then that is what we will do. My coworkers were supportive and told me to put my health first. I would not lose my job. Woot!

May came in like a whirlwind. I had a pre-op appointment with general surgery to set up my gallbladder removal. A couple of days after that I was in my garage leaving for work when I lost my balance and fell forward catching myself with my arms outstretched. My balance, muscles, and bone strength had all taken a hit from the Cushing’s so my arm snapped. The break was bad, right above the elbow, there was one clean break and another longer break up the bone. One ambulance ride and many pain pills later I was admitted at St. Luke’s and informed they would have to operate. I am now the proud owner of hardware in my arm.

At this point I was already scheduled for my Laparoscopic Gallbladder Removal (Cholecystectomy) so in the beginning of June we went ahead and did that too. What is supposed to be a simple surgery went sideways when they nicked my liver. I had to have a icky drain for the bleeding. A couple weeks later I went to have the drain removed and everything looked fine. That night I starting to get sick. My temp went up, I started vomiting and my stomach hurt so much I thought I would pass out which would have been a blessing because I wanted to sleep till it was over but I could not due to the pain. I know, run on sentence, but it was a run-on couple of days. My stubborn behind would not go to the doctor because I had just been and everything was ok. Or not…

I ended up in the ER again. They transported me from St Luke’s to U of I because my liver levels were ridiculous high and the local hospital did not want to deal with my issues. Once at the U, I was admitted, poked, and prodded. By the end it was determined that I was passing a gallstone that had gotten stuck on the wrong side of the clip when they took my gallbladder. This can only happen in my world. Who passes a gallstone when they no longer have a gallbladder? This girl.

This took us to July. Dr. Ogrin was out of the country. She wanted me to take the month to recover and get used to the Metformin. We would meet when she returned to start the Signifor. And so we did. Signifor is very expensive as it is rare and there are no generics for it. Dr. Ogrin successfully fought the insurance company because there is no other FDA approved medication for pituitary Cushing’s. The first month I was on it there was little relief. My brain fog was back along with my other returned symptoms and now I also had extreme digestive issues. These were three part. Gallbladder removal itself affects digestion. The Metformin is known to cause such problems. Now the Signifor injections themselves cause nausea. After a month, I got a 2-week reprieve because the insurance company denied my renewal so now we are starting over. I will retest cortisol levels in November to see if the Signifor is doing anything aside from making me nauseous.

I have also spoken with the radiology oncology department at U of I. They have reviewed my case and I am awaiting word on whether they would recommend a single dose (gamma knife) radiation or a five-week treatment. Either way I would continue on the Signifor because the radiation results can take up to a year to show.

There you have it. The last nine months in 1500 words ish. Some have babies in 9 months. Not I, I have a series of unfortunate events.

*I named Timone’s sequel Marty for a few reasons. Marty is the zebra in Madagascar. Zebras are the animal mascot for Cushing’s because doctors have this awesome mantra that is drilled into them when they are in medical school, “If you hear hoof beats, think horses.” Well Cushing’s is one of the most misdiagnosed illnesses because our symptoms may be hoof beats but zebras have hooves too. Sorry for the tangent but it is important to the Marty explanation. In Madagascar 3, Marty has a moment that mimics the overactive distractedness that a Cushie brain knows so well. He sings and dances for his new circus friends. “Afro circus, afro circus, polka-dot, polka-dot, afro!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZYFqle7GvA (the submitted video is unavailable)

Radiation Oncology- Dr Smith

I got a call back from Dr. Smith today. University of Iowa is a teaching hospital. As such, they have interdisciplinary case meetings on Tuesdays to discuss the more complicated patients coming through the U. It is a very “5 heads are better than one” approach which I appreciate. In my case, they discussed radiation vs Trans sphenoidal adenectomy. Radiology put the case up and although it is a viable option neurosurgery believes there is a better chance for better quality of life with their option. Each specialty believes strongly in their course of action. Of course, it is all up to me.

The risk of gamma knife radiation would be hypopituitarism (disorder in which your pituitary gland fails to produce one or more of its hormones) Ironically the symptoms of hypopituitarism are like what I am already experiencing with Cushing’s. I could end up on replacement therapies for the rest of my life.

The drawbacks of the surgery are the surgery itself is traumatic, the recovery is difficult, and the failure rate is high. My first surgery left me bedridden for a couple of months. I could not afford to take that much time off again. At this point taking a day off impacts but a month…impossible.

I am torn but I did agree to meet with the neurosurgeon before going ahead with the radiation treatment. I am still processing. Neither is a very high success rate and both have negatives. The drug therapy I am on is a temporary situation. The longest it has been reported to work is 5 years. Cushing’s has a high mortality rate with no intervention. I am only 36 and have an 11-year-old son. Five years is not enough.

What do you do when all options available are just buying time?

Neurosurgery- Dr Greenlee

Today I had my neurosurgery appointment. The surgeon came in, looked at my scans and reviewed my history. This is the same doctor who had been so sure surgery would be better than radiation. He told me this time the tumor is wrapped around my carotid artery. He told me there would only be a 60% “cure rate” by going through that horrendous surgery again. Along with a higher fail rate, it would also be much higher risk of complications or death due to the position of the tumor. Looks like radiation is in my future.

I do have a follow up appointment with my endocrinologist, Dr Ogrin coming up. We will be checking my cortisol (24-hour urine Yay!) to see if the Signifor injections are having any effect. We shall see.

Testing testing…1 2 3

Every Cushie knows the frustration of testing. Cushing’s is one of those really hard to prove diseases. Our hormone levels are tested at every junction of diagnosis and treatment. Cortisol is the main hormone tested for. Cushing’s can affect several chemicals but cortisol is the steroid that causes the most damage. There are several ways cortisol is tested. Saliva- you suck on a cotton swab in between 11pm and midnight and send it off to the lab. Blood- soooo many blood tests, AM cortisol, PM cortisol, and dex suppression. And of course, the pee- most often 24 hour urine.

Every result comes with mixes emotions. When testing for a diagnosis, if you get abnormal results you are happy that you are not crazy, there really is something wrong. So many people are told there is nothing wrong with them for so long, they start to actually feel crazy. When you are testing during treatment and get a bad result, then comes the fear. What next? What does this mean for my treatment options? Am I out of options? This fear is only slightly amplified by the anxiety that comes along as a wonderful side effect of the disease itself.

Results time:

Cortisol, Urine Free – per 24 h Result

175.5 Normal Range

<=45.0 Measure

ug/d

Last week I did a 24-hour urine test. This is seriously collecting every drip for 24 hours, the results of which I got today. Considering the recent consulting appointments, I’m once again not sure which direction to go. The test show my cortisol is still high, not as high as it had been in the past. My last 24 hour was May 10th and 263.4 ug/d. At that rate 175.5 looks pretty good. The question now would be can my body take those levels long enough for the radiation to take effect? Is the immediate result of the surgery worth the 60% success rate if it can’t?

More questions than answers when test results arrive. This makes me long for the days of pass/fail pregnancy tests. At least then there was a definite answer and knowledge of options to follow.

Radio Roller Coaster

“The question now would be can my body take those levels long enough for the radiation to take effect? Is the immediate result of the surgery worth the 60% success rate if it can’t?”

These were the questions I had after receiving my last test results. My 24-hour urine cortisol had still been high. I had a follow up with Dr. Ogrin (endo). She was quite encouraged. My results were still above normal range but were much lower than my pre-medicated levels and my blood cortisol and ACTH were back down to normal range. This meant I got to stay on the Signifor and radiation was still a go.

FF to yesterday. I went to meet with Dr. Smith’s office for my pre-radio-surgery patient education and MRI. We went through the procedure and the nurse stepped out to grab whoever was taking me down to MRI. No one came back…we waited for just over an hour. I have never waited at this office before so I knew it was not good. Finally Dr. Smith comes in. I actually hadn’t expected to see him yesterday so my suspicions were confirmed. He sat down and told me my weight disqualified me from the gamma knife radiation. My options now are the full 6-week course of radiation or the trans sphenoidal adenectomy. The same surgery that I was told there was only a 60% change of success. To me, this is just not a viable option.

Every time I think there is a plan, it gets squashed. Have you gotten whiplash from my roller coaster yet? This disease got so far gone that I am too fat to be treated. I would not wish Cushing’s on my worst enemy. This thing might just kill me. All of my systems are stressed from the extra weight. My blood pressure cannot be regulated. Signifor has made me officially diabetic. Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!

Reverse: Part way through this post Dr. Smith called. After discussing my case with his colleagues, he was reminded they were upgrading one of the radio surgery stations and it would no longer have the weight restrictions. I’ll have to wait till mid-December but Gamma Knife is still a possibility. This is truly good news because the success rate with radio surgery is so much higher than standard ration treatment.

Every disappointment is just a moment in time. You stay because you get the counter moment eventually. BUT if my life were a movie, I wouldn’t watch it, I’m just sayin…

Signifor

Signifor is the supposed miracle treatment for pituitary Cushing’s, the only drug officially approved to treat the disease. When my first surgery failed, I was not really wanting to get right into another one, Dr. Ogrin did some research and jumped on this as an option for me. My endo is not a Cushing’s specialist but she is very enthusiastic and willing to put in the work so her excitement was infectious (haha). There were a couple of hurdles to overcome before actually starting treatment. The medication is a twice daily injection. The cost is approximately 12,000 per month. In order to get the insurance company to cover it we had to do many preliminary tests and baselines for future tracking. There were the normal cortisol level tests (blood, urine, and saliva), EEG, and ultrasound of my gallbladder as Signifor often caused gallstones. During the ultrasound, it was found that I already had about a dozen gallstones. The stones were not irritated but since they were only going to get worse it was decided to remove the gallbladder proactively. OK, so about two months later we were ready to go.

I started the injections knowing that the major side effect would be the increase of blood sugar generally causing diabetes so when my blood sugar went up it wasn’t a surprise. As big as I am, I had never actually crossed the line to diabetic before. We started Metformin which made me sick as a dog. I still stayed on it for almost 2 months. It kept my blood sugar in normal range but I basically lived in the bathroom. YUCK! Now we are trying a Glipizide. It has been ok but I take it with food and my spikes are post injection so my sugars never stay level. The other side effects nausea and hair loss, I can live with I guess. Not a fan of seeing my own scalp but due to overheating I can’t do hats.

Also, the insurance will only pay for the drug 3 months at a time and then require proof it is working before they will agree to the next 3. I was really nervous because I really didn’t know if it was working. Some of my initial symptoms were easing up but nothing was cured and I was still gaining weight. Time for test again. Blood, urine, and saliva all told the same tale. My cortisol was lower than initial levels. It had been cut in half but was still well above “normal” range. I just got word that it was enough for insurance to approve to continue treatment. Woo HOO!

This is not a long term solution. It’s a treatment not a cure. It only works as long as I am able to get the injections and the side effects are hard on the body. About 20 minutes after every shot I get waves of nausea. No way around that one. I am now diabetic which may or may not go away. The expense is also not realistic long term. I currently have Medicaid but if I ever had to pay $12,000 a month myself it just wouldn’t happen. I am only 36 so we are talking just under $150,000 every year for a long time still and that is just the injections. My other maintenance meds (blood pressure, depression, anxiety) are a whole separate thing. When my cortisol does get to normal we may be able to ween off some of them, thank god.

So, for long term I still have to do either the trans-nasal or radio surgery to get rid of the hormone producing tumor. I’m pretty set on radio surgery. I spoke to Dr. Smith’s office today and they say the 14th or 21st. I’ll hear soon for a set date.

So, with all of the above you may be asking why bother with Signifor at all. I must admit I ask myself the same thing sometimes but then I consider what has improved since starting.

• My mental clarity has improved. I was getting increasingly foggy.

• I am on NO pain meds. The muscle pain just for pain sake is gone.

• I am stronger. I no longer feel as if I cannot get out of bed or off the couch. I may not have lost any weight but I can carry it around now.

• My ‘sweats’ are getting fewer and farther between. Before I would break into a drenching sweat regularly for no reason at all. It’s now down to only about once a day unless I’m at a store or get to cleaning my house and overexert.

• I can sleep through the night.

• I no longer am constantly fatigued.

• I have hope that one day I could be normal again.

These are the things I must remind myself of when I have a rough day. The kind of sick I am now is much better that my previous disheartening misery. 🙂 So I’ll continue until a cure or insurance stops paying.

Feb 2016 I had the gamma knife radiation…bunches of fun. No changes…

…except it is now January 2017. My symptoms are returning, levels back up, whatever Signifor was doing, it doesn’t seem to be any longer.

My doctor who was so excited for challenge in the beginning is starting to throw around gastric bypass, Korlym, and BLA, There is no end to the bullshit.

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Doc Karen, Pituitary and BLA Bio

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Karen’s Story

Life was good! In fact, life was great! I was married to the love of my life. We had a beautiful little girl. My husband and I had both earned our graduate degrees. I earned my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and was growing my clinical practice. I loved my work!

In October, 2006, my life was turned upside down when I gained 30 pounds in 30 days! I knew this was not normal at all. I sought answers but my doctor kept insisting that I wasn’t eating the right foods, that I wasn’t exercising hard enough, and finally that it was genetic. However, I was always a thin person, I ate pretty healthy foods, and I was pretty active. Red flags became even greater when my physician put me on prescription weight loss drugs and I STILL gained another 30 pounds. I knew my body and I knew something was wrong but I had no one to validate what was going on.

In January, 2010, to my surprise, I learned that I was miraculously pregnant with our second daughter. I was so sick during that pregnancy and,  again, my doctors couldn’t figure out why. My OBGYN was very supportive, yet so concerned. Her solution was to put me on bed rest. I became so ill that she told me that “my only job was to sit still and wait to have a baby”. I did give birth to a healthy baby girl four weeks early. Little did I know, then, how much of a miracle she was.

During the latter part of my pregnancy, while flipping through channels on television, I came across a Cushing’s episode on the health TV show, “Mystery Diagnosis”.

 

 

I knew right away that this diagnosis fit everything I had been experiencing: years of weird and unexplained symptoms, gaining 150 pounds for no reason, an onset of diabetes, high blood pressure, and an overall sense of doom.

You see, my friends and family witnessed me go from a vibrant young Clinical Psychologist in practice, to someone whose health deteriorated due to the symptoms of Cushing’s, as I tried for many years to get answers from professionals. As I continued to eat a healthy, 1000 calorie per day diet, engage in exercise with multiple personal trainers, and follow through with referrals to consult with dietitians; I continued to gain weight at a rate of 5 pounds per week and experience rapidly declining health. Finally, after watching that Cushing’s episode of Mystery Diagnosis, I found my answer! Ultimately, I sought the expertise of and treatment from a team of experts at the Seattle Pituitary Center in Seattle, WA. I had brain surgery in Seattle on November 16th, 2011. I want to tell you how I found the people who helped save my life…

On June 9, 2011, I went to my first MAGIC conference. I had never heard of them but someone on one of the online support groups told me about it.  At that time, I was working but was very, very sick. We suspected at that time that I had been sick for years! My local endocrinologist was far from a Cushing’s expert. After watching the Cushing’s episode of Mystery Diagnosis, I told the same endocrinologist who had misdiagnosed me for years that I had found my answer. He swore that there was “literally no possible way that I had Cushing’s Disease!” He stated that my “hump wasn’t big enough”, “my stretch marks were not purple enough” and that “Cushing’s patients do not have children!” I told him that I was NOT leaving his office until he started testing me. He finally caved in. To his surprise, I was getting abnormal labs back.

At that time, there was evidence of a pit tumor but it wasn’t showing up on an MRI. So, I had my IPSS scheduled. An IPSS stands for Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling. It is done because 60 % of Cushing’s based pituitary tumors are so small that they do not show up on an MRI. Non Cushing’s experts do not know this so they often blow patients off, even after the labs show a high level of ACTH in the brain through blood work. An overproduction of the hormone ACTH from the pituitary communicates to the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol. Well, the IPSS procedure is where they put catheters up through your groin through your body up into your head to draw samples to basically see which side of your pituitary the extra hormone is coming from, thus indicating where the tumor is. U of C is the only place in IL that does it.

So, back to the MAGIC convention; my husband and I went to this conference looking for answers. We were so confused and scared!  Everyone, and I mean everyone, welcomed us with opened arms like we were family! There were brilliant presenters there, including an endocrinologist named Dr. William Ludlam. At that time, he was the director at the Seattle Pituitary Center in Seattle, WA. He is a true Cushing’s expert. Since then, he left in January, 2012 to have a significant impact toward the contribution of research of those impacted by Cushing’s Syndrome. His position was taken over by another brilliant endocrinologist, Dr. Frances Broyles.

I was scheduled to get an IPSS at U of C on June 28th, 2011 to locate the tumor. Two days after the IPSS, I began having spontaneous blackouts and ended up in the hospital for 6 days. The docs out here had no clue what was happening and I was having between 4-7 blackouts a day! My life was in danger and they were not helping me! We don’t know why, but the IPSS triggered something! But, no one wanted to be accountable so they told me the passing out, which I was not doing before, was all in my head being triggered by psychological issues. They did run many tests. But, they were all the wrong tests. I say all the time; it’s like going into Subway and ordering a turkey sandwich and giving them money and getting a tuna sandwich. You would be mad! What if they told you, “We gave you a sandwich!” Even if they were to give you a dozen sandwiches; if it wasn’t turkey, it wouldn’t be the right one. This is how I feel about these tests that they ran and said were all “normal”. The doctors kept telling us that they ran all of these tests so they could cover themselves. Yet, they were not looking at the right things, even though, I (the patient) kept telling them that this was an endocrine issue and had something to do with my tumor! Well, guess how good God is?!!!!

You see, Dr. Ludlam had given me his business card at the conference, which took place two weeks prior to the IPSS. I put it away for a while. But, something kept telling me to pull the card out and contact him. I am crying just thinking about it, Lord!

So, prior to my IPSS, I wrote Dr. Ludlam an e mail asking him some questions. At that time, he told me to send him ALL of my records including labs. I sent him 80 pages of records that day.  He called me back stating that he concurred with all of the evidence that I definitely have Cushing’s Disease from a pituitary source. He asked me what I planned to do and I told him that I was having the IPSS procedure done in a few days at the University of Chicago. He told me once I got my results to contact him.

Fast forward, I ended up in the hospital with these blackouts after my IPSS. The doctors, including MY local endocrinologist told me there was no medical evidence for my blackouts. In fact, he told the entire treatment team that he even doubted if I even had a tumor! However, this is the same man who referred me for the IPSS in the first place! I was literally dying and no one was helping me! We reached out to Dr. Ludlam in Seattle and told him of the situation. He told me he knew exactly what was going on. For some reason, there was a change in my brain tumor activity that happened after my IPSS. No one, to this day, has been able to answer the question as to whether the IPSS caused the change in tumor activity. The tumor, for some reason, began shutting itself on and off. When it would shut off, my cortisol would drop and would put me in a state of adrenal insufficiency, causing these blackouts!

Dr. Ludlam said as soon as we were discharged, we needed to fly out to Seattle so that he could help me! The hospital discharged me in worse condition then when I came in. I had a blackout an hour after discharge! But get this…The DAY the hospital sent me home saying that I did not have a pit tumor, my IPSS results were waiting for me! EVIDENCE OF TUMOR ON THE LEFT SIDE OF MY PITUITARY GLAND!!!

Two days later, Craig and I were on a plane to Seattle. I had never in my life been to Seattle, nor did I ever think I would go. We saw the man that God used to save my life, Dr. William Ludlam, the same man who we had met at the MAGIC conference for the first time one month prior! He put me on a combo of medications that would pull me out of crisis. Within one month, my blackouts had almost completely stopped! Unfortunately, we knew this was a temporary fix! He was treating me to carry me over to surgery. You see, his neurosurgeon, Dr. Marc Mayberg was just as amazing. He is one of the top neurosurgeons in the US! Statistically, he has one of the highest success rates!

The problem was that our insurance refused to pay for surgery with an expert outside of IL, stating that I could have surgery anywhere in IL! Most people don’t know that pituitary surgeries are very complicated and need the expertise of a “high volume center” which is where they do at least 50 of these surgeries per year. Dr. Mayberg has performed over 5,000 of these surgeries!  By this time, we had learned that we need to fight for the best care! It was what would give me the best chance at life! We thought I would have to wait until January when our insurance would change, to see if I could get the surgery I so desperately needed! I was holding on by a thread!

We began appealing our insurance. At the time the MAGIC foundation had an insurance specialist who was allowed to help us fight our insurance. Her name is Melissa Callahan and she took it upon herself to fight for us as our patient advocate. It was a long and hard battle! But…we finally WON!!!! On November 16th, 2011, Dr. Marc Mayberg found that hidden tumor on the left side of my pituitary gland! He removed the tumor along with 50% of my pituitary gland.

Recovery was a difficult process. They say that it takes about one full year to recover after pituitary surgery for Cushing’s. I was grateful to be in remission, nonetheless. However, about one year after my brain surgery, the Cushing’s symptoms returned. After seven more months of testing that confirmed a recurrence of the Cushing’s, I was cleared for a more aggressive surgery. This time, I had both of my adrenal glands removed as a last resort. By then, we had learned that I had hyperplasia, which is an explosion of tumor cells in my pituitary. It only takes one active cell to cause Cushing’s. Therefore, I could have potentially had several more brain surgeries and the disease would have kept coming back over and over.

As a last resort, my adrenal glands were removed so that no matter how much these cells try to cause my adrenals to produce excessive amounts of cortisol; the glands are not there to receive the message. As a result, I am Adrenally Insufficient for life, which means that my body cannot produce the life sustaining hormone, cortisol, at all. I had my Bilateral Adrenalectomy by world renowned BLA surgeon, Dr. Manfred Chiang, in Wisconsin on August 21st, 2013. I traded Cushing’s Disease for Addison’s Disease, one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in my life. However, I knew that I would die with Cushing’s. Recovery from my last surgery was difficult and involved weaning down to a maintenance dose of steroid to replace my cortisol. Now, on a maintenance dose; I still have to take extra cortisol during times of physical or emotional stress to prevent my body from going into shock.

I promised a long time ago that I would pay it forward…give back because so much has been given to me. This is why I have committed my life to supporting the Cushing’s community. I post videos on YouTube as a way of increasing awareness. My channel can be found at http://www.YouTube.com/drnkarenthames

Additionally, I am working on a Cushing’s documentary. Please like us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Hug.A.Cushie

Thank you for taking the time to read my story!

Karen has made 2 videos about her experiences with Cushing’s:

 

and

Doc Karen will be our guest in an interview on BlogTalk Radio  Friday December 2 at 11:00 AM eastern.  The Call-In number for questions or comments is (323) 642-1665 .

The archived interview will be available through iTunes Podcasts (Cushie Chats) or BlogTalkRadio.  While you’re waiting, there are currently 90 other past interviews to listen to!

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