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Laura, In The Media

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After years, mystery ills diagnosed

April 3, 2005
By JANET MARSHALL

On the day her life changed for the better, Laura Zastrow was exhausted. So much so that she almost didn’t go to the Quantico commissary, as she’d planned.

For years, Zastrow had felt run down without knowing why. One doctor chalked it up to depression. But that afternoon at Quantico, a stranger offered another diagnosis: Cushing’s disease.

Rare and often misdiagnosed, Cushing’s causes fatigue, weight gain, hair growth, mood swings, high blood pressure and other ills, all familiar to Zastrow.

The stranger, Jayne Kerns, recognized her own puffy face and hairy arms in Zastrow.

“I said, ‘I feel like I’m looking in the mirror,'” Kerns said.

Kerns encouraged Zastrow to check out a Cushing’s Web site, which Zastrow did. Every symptom listed matched her condition. Her doctor ran some tests, and the results confirmed Zastrow had Cushing’s, a hormonal disorder often brought on by a tumor.

The chance meeting in September 2003 transformed Zastrow’s life. In the months since, she’s had surgery to remove a large tumor on her pituitary gland and rediscovered her old, healthier self.

“My energy is coming back,” said Zastrow, of Locust Grove. “I’ve lost a lot of weight. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m in a fog anymore.”

Kerns, of Spotsylvania County, has made it a mission to raise as much awareness as possible of Cushing’s since being diagnosed with the disease in 2000. She’s written President Bush asking him to declare a National Cushing’s Awareness Day in April.

Her meeting with Zastrow was first described in a Free Lance-Star profile of Kerns in 2004. At the time, nobody yet knew just how life-altering that meeting would be.

It emboldened Kerns to keep reaching out to people she thinks have the disease. And it gave Zastrow hope for a healthier, more energetic future.

“I was at the point where I was deteriorating so fast that if Jayne wouldn’t have approached me, I honestly don’t know what would have happened,” Zastrow said recently. “Obviously, I didn’t know anything about [Cushing’s], and neither did my doctors.”

For those with the disease, April 8 is the unofficial day to recognize it and the man–Dr. Harvey Cushing–who first put a name to it.

People with Cushing’s suffer from excessive levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. The condition can be caused by long-term use of certain drugs, such as prednisone for asthma.

Often, Cushing’s stems from an overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands. The pituitary gland sometimes over-stimulates the adrenals, triggering the problem. Tumors on the adrenal or pituitary often are at the root of the problem, and treatment can involve removing the glands.

Kerns’ diagnosis followed months of maddening efforts to pinpoint why her body deteriorated, and never recovered, after childbirth.

She said she was misdiagnosed many times, and that one doctor, frustrated by her recurrent problems, told her he no longer had time to listen to her and referred her to another physician.

Kerns ultimately had her adrenal glands removed.

Each year, 10 to 15 people out of every million are thought to be affected by Cushing’s, making it highly uncommon.

“Doctors think that Cushing’s is too rare for people to have it,” Kerns said. “And I truly believe that it is not as rare as people think.”

Another local woman, Jennifer Belokon of Fredericksburg, has Cushing’s. She was serving in the Army in Iraq when she began feeling weak and gaining weight, adding 60 pounds in three months.

The Army flew her out of Iraq and sent her to Walter Reed Medical Center. After being diagnosed with Cushing’s, she had her adrenal glands removed.

“Now, I have no adrenaline, no steroids or anything that will help me produce that second wind when doing anything,” Belokon wrote in an e-mail.

Yet she’s resumed exercising and is training to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in Virginia Beach in September. She ran a 10-mile race a few months ago.

“My time was nothing big,” Belokon wrote. “But I was proud of myself for finishing.”

Getting treated for Cushing’s is life-altering, all three women said. Just finding out what’s wrong is profound because a diagnosis often follows months or years of mysterious and unsettling ailments.

“It changes people’s lives when they figure out what’s going on,” Kerns said. “It’s kind of like discovering that you have diabetes, and then you get insulin. You find something that’s going to make you feel better.”

For more information on the disease and its symptoms, which include purple stretch marks, check out cushings-help.com

To reach JANET MARSHALL: 540/374-5527 jmarshall@freelancestar.com
Copyright 2005 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.


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

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

Listen to CushingsHelp on internet talk radio

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Mak M, Pituitary Bio

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My name is Makena, I’m a 20 year old in California recently diagnosed with Cushings.

I have been having a really rough couple years with a multitude of symptoms. I have been suffering from severe depression since I was around 14, and have been prescribed an endless amount of antidepressants over the years. None of them have worked for me no matter the dose or brand.

The first symptom to cause me to visit the doctor was an extremely high blood pressure and pulse rate. I could always feel my heart pounding in my ears and felt on edge 24/7. My psychiatrist first told me it was anxiety and put me on anti-anxiety medication. That did not help, which led me to see my primary Dr. since my resting heart rate was around 150bpm. I have been put on blood pressure medication which has helped regulate me but I still feel very on edge.

My blood tests show very low vitamin D, very high testosterone, and very high cortisol. My Dr ordered an MRI on my brain and a CT of abdomen. The CT came back normal, but a 6mm microadenoma was found on my pituitary gland so I was referred to an endocrinologist. After doing a 24hr urine test and a saliva test, the results for that came back normal.

My main concern being: I can only physically feel my cortisol levels rise at night. I’ve had severe insomnia and daytime fatigue but the jittery and anxious feeling comes at night and then I crash during the day. I have had severe weight gain in my stomach and face as well as purple stretch marks all over. Losing hair, light sensitivity, vision loss, muscle and bone weakness, easily bruising, a stomach ulcer, a buffalo hump, and constant fatigue have ruined my life. I feel like my body is deteriorating and am not the same person I once was.

I’m hoping I will be able to get surgery to remove the tumor but am concerned that I won’t be approved for it because some tests came back normal. I am not sure what my next step will be but am happy to find stories I can relate to here on this website.

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Sahana (Sahana), Adrenal Bio

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My daughter had hair loss since age of 15
At 16 she had a hump at the back of her neck
Age 17 had anxiety, negative thoughts and memory loss.
Weight gain, acanthosis and menstrual irregularities.

I had shown her to many dermatologists for hair loss. At 16 had shown her to 2 endocrinologists
At 17 to psychiatry, gynaecologist and 2 more endocrinologists finally arriving at diagnosis after cortisol and ACTH tests followed by dexa suppression and CT abdomen.
She was operated laparoscopically and is now 7 mths postop.
She is off steroid supplementation and is improving steadily.

I WISH THERE WAS MORE AWARENESS ABOUT THIS DISEASE !!
My daughter has suffered a lot and I pray she recovers completely 🙏🏼

 

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Michelle (Michelle), Cyclical Cushing’s Bio

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I am an avid runner run about 15 miles a day then in April I gained 50 lbs my worst nightmare. I gained 50 lbs in two lbs with no change in activity or eating. I was ashamed and embarrassed I didn’t want anyone to see me my friends or family.

Then I broke out in hives all over my body I went to urgent care. They saw a large hump on the back of my neck thought I had cushings. I saw 10 different doctors in la. One passed me off to another.

It was a nightmare then I went to Mayo Clinic where she thought I had cushings from an external source ( September ) she told me to just wait and everything would go back to normal. Even though there was no outside steroid source.

Then I wasn’t getting better in the end of October I went to two doctors in nyc, who didn’t do anything.

Finally I found an artical on cyclical cushings and sent it to my doctor at Mayo Clinic. She agreed with me and told me to come in. My cortisol was finally high now and she’s running other tests I hope I’m fixed soon.

I’m so sad and depressed.

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Stephanie M (Stephanie), Pituitary Bio

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I found out I had a tumor on my pituitary gland in Nov 15 quite by accident, as you do!

I’d had an ovarian cyst and endometriosis taken out quite easily and then a horrific back surgery to take out a cyst on my lumbar spine. I was ( and am still) dealing with chronic severe nerve pain and numbness in my left leg and foot.

I’d been told I needed to watch what I eat and exercise even though I did both and still I gained 30 lbs. An ENT found the tumor on an MRI after I had a lymph node practically explode on my neck! Ugh.

We were getting ready to relocate to AK from TN and still hadn’t been diagnosed. I had to travel to Seattle from Fairbanks for all my appts!

Long story short, I had a macroadenoma on my pituitary gland. By the time I had my first surgery, I could barely think rationally anymore, I was in terrible pain, I had very little muscle strength left, and I’d gained a total of 70 lbs. I can’t remember much of that time. I had negligent pms and great but distant specialists.

I had to go back for a second surgery then have radiosurgery w/ a gammaknife in the Spring of 2017. I took mifepristone for too long because my Seattle endocrinologist moved to AZ. It worked well then it was making me sick. I couldn’t eat and lost 50 lbs. I changed all my doctors and am now making the uphill climb. I’ve gained 10 lbs back and my progress with muscle strength is so sloooow. I’m thinking much clearer now.

Because of this experience, I have learned to be an advocate for myself in the medical field, I am a cynic about the human race still but appreciate people and the world a lot more. I have learned to be patient because my life has slowed down.

I am the only Cushing’s patient in Fairbanks I think. It’s hard because I’m in remission but it’s just stage 3 after diagnosing then curing. Now it’s recuperating after being ravaged by the disease. I have no idea how blogs work. I don’t know where to start w/ regards to mining all the info. Thanks for having this site. I was going to make my own if I hadn’t found it!

Stephanie’s doctor

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Steve, Ectopic Bio

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I am recovering Ectopic Cushing survivor, I am 52 years old, I originally got sick when I was 22 it was 1987, I went un diagnosed for 12 years. I had every symptom there is with Cushings from the crazy weight gain to blood pressure being at stroke levels for the 12 years and terrible vision issue that I still struggle with today.

I had 2 surgeries, first I had the Pituitary surgery which left me on deaths door, miss diagnosis of Pituitary when it actually was ectopic with a nickle size tumor in my right lung between my upper and middle lobes. they removed all but a potion of my upper lobe.

I have struggled with vision issues ever since as well as depression, terrible fatigue and all of the other issues that come with having Cushings!

 

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Danielle G, Pituitary Bio

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The pituitary gland

 

During pregnancy it’s expected for women to gain weight and sometimes struggle to lose it after giving birth.

Danielle Gselmann felt her health dramatically deteriorate five years ago, soon after she found out she was pregnant.

The Gold Coast mother had suddenly gained more than 20kg, found herself losing hair, constantly breaking bones and struggling to sleep.

Making matters worse, the young mother became severely depressed and noticed an unusual-looking ‘hump’ on her back.

Danielle went with her personal trainer husband Dean to get checked out and doctors assured her she was fine, claiming the symptoms were related to her pregnancy.

However, Dean was not convinced of the diagnosis because Danielle continued to eat healthy and work out but was still feeling terrible.

After piecing her symptoms together and doing extensive research, Dean believed Danielle was suffering from Cushing’s disease.

They went to a specialist to confirm Dean’s hunch and their worst fears were realised.

According to the Healthline, Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumour on the pituitary gland in the brain. This tumour then produces an abnormally high level of the hormone cortisol.

It is an extremely rare disease, affecting 10 to 15 people per million each year.

Speaking to Sunshine Coast Daily, Danielle said the disease affected her everyday life and took a dramatic toll on her family, causing her to miss out on watching her son grow.

‘Physically my body broke down…mentally I went numb,’ she said.

‘It affected everything…I missed so many moments because I can’t remember any of it’.

On July 19 Danielle had brain surgery and had the non-cancerous tumour successfully removed.

However, it will take two years for her pituitary gland to function on its own once again, and is warned she may continue to experience the harsh symptoms.

She was prescribed steroids to help manage the dramatic change her body has to cope with low cortisol levels, the publication reported.

The Gselmann’s now hope to raise awareness of the rare disease.

They have also launched a GoFundMe page requesting support for the family to look after Danielle as she recovers.

From https://en.brinkwire.com/news/gold-coast-mother-diagnosed-with-cushings-disease/

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