Day 23, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

Cushie Crusader, that’s me…and many others.  I think we all have an opportunity to be Cushie Crusaders every time we tell others about our illness, share our story on or offline, post about our struggles – and triumphs – on the message boards, write blog posts in this Cushing’s Awareness Challenge…

When we have prayer time in my handbell practice or choir rehearsals I try to mention issues that are going on in the Cushing’s community.  People are slowly but steadily learning about Cushing’s week by week.

A piano student mentioned that a person in a group she is in has Cushing’s, a non-Cushie friend mentioned last week that she had gone with a friend of hers to an endo appointment to discuss Cushing’s.

Get out there and talk about Cushing’s.  Let people know that it’s not just for dogs and horses (and sometimes ferrets)!

Here’s something I had made for Sue with SuperSue embroidered on the back.

Picture your name instead:

Day 8, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

It’s Here!

Dr. Cushing was born in Cleveland Ohio. The fourth generation in his family to become a physician, he showed great promise at Harvard Medical School and in his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital (1896 to 1900), where he learned cerebral surgery under William S. Halsted.

After studying a year in Europe, he introduced the blood pressure sphygmomanometer to the U.S.A. He began a surgical practice in Baltimore while teaching at Johns Hopkins Hospital (1901 to 1911), and gained a national reputation for operations such as the removal of brain tumors. From 1912 until 1932 he was a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and surgeon in chief at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, with time off during World War I to perform surgery for the U.S. forces in France; out of this experience came his major paper on wartime brain injuries (1918). In addition to his pioneering work in performing and teaching brain surgery, he was the reigning expert on the pituitary gland since his 1912 publication on the subject; later he discovered the condition of the pituitary now known as “Cushing’s disease“.

Read more about Dr. Cushing

Today, April 8th, is Cushing’s Awareness Day. Please wear your Cushing’s ribbons, t-shirts, awareness bracelets or Cushing’s colors (blue and yellow) and hand out Robin’s wonderful Awareness Cards to get a discussion going with anyone who will listen.

And don’t just raise awareness on April 8.  Any day is a good day to raise awareness.


I found this biography fascinating!

I found Dr. Cushing’s life to be most interesting. I had previously known of him mainly because his name is associated with a disease I had – Cushing’s. This book doesn’t talk nearly enough about how he came to discover the causes of Cushing’s disease, but I found it to be a valuable resource, anyway.
I was so surprised to learn of all the “firsts” Dr. Cushing brought to medicine and the improvements that came about because of him. Dr. Cushing introduced the blood pressure sphygmomanometer to America, and was a pioneer in the use of X-rays.

He even won a Pulitzer Prize. Not for medicine, but for writing the biography of another Doctor (Sir William Osler).

Before his day, nearly all brain tumor patients died. He was able to get the number down to only 5%, unheard of in the early 1900s.

This is a very good book to read if you want to learn more about this most interesting, influential and innovative brain surgeon.

What Would Harvey Say?



(BPT) – More than 80 years ago renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Harvey Cushing, discovered a tumor on the pituitary gland as the cause of a serious, hormone disorder that leads to dramatic physical changes in the body in addition to life-threatening health concerns. The discovery was so profound it came to be known as Cushing’s disease. While much has been learned about Cushing’s disease since the 1930s, awareness of this rare pituitary condition is still low and people often struggle for years before finding the right diagnosis.

Read on to meet the man behind the discovery and get his perspective on the present state of Cushing’s disease.

* What would Harvey Cushing say about the time it takes for people with Cushing’s disease to receive an accurate diagnosis?

Cushing’s disease still takes too long to diagnose!

Despite advances in modern technology, the time to diagnosis for a person with Cushing’s disease is on average six years. This is partly due to the fact that symptoms, which may include facial rounding, thin skin and easy bruising, excess body and facial hair and central obesity, can be easily mistaken for other conditions. Further awareness of the disease is needed as early diagnosis has the potential to lead to a more favorable outcome for people with the condition.

* What would Harvey Cushing say about the advances made in how the disease is diagnosed?

Significant progress has been made as several options are now available for physicians to use in diagnosing Cushing’s disease.

In addition to routine blood work and urine testing, health care professionals are now also able to test for biochemical markers – molecules that are found in certain parts of the body including blood and urine and can help to identify the presence of a disease or condition.

* What would Harvey Cushing say about disease management for those with Cushing’s disease today?

Patients now have choices but more research is still needed.

There are a variety of disease management options for those living with Cushing’s disease today. The first line and most common management approach for Cushing’s disease is the surgical removal of the tumor. However, there are other management options, such as medication and radiation that may be considered for patients when surgery is not appropriate or effective.

* What would Harvey Cushing say about the importance of ongoing monitoring in patients with Cushing’s disease?

Routine check-ups and ongoing monitoring are key to successfully managing Cushing’s disease.

The same tests used in diagnosing Cushing’s disease, along with imaging tests and clinical suspicion, are used to assess patients’ hormone levels and monitor for signs and symptoms of a relapse. Unfortunately, more than a third of patients experience a relapse in the condition so even patients who have been surgically treated require careful long-term follow up.

* What would Harvey Cushing say about Cushing’s disease patient care?

Cushing’s disease is complex and the best approach for patients is a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals working together guiding patient care.

Whereas years ago patients may have only worked with a neurosurgeon, today patients are typically treated by a variety of health care professionals including endocrinologists, neurologists, radiologists, mental health professionals and nurses. We are much more aware of the psychosocial impact of Cushing’s disease and patients now have access to mental health professionals, literature, patient advocacy groups and support groups to help them manage the emotional aspects of the disease.

Learn More

Novartis is committed to helping transform the care of rare pituitary conditions and bringing meaningful solutions to people living with Cushing’s disease. Recognizing the need for increased awareness, Novartis developed the “What Would Harvey Cushing Say?” educational initiative that provides hypothetical responses from Dr. Cushing about various aspects of Cushing’s disease management based on the Endocrine Society’s Clinical Guidelines.

For more information about Cushing’s disease, visit or watch educational Cushing’s disease videos on the Novartis YouTube channel at




Day 7, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

On Becoming Empowered. Adapted from my blog post 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 wrote 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 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.

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 | Guest Speakers | 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 ran 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 ( 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 2016, we have over 12 thousand members and many others on Facebook.  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, interviews, websites, chat groups, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest 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 nearly 30 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?

Day 2, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

The Seven Dwarves of Cushing's

So, these are only seven of the many, many symptoms of Cushing’s.  I had those above – and I often felt like I looked like one of those little bearded dwarves.

Cushing’s affects every part of the body.  It’s not like when I had kidney cancer and only the kidney was affected.

Here are some of the many areas affected.

  • Progressive obesity and skin changes
  • Weight gain and fatty tissue deposits, particularly around the midsection and upper back, in the face (moon face) and between the shoulders (buffalo hump). Some symptoms such as sudden weight gain, are caused by excess cortisol. The excess cortisol in the body does not increase protein and carbohydrate metabolism. It slows or nearly disables metabolism function, which can cause weight gain (fat accumulation) in the buttocks, abdomen, cheeks, neck, or upper back.
  • Loss of muscle mass. Some areas of the body, such as the arms and legs, will remain thin.
  • Pink or purple stretch marks (striae) on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms
  • Thinning, fragile skin that bruises easily
  • Slow healing of cuts, insect bites and infections
  • Acne

Women with Cushing’s syndrome may experience:

  • Thicker or more visible body and facial hair (hirsutism)
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods

Men with Cushing’s syndrome may experience:

  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased fertility
  • Erectile dysfunction

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • New or worsened high blood pressure
  • Glucose intolerance that may lead to diabetes
  • Headache
  • Bone loss, leading to fractures over time
  • Hyperlipidemia (elevated lipids – cholesterol – in the blood stream)
  • Recurrent opportunistic or bacterial infections
Think you have Cushing’s?  Get to a doctor and don’t give up!


Day 1: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

April is always Cushing’s Awareness Challenge month because Dr. Harvey Cushing was born on April 8th, 1869.


Thanks to Robin for this wonderful past logo!  I’ve participated in these 30 days for Cushing’s Awareness several times so I’m not quite sure what is left to say this year but I always want to get the word out when I can.

As I see it, there have been some strides the diagnosis or treatment of Cushing’s since last year.  More drug companies are getting involved, more doctors seem to be willing to test, a bit more awareness, maybe.

April Fool's Day

How fitting that this challenge should begin on April Fool’s Day.  So much of Cushing’s  Syndrome/Disease makes us Cushies seem like we’re the April Fool.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s the doctors who are the April Fools…

Doctors tell us Cushing’s is too rare – you couldn’t possibly have it.  April Fools!

All you have to do is exercise and diet.  You’ll feel better.  April Fools!

Those bruises on your legs?  You’re just clumsy. April Fools!

Sorry you’re growing all that hair on your chin.  That happens as you age, you know.  April Fools!

Did you say you sleep all day?  You’re just lazy.  If you exercised more, you’d have more energy. April Fools!

You don’t have stretch marks.  April Fools!

You have stretch marks but they are the wrong [color/length/direction] April Fools!

The hump on the back of your neck is from your poor posture. April Fools!

Your MRI didn’t show a tumor.  You couldn’t have Cushing’s. April Fools!

This is all in your mind.  Take this prescription for antidepressants and go home.  April Fools!

If you have this one surgery, your life will get back to normal within a few months. April Fools!

What?  You had transsphenoidal surgery for Cushing’s?  You wasted your time and money. April Fools!

I am the doctor.  I know everything.  Do not try to find out any information online. You could not have Cushing’s.  It’s too rare…  April FOOL!

All this reminds me of a wonderful video a message board member posted a while ago:

So now – who is the April Fool?  It wasn’t me.  Don’t let it be you, either!

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