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 (http://www.cushings-help.com) went “live” July 21, 2000.  It was just a single page of information. The message boards began September 30, 2000 with a simple message board which then led to a larger one, and a larger.  Today, in 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 1: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

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

30-posts

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!

Interview with Fabiana October 21

Fabiana had transsphenoidal surgery (pituitary) July 30th 2004.  She had a recurrence after seven years of being Cushing’s free.  A second pituitary surgery on 10/26/2011 was unsuccessful.

Another Golden Oldie, this bio was last updated 9/12/2015

interview

Fabiana will be our guest in an interview on BlogTalk Radio  Wednesday, October 21 at 6:00 PM eastern.  The Call-In number for questions or comments is (657) 383-0416.

The archived interview will be available after 7:00 PM Eastern through iTunes Podcasts (Cushie Chats) or BlogTalkRadio.  While you’re waiting, there are currently 88 other past interviews to listen to!

~~~

Well it has taken me a year to write this bio…and just to give some hope to those of you just going thru this process…I have to say that after surgery I have not felt better! I am back to who i always knew I was….the depression and anxiety is gone and I am living life like a 24 year old should!

I guess it all started when i was sixteen (hindsight is 20-20 i guess). My periods stopped i was tired all the time and the depression started. We all kind of just chalked it up to being sixteen. But my mom insisted something was not right. we talked with my gyno…who said nothing was wrong, I had a fungus on my head (my hair was getting really thin) and sometimes girls who had normal periods (in my case three years of normal periods) just go awry.

My mom wasnt hearing that and demanded a script for an endo. I went….he did blood work…and metioned cushings. But nothing came back definitive…so they put me on birthcontol and gave me some hormones and the chushings was never mentioned again because that all seemed to work.

As time went on my depression got worse, the shape of my body started to change-my face and stomach was the most noticeable- and my energy level kept going down. I kept going back to the doctors asking to be tested for mono..or something. I went to a psycologist….but i knew there was no reason for my depression. Two of them told me “i had very good insight” and that I didnt need them. I started getting more anxiety..especially about going out socially.

High school ended and my typical optimistic personality started to decline. I put on a good act to my friends but my family was seeing me break down all the time. I went away for college (all the while gaining weight). My sophmore year I had a break down..I called my family crying that i needed help. I couldnt beat my depression. I didnt drink in college because i knew that would mean instant weight gain, i barely went out…i exercised everyday..hard….i joined weight watchers…i stuck with it. I was at 103 lbs….that crept up to 110…that crept up to 117…each time my weight goal would be “ohh if i could just get back to 108..112…115” with each weight gain my original weight goal would get higher and higher.

Internally i felt like I was constantly under a black cloud..i knew there was no reason why i shoudl feel this way..i was doing great in school, i had a supportive family, an amazing boyfriend and great friends…why was i depressed? I was becoming emotionally draining to the people closest to me…I would go home a lot on the weekends…i was diagnosed with PMDS….like severe PMS..and was given an antidepresant…i hated it it made me feel like a zombie…i stopped taking it and just made it apoint to work on fighting the depression….and the weight gain.

When i was done college i was about 120 lbs. My face was getting rounder and rounder..i was noticing more hair on my face and arms…and a hump between my shoulder blades and the bottom of my neck. My mom saw a tv show about Polycystic ovarian syndrome and felt that maybe that was what was going on with me…i went to my PCP with this and she said it was possible and that i should to talk to my gyno….I am 4’8 and at the time weighing close to 125..i talked to my gyno and she said I was not heavy..that i was just “itailan” ..i told her my periods were getting abnormal again even w/the birthcontrol and that i was so tired all the time and my arms and legs ached. I also told her that i was bruising very easily…and that the weight gain would not stop despite my exercising and following the atikins diet very strickly for over 6 weeks. My boyfriend and I decided to try the diet together..he lost 35 llbs in 6 weeks..i lost NOTHING! I went back to my PCP who ordered an ultra sound of my ovaries…..NOTHING.(i kept thinking i was going crazy and that it was all in my head)….she also decided to do some blood work…and as i was walking out the door she said..”you know what..i am going to give you this 24hr urine test too. Just so that we cover everything”. I just kept thinking please let something come back ….please dont let this be all my fault…please dont let this be all in my head…..please dont let me be crazy. When i got the test results back it turned out that the 24hr urine test was the one test i needed to get on the right track to finding what was wrong. My cortisol level was 3x’s the normal.

I went to an endo…by the time i got to the endocronoligist i was up to 130…i could not work a full day without needing a full day of sleep and my body was aching beyond description. I was crying all the time…in my room…and was becoming more and more of a recluse…i would only hang out with my boyfriend in our houses. I looked my symptoms up on the internet and saw cushings…that was it! I went to the endo and told him..i think it is cushings….he said he had only saw it one other time and that he wanted to do more tests. I got CAT scans, x-rays, MRI’s….my adrenals my pituitary my lungs….he did a CRH stimulation test which was getting blood work done every fifteen minutes for 90minutes….it took weeks to get that test scheduled..no one had ever heard of it and therefore did not know how to do it…..finally after 3 months of tests my dr. felt he had enough evidence to diagnos me with cushings disease (tumor on my pituitary) I was diagnosed in March of 2004. By this time i was about 137 lbs i had to work part time (i am an occupational therapist for children..i do home visits….i could not make it thru a whole day)

In April i had to change to office work…i could not lift the children and i could barely get up off the floor. I have to say i was one of the lucky people who worked for people who were very supportive and accomidating…my boss was very willing to work with me and willing to hold my job for me.

July 30th 2004 i finally had transphenodial surgery to remove my tumor (they went thru my lip and nose because they felt my nose was too small). It is now over 1 year later….i am down to 108 lbs, i have so much energy…no depression….and i dont mind looking at myself in the mirror…i am enjoying my friends and my boyfriend…(who stayed with me thru it all) And my family. I feel healthy mentally, emptionally, and physically. And i just got back into my size 2 jeans!!!

It was a crappy time…(as i am sure you all can atest to) but i learned a lot…..most importantly i was bombarded by good wishes and prayers….friends requested masses for me…a nun in brazil prayed for me…people who i never thought i touched their lives…took the time to wish me well…send an email..or call….I got to experience the wonderful loving nature of human beings and i was lucky to be supported by my family (my mom, dad, and two younger brothers) and my boyfriend throughout this entire tough journey.

This experience taught me to realize the strength i have as well as to appreciate the good and the bad in life. I was on hydrocortizone for about 8 months…i was lucky that my tumor was in its own little sack so my pituitary gland was not touched. In the end in took about 7 years to diagnose me..i think that if the dr. at 16 would have pursued the cushings idea nothing would have been found because it took so long for my symptoms to really peak…needless to say i love my PCP and my endo ..and that i changed gyno’s…

I just want to let anyone out there going thru this disease to know..you are not alone….and to take each day is stride…when you need help ask for it….and that this road can lead to a happy ending. God Bless!

ps- it is ok to feel bad about what you are going thru…it is a tough thing to endure…and when the docotors tell you there is noting wrong…..follow your gut…and you keep searching for the doctor that will listen… If there is anyone in the philadelphis of south jersey area who needs someone to talk to please feel free to email me…fapadula@hotmail.com…i will help you out the best i can!

Update November 6, 2011

Well- here is an update, after seven years of being Cushings free it has returned.

With in those seven years I married my college boyfriend and we now have a son- Nicholas who will be 2 in Decemeber. It has been a blessed and wonderful seven years. However right around when my son was turning 1 I started to notice symptoms again. Increase facial hair, the whole “roundness” of my body, buffalo hump. I decided I was going to work out hard, eat right, and see – I didnt just want to jump to any conclusions. I stuck to it- and nothing…..my hair started thinning again and the acne was coming back and then the missed periods…..so I went to my PCP- told them i needed the 24hr urine and wouldnt you know…..427 cortisol level (on that 0-50 scale)……here we go again.

So back to endo- now at Penn Pituitary Center…..it was another journey b/c the tumor wasnt definative on MRI, and it seems to be cycling…..but I was diagnosed with Cushings again- with the option of 2nd pit surgery or BLA…….after some months of trying to make a decision I went with the 50/50 chance of the second pituitary surgery on 10/26/2011.

It didnt work- my levels never came down in the hospital and I went home w/ out of range cortisol levels and no need for medication……BLURG……Sooooo on to the next step…..after I recover from this surgery I will most likely have the BLA- with the hopes of not having to deal with Cushings ever again. This time around has been a little more difficult just with being a mom and feeling sick- but I still continue to be amazingly blessed with a supportive family and husband and we are surrounded by love and support and for that I am beyond greatful.

I keep all of you in my prayers for relief and health- as I ( we all) know this no easy journey.

Many Blessings!

Fabiana

Update September 12, 2015

So to bring this up to date. My second pituitary surgery in 2011 was unsuccessful. January of 2012 I had both of my adrenal glands removed. Going to adrenal insufficiency was a very difficult transition for me. It took me nearly 2 years before I felt functional. As time went on I felt more human, but I haven’t felt healthy since that day. I can and do function, but at a lower expectation of what I used to be capable of….my “new normal”.

My husband and I decided to try for a second child…my pituitary was damaged from the second surgery and we needed fertility…after 8 months of fertility I got pregnant and we had our second son January of 2015.

In April of 2015 we discovered that my ACTH was increasing exponentially. MRI revealed a macroadenoma invading my cavernous sinus. The tumor is sitting on my carotid artery and milimeterrs away from my optic chasim. I was not a candidate for another surgery due to the tumors proximity to.both of those vital structures.

So September 1st of this year I started daily radiation treatments. I spent my 34th birthday getting my brain zapped. I am receiving proton beam therapy at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I am so lucky to live so close to an institute that has some of the rarest treatment options.

Again Cushing’s is disrupting our life, my husband goes with me every night to radiation while family takes turns watching the kids….I am now on my 18th year of fighting this disease. I never imagined it would get to this point.

But here we all are making the best of each day, fighting each day and trying to keep things as “normal” as possible. Blessings to all of you fighting this disease…my new go to saying is” ‘effing Cushing’s”! For you newbies…Fight, Advocate for yourselves, and find a doc who doesn’t dismiss you and hang on to them for dear life.

HOME | Sitemap | Adrenal Crisis! | Abbreviations | Glossary | Forums | Donate | Bios | Add Your Bio | Add Your Doctor | CushieWiki

Day 3: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2015

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 (http://www.cushings-help.com) went “live” July 21, 2000.  It was just a single page of information. The message boards began September 30, 2000 with a simple message board which then led to a larger one, and a larger.  Today, in 2015, we have over 11 thousand members.  Some “rare disease”!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Day 1: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2015

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

30-posts

 

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.

This year’s logo, also thanks to Robin:

cushie-blogger-2015-large


 

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:

It’s Literally Impossible to Have Cushing’s

 

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

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: