It’s unbelievable but the idea for Cushing’s Help and Support arrived 22 years ago late last night. I was talking with my dear friend Alice, who ran a wonderful menopause site called Power Surge, wondering why there weren’t many support groups online (OR off!) for Cushing’s and I wondered if I could start one myself and we decided that I could.
Thanks to a now-defunct Microsoft program called FrontPage, the first one-page “website” (http://www.cushings-help.com) first went “live” July 21, 2000 and the message boards September 30, 2000.
Today is the final day of the Cushing’s Awareness Challenge and I wanted to leave you with this word of advice…
To that end, I’m saving some of what I know for future blog posts, maybe even another Cushing’s Awareness Challenge next year. Possibly this has become a tradition.
I am amazed at how well this Challenge went this year, giving that we’re all Cushies who are dealing with so much. I hope that some folks outside the Cushing’s community read these posts and learned a little more about us and what we go through.
So, tomorrow, I’ll go back to posting the regular Cushing’s stuff on this blog – after all, it does have Cushing’s in its name!
I am trying to get away from always reading, writing, breathing Cushing’s, and trying to celebrate the good things in my life, not just the testing, the surgery, the endless doctors.
If you’re interested, I have other blogs about traveling, friends, fun stuff and trying to live a good life, finally. Those are listed in the right sidebar of this blog, past the Categories and before the Tags.
People sometimes ask me how I found out I had Cushing’s Disease. Theoretically, it was easy. In practice, it was very difficult.
In 1983 I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal which said: “If you have these symptoms…”
I found the row with my symptoms and the answer read “…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”.
After that article, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s, I bought books that mentioned Cushing’s. I asked and asked my doctors for many years and all of them said that I couldn’t have it. It was too rare. I was rejected each time.
Due to all my reading at the library, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. My doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.
In med school, student doctors are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras“.
According to Wikipedia: “Zebra is a medical slang term for a surprising diagnosis. Although rare diseases are, in general, surprising when they are encountered, other diseases can be surprising in a particular person and time, and so “zebra” is the broader concept.
The term derives from the aphorism “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”, which was coined in a slightly modified form in the late 1940s by Dr. Theodore Woodward, a former professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Since horses are the most commonly encountered hoofed animal and zebras are very rare, logically you could confidently guess that the animal making the hoofbeats is probably a horse. By 1960, the aphorism was widely known in medical circles.”
So, doctors typically go for the easily diagnosed, common diseases. Just because something is rare doesn’t mean that no one gets it. We shouldn’t be dismissed because we’re too hard to diagnose.
When I was finally diagnosed in 1987, 4 years later, it was only because I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker so my leg looked like a cut log with rings.
When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size of the rings. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.
Fortunately, that new doctor ran a twenty-four-hour urine test and really looked at me and listened to me. Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s but, of course, couldn’t do anything further with me. They packed me off to an endo where the process started again.
My final diagnosis was in October 1987. Quite a long time to simply “…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”.
Looking back, I can see Cushing’s symptoms much earlier than 1983. But, that ‘s for a different post.
Over the years, we went on several Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. We liked them because they were small, casual and were fairly easy on the wallet.
They sailed around the Caribbean to a variety of islands, although they sometimes changed itineraries depending on weather, crew, whatever. One trip we were supposed to go to Saba but couldn’t make port. A lot of people got off at the next port and flew home.
The captains were prone to “Bedtime Stories” which were often more fiction than true but they added to the appeal of the trip. We didn’t care if we missed islands or not – we were just there to sail over the waves and enjoy the ride.
The last trip we took with them was about two years before I started having Cushing’s problems. (You wondered how I was going to tie this together, right?)
The cruise was uneventful, other than the usual mishaps like hitting docks, missing islands, and so on. Until it was a particularly rough sea one day. I was walking somewhere on deck and suddenly a wave came up over the deck making it very slippery. I fell and cracked the back of my head on the curved edge of a table in the dining area. I had the next-to-the-worse headache I have ever had, the worst being after my pituitary surgery. At least after the surgery, I got some morphine.
We asked several doctors later if that hit could have contributed to my Cushing’s but doctors didn’t want to get involved in that at all.
The Windjammer folks didn’t fare much better, either. In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch was responsible for the loss of the s/v Fantome (the last one we were on).
All 31 crew members aboard perished; passengers and other crew members had earlier been offloaded in Belize.
This event was similar to the Perfect Storm in that the weather people were more interested in watching the hurricane change directions than they were in people who were dealing with its effects.
I read this book and I was really moved by the plight of those crew members.
I’ll never know if that hit on my head contributed to my Cushing’s but I have seen several people mention on the message boards that they had a traumatic head injury of some type in their earlier lives.
I first saw a similar image to this one with the saying Life. Be in it at a recreation center when my son was little. At the time, it was “Duh, of course, I’m in it”.
The original image was a couple of males, a couple of females, and a dog walking/running. No folks in wheelchairs, no older folks, and certainly no zebras.
It would be nice to have everyone out there walking or running but that’s not real life, at least in the Cushie world. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been In My Life – maybe it’s time to get back.
A dear friend who has not one, but two forms of cancer was traveling throughout Europe for the first time after her husband’s death wrote:
Some final words before I turn in for the night. If there is a spark of desire within you to do something which is not contrary to God’s Holy Law, find a way to make it happen. All things are possible and blessings abound for those who love Him. Life is such an adventure. Don’t be a spectator – live every single moment for Him and with Him.
Somedays, it’s hard even getting up in the morning but I’m trying. Pre-COVID I took Water Aerobics for People with Arthritis and I actually went to class three times a week. Now, I took the stuff I learned there and do it 3 times a week as part of “water walking” by myself or with my DH. I got a “part-time” job several years ago and I’m teaching piano online. We had plans for a cruise to Norway which COVID made us reschedule for Alaska, which has to be rescheduled…again.
This is the one and only life I’ll ever have and I want to make the most of it!
So often during the diagnosis phase of Cushing’s I felt lost like this picture – I was walking alone to an unknown place with an unknown future.
My diagnosis was pre-Internet which meant that any information had to be gotten from libraries, bookstores, magazines…or doctors. In 1983 to 1986 I knew something was terribly wrong but there was no backup from doctors, family or friends. My first hope was from a magazine (see Day Six)
After I got that first glimmer of hope, it was off to the library to try to understand medical texts. I would pick out words I did understand – and it was more words each trip. I made Xerox copies of my findings to read at home and try to digest. (I still have all those old pages!)
All my research led me to Cushing’s.
Unfortunately, the research didn’t lead me to doctors who could help for several years. That contributed greatly to the loneliness. If a doctor says you’re not sick, friends and family are going to believe the doctor, not you. After all, he’s the one trained to know what’s wrong or find out.
I was so grateful when I finally got into a clinical trial at NIH and was so nice not to be alone with this mystery illness. I was also surprised to learn, awful as I felt, there were Cushies much worse off than I was.
I am so glad that the Internet is here now helping us all know that we’re not alone anymore.
Mary, I am delighted to see you here. Cushings – because of the persistent central obesity caused by (we know now) the lack of growth hormone plus the hypothyroidism I was diagnosed with (but for which treatment was ineffective due to my lack of cortisol) – was one of the things I considered as an explanation for my symptoms. Your site was enormously educational and helpful to me in figuring out what might be happening to me. Those other patient testimonies I referred to? Many of them were the bios you posted. Thank you so much for commenting. I am so grateful for the support and encouragement. I really hope that my experiences will help other undiagnosed hypopituitary patients find their way to a diagnosis. I often used to dream that one day I’d get to say to others what was so often said to me: don’t give up, there will be an answer. I kept believing in myself because people I hadn’t even met believed in me. Now I am finally here and I do hope my story will help others to have faith in their own instincts.
Myth: “All Cushing’s patients have the exact same symptoms and the level of illness is the same for everyone. If you do not have ALL of the classic symptoms of Cushing’s, then you must NOT have Cushing’s Syndrome/Disease!”
Fact: Everyone does NOT have the exact same symptoms. Not all Cushing’s patients are exactly the same. This is one mistake that non experts tend to make in terms of categorizing patients by whether they meet the exact same classic symptoms or not. Experts have come to learn that each patient should be treated individually. Though there are symptoms that are more prominent in the Cushing’s population, not every patient has to meet every single symptom in order to meet criteria for Cushing’s.
For instance, not all Cushing’s patients become overweight. Everyone does not gain the same amount of weight. There are various theories as to why. One issue is that different patients are diagnosed at different stages of the illness. We know that patients tend not to be diagnosed at the onset of the illness because of doctors’ misconception that Cushing’s patients must be extremely obese to have the disease. So, patients who have not gained as much weight may not be listened to until after the weight has gotten out of control. However, there ARE patients who are diagnosed early enough where there has not been a tremendous amount of weight gain.
I (Karen Ternier Thames), for one, started trying to get help after gaining my first 30 pounds because I KNEW that something was wrong with my body. Had I received an appropriate diagnosis, I probably would not have gained the 150 pounds I ended up gaining in 5 years.
Regardless of the reason, it is a myth that all Cushing’s patients gain the same amount of weight. The following are other additional reasons that an endocrinologist gave me for supposedly not meeting the criteria for Cushing’s when I was misdiagnosed: “1. Your stretch marks are not purple enough”, 2. “Your buffalo hump is not large enough”, 3. “You are not THAT fat!”, 4. “Cushing’s patients do NOT have children”, and 5. ” your face does not look like a classic moon face”. These are some of the reasons why, 2 years earlier, this same doctor dismissed apparently high cortisol levels, and didn’t even tell me, leading to several more years of suffering!
So, not all Cushing’s patients are obese, not all Cushing’s patients gain the same weight at the same rate, not all Cushing’s patients have the same size buffalo hump or the same round moon face. There are variations in these symptoms. IF you are experiencing extreme changes in your body regardless of diet and exercise and its not influenced by external factors, then it is time to speak up!
It is important to raise concern with your doctor if you do have ANY Cushing’s symptoms. Please do not be inhibited if you do not show every single symptom!
This is another semi-religious post so feel free to skip it 🙂
I’m sure that many would think that Abide With Me is a pretty strange choice for my all-time favorite hymn.
My dad was a Congregational (now United Church of Christ) minister so I was pretty regular in church attendance in my younger years.
Some Sunday evenings, he would preach on a circuit and I’d go with him to some of these tiny churches. The people there, mostly older folks, liked the old hymns best – Fanny Crosby and so on.
So, some of my “favorite hymns” are those that I sang when I was out with my Dad. Fond memories from long ago.
In 1986 I was finally diagnosed with Cushing’s after struggling with doctors and trying to get them to test for about 5 years. I was going to go into the NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, MD for final testing and then-experimental pituitary surgery.
I was terrified and sure that I wouldn’t survive the surgery.
Somehow, I found a 3-cassette tape set of Readers Digest Hymns and Songs of Inspiration and ordered that. The set came just before I went to NIH and I had it with me.
At NIH I set up a daily “routine” of sorts and listening to these tapes was a very important part of my day and helped me get through the ordeal of more testing, surgery, post-op and more.
When I had my kidney cancer surgery, those tapes were long broken and irreplaceable, but I had replaced all the songs – this time on my iPod.
Abide With Me was on this original tape set and it remains a favorite to this day. Whenever we have an opportunity in church to pick a favorite, my hand always shoots up and I request page 700. When someone in one of my handbell groups moves away, we always sign a hymnbook and give it to them. I sign page 700.
I think that many people would probably think that this hymn is depressing. Maybe it is but to me it signifies times in my life when I thought I might die and I was so comforted by the sentiments here.
This hymn is often associated with funeral services and has given hope and comfort to so many over the years – me included.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
Abide With Me
Words: Henry F. Lyte, 1847.
Music: Eventide, William H. Monk, 1861. Mrs. Monk described the setting:
This tune was written at a time of great sorrow—when together we watched, as we did daily, the glories of the setting sun. As the last golden ray faded, he took some paper and penciled that tune which has gone all over the earth.
Lyte was inspired to write this hymn as he was dying of tuberculosis; he finished it the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon in the parish he served so many years. The next day, he left for Italy to regain his health. He didn’t make it, though—he died in Nice, France, three weeks after writing these words. Here is an excerpt from his farewell sermon:
O brethren, I stand here among you today, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with the death of Christ.
For over a century, the bells of his church at All Saints in Lower Brixham, Devonshire, have rung out “Abide with Me” daily. The hymn was sung at the wedding of King George VI, at the wedding of his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II, and at the funeral of Nobel peace prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta in1997.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
Because it’s a Sunday again, this is a semi-religious post…
After I was finished with the Cushing’s long diagnostic process, surgery and several post-op visits to NIH, I was asked to give the scripture reading at my church. The man who preached the sermon that week was the survivor of a horrific accident where he and his family were hit by a van while waiting at an airport.
I thought I had written down the scripture reading carefully. I practiced and practiced. I don’t like speaking in front of a crowd but I said I would. When I got to church, the reading was different from what I had practiced. Maybe I wrote it down wrong, maybe someone changed it. Whatever.
The real scripture turned out to be Psalm 116. I got very emotional while reading this and started crying when I got to verse 8 “For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death“. Others in the congregation who knew part of my story were very moved, too.
Psalm 116 (New International Version)
1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, save me!”
5 The LORD is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The LORD protects the simplehearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me.
7 Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.
8 For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
9 that I may walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.
10 I believed; therefore I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
11 And in my dismay I said,
“All men are liars.”
12 How can I repay the LORD
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.
16 O LORD, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the LORD.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the LORD—
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD.
This Psalm has come to have so much meaning in my life. When I saw at a book called A Musician’s Book of Psalms each day had a different psalm. “My” psalm was listed as the reading for my birthday, so I had to buy this book! For a while, it was the license plate on my car.
I used to carry a print out of this everywhere I go because I find it very soothing. “when I was in great need, he saved me.” This print out is in a plastic page saver but now I have this info on my phone and iPad.
On the other side there is an article I found after my kidney cancer. You can read that article in Fridays post.
I wrote parts of this in 2008, so all the “yesterdays” and “last weeks” are a little off.
Wow. That’s about all I can say. Yesterday was possibly the best day of my life since I started getting Cushing’s symptoms, and that was over 30 years ago. More than a quarter of a century of feeling exhausted, fatigued. A quarter of my life spent taking naps and sleeping.
I went to the endo yesterday. Nothing has changed for me. Nothing will. He wants me to take more cortef. I don’t want to gain weight again. He looked up Provigil and it’s not indicated for panhypopituitarism. So he won’t prescribe it. My kidney surgeon probably won’t let me take, anyway, but it was worth a try.
He did mention that in “only” 2.5 years maybe I can go back on growth hormone. I don’t want to live like this another year let alone 2.5. But then, when I was on GH before it didn’t help me like it helps most everyone else.
I’m tired of catering to a kidney that may or may not fail sometime anyway, tired of being so exhausted all the time. I feel like I’ve lost nearly half my life to this Cushing’s stuff already.
So, yesterday I was supposed to go to a conference on web design for churches. My church sent me because they want me to spiff up their site and make them a new one for Christmas. I wanted to go because, well, I like learning new stuff about the web. I figured that I would learn stuff that would also be useful to me in others of my sites.
And I did!
But the amazing thing is this. My son had told me about a medication that was very similar to Provigil, that he had tried it while he was writing his doctoral thesis and it had helped him.
So, having tried the official doctor route and being rebuffed – again – I had decided to try this stuff on my own.
I was just talking to a friend today about how I’d try nearly anything – even if it ruined my one remaining kidney – to have a few days where I felt good, normal, where I could wake up in the morning rested and be able to have energy for the day.
I want to go out and have fun, to be able to drive for more than 45 minutes without needing to rest, to be have people over for dinner, whatever. I hate being restricted by my lack of energy.
My endo says to cheer up. In two and a half years I can try the growth hormone again. Whoopee. Didn’t work the first time and maybe gave me, or contributed to, cancer growth. Why would I want to look forward to trying that again?
I want to feel good now. Today.
I hate that this disease kills but I also hate that it’s robbed me of half my life already.
I wish doctors would understand that even though we’ve “survived”, there’s no quality of life there.
I hate Cushing’s. It robs so much from so many of us. 🙁
As I said earlier, I have a history of daily naps of at least 3 hours a day. It cuts into everything and prevents me from doing many things. I have to schedule my life around these naps and it’s awful.
A few years ago I went on a Cushie trip to Rockford. I’ve been there a few times and it’s always so much fun. But this first year, we were going to another Cushie’s home for barbecue. I didn’t drive, I rested in the back of the car during the drive. We got there and I managed to stay awake for a little while. Them I put my head down on the dining room table and fell asleep. Our hostess kindly suggested that I move over to the sofa.
So, I have a long history of daily naps, not getting through the day, yadda, yadda.
So, I was a little nervous about yesterday. I really wanted to go to this conference, and was afraid I’d have to go nap in my car.
I got up at 5:30 am yesterday. Before I left at 7:15, I took my Cortef and then I took my non-FDA approved simulated Provigil. (Although it’s not FDA approved, it is not illegal to possess without a prescription and can be imported privately by citizens)
I stayed awake for the whole conference, went to a bell rehearsal, did Stacey’s interview, had dinner and went to bed about 10:30PM. NO NAP! I did close my eyes a little during the 4:00PM session but it was also b-o-r-i-n-g.
I stayed awake, I enjoyed myself, I learned stuff, I participated in conversations (completely unlike shy me!).
I felt like I think normal people feel. I was amazed. Half my life wasted and I finally (thank you Michael!) had a good day.
My kidney doctor and my endo would probably be appalled but it’s about time that I had some life again! Maybe in another 25 years, I’ll take another pill. LOL
Well, the energy from the Adrafinil was a one day thing. I felt great on Thursday. Friday and Saturday I slept more than usual. Saturday, today, was one of those days where I sleep nearly all day. Maybe if I took the drug more it would build up in my system, maybe not. But it was still worth having that one day where I felt what I imagine normal to be.
While I was being a slug today, my husband painted the entire house.
I’m not sure if I would have been this tired today or if I was somehow making up for the nap I didn’t get on Thursday. Whatever the case, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to try this and to experience the wonderful effects, if only for one day.
Information from a site that sells this:
Alertness Without Stimulation
Adrafinil is the prototype of a new class of smart drug – the eugeroics (ie, “good arousal”) designed to promote vigilance and alertness. Developed by the French pharmaceutical company Lafon Laboratories, adrafinil (brand name, Olmifon) has been approved in many European countries for treating narcolepsy, a condition characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and other unusual symptoms.
Non-narcoleptic users generally find that adrafinil gives them increased energy and reduces fatigue, while improving cognitive function, mental focus, concentration, and memory. It has been reported that quiet people who take adrafinil become more talkative, reserved people become more open, and passive people become more active.
Of course, many stimulant drugs, ranging from caffeine to methamphetamine, are known to produce similar alerting/energizing effects. Adrafinil has been described by some users as a “kinder, gentler” stimulant, because it provides these benefits but usually with much less of the anxiety, agitation, insomnia, associated with conventional stimulants.
Adrafinil’s effects are more subtle than those of the stimulants you may be used to, building over a period of days to months. They appear to be based on its ability to selectively stimulate 1-adrenergic receptors in the brain.2 These receptors normally respond to norepinephrine (noradrenaline), a neurotransmitter linked to alertness, learning, and memory. This is in contrast to conventional stimulants, which stimulate a broader spectrum of brain receptors, including those involving dopamine. Its more focused activity profile may account for adrafinil’s relative lack of adverse side effects.
It’s interesting that that snipped report that people become more talkative. I reported that in the original post, too, even though I didn’t realize that this was a possibility.
A good quote that I wish I could relate to better:
“Time is limited, so I better wake up every morning fresh and know that I have just one chance to live this particular day right, and to string my days together into a life of action and purpose.”
Lance Armstrong (1971 – )
Cyclist, seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor
2011 stuff starts here:
Awhile ago I went to a handbell festival. I took a bit of adrafinil on the main day to try to stay awake for the whole day. It didn’t seem to keep me as on as it did before. I can’t be used to it already. Maybe I’m just that much more tired than I was before.
Our son lives in New York and every few years he gives us tickets to see a Broadway show. A couple years ago we took the train to NY to see Wicked. Usually my DH wants to go out and see sights while we’re there. I usually want to nap.
This time we got up on Saturday morning, went out for breakfast. I wanted to take in the whole day and enjoy Wicked so I took some Adrafinil. We got back to the hotel and got ready to go to a museum or other point of interest.
But, DH wanted to rest a bit first. Then our son closed his eyes for a bit…
So, I found myself the only one awake for the afternoon. They both work up in time for the show…
Sigh It was a great show, though.
A recent Christmas I was going to get my son some Adrafinil as a gift. The original place we bought it didn’t have any more stock so I tracked it down as a surprise. He was going to give me some, as well, but couldn’t get it from the original source, either. So he found something very similar called Modafinil. GMTA!
Saturday, 4/23/16 really was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.