💉 Cushing’s syndrome expert a standout in clinical practice

James Findling, MD, is a veteran of the endocrinology field, a clinical practitioner and a Cushing’s syndrome expert. For his efforts in these areas, particularly clinical practice, the Endocrine Society is honoring him with its Outstanding Clinical Practitioner Award at ENDO 2019 in New Orleans.

James Findling

Findling, who currently serves as director of community endocrinology services and clinical professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, has made his clinical practice a national one as, according to the Endocrine Society, he receives referrals from across the U.S. In addition, he has played an important role in Cushing’s syndrome research, including breakthroughs that the Endocrine Society has incorporated into its own clinical practice guidelines.

In a conversation with Endocrine Today, Findling discussed his serendipitous entrance into endocrinology, his own experience with medical history and his dream of playing golf with Barack Obama.

What was the defining moment that led you to your field?

Findling: In 1977, I was a resident in internal medicine at what was then the Milwaukee County General Hospital, which doesn’t exist anymore. I did an endocrinology rotation, and my attending physician was James Cerletty, MD. Endocrinology was the farthest thing from my mind as something I would be interested in, but I was assigned to do this rotation and it changed my life. I thought, “Oh my goodness. This is fascinating.” Dr. Cerletty was a fabulous teacher and great mentor. The reason I chose endocrinology was because of that 1-month rotation. I had never done it previously, and I just fell in love with it. It was primarily because of this one man, who just died recently. He changed my life.

I was a chemistry major in college, and I enjoyed the pathophysiology and the biochemistry of it. I remember in those days, it was a little bit more complicated and convoluted to assess thyroid function, and it was never something I appreciated or understood. The concepts like T3 resin uptake I didn’t quite understand. Jim Cerletty made me understand how to interpret thyroid function studies, how they were done, how T3 resin uptake was measured, and it made all the difference in the world; a light bulb went off.

What area of research in endocrinology most interests you right now and why?

Findling: Pituitary-adrenal disorders. How I got interested in that, it’s kind of an interesting story in itself. After I did the month with Dr. Cerletty, I got interested in endocrinology, and 6 months later, I was in a general medical clinic seeing a woman with obesity, hypertension and diabetes. I went in and said to the attending physician at the time, “Well, maybe she has Cushing’s syndrome,” and I got kind of reamed out. “That’s rare. Nobody has that. It’s a stupid thing to think about.” He was trying to embarrass me and it upset me. I said, “How do you know she doesn’t have Cushing’s if you don’t do the testing?”

So, I started looking into it and realized nobody knows. Maybe some of these people with obesity and hypertension do have Cushing’s syndrome, but the testing was cumbersome and stupid and didn’t make any sense to me. About that time there was an article in The New England Journal of Medicine about pituitary surgery for Cushing’s disease from UCSF. I read that and said, “That’s where I’m going. I’m going there to learn about Cushing’s.” I applied and, fortunately, I got in and the rest is history. It’s because some attending physician embarrassed me by saying, “That’s stupid. Nobody could have Cushing’s syndrome,” and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to figure that out. It’s been my passion for the last 40 years.

What advice would you offer a student in medical school today?

Findling: You need to find something that you’re passionate about in medicine. For many young people, that requires specialization into a relatively focused area so that they can develop a higher level of expertise. For some, that may be a more general area, and for some it may be based on location. For example, they might like to be a family physician in a small town where they can do a great deal of good. Either way, you must find something that you’re passionate about within our field, because if you’re not, you’re going to be unhappy. This is hard work and you’re going to spend many hours doing this, so you better find something you enjoy doing, whatever it is. There are so many different aspects from psychiatry to surgery to hospitals. There are so many different things you can do, but you have to find something that you like.

I hear a lot about work-life balance, and I understand that particularly in young physicians, this is a critically important part of being a doctor. The problem is if you’re going to be a physician, there’s going to be a lot of work. Half of your time or more is going to be working. You better enjoy that part of it because if you don’t enjoy the work part of it, you’re not going to enjoy the life part of it.

Have you ever been fortunate enough to witness or to have been part of medical history in the making?

Findling: I was lucky to go to University of California, San Francisco. Shortly after I got there, there were several people cloning the growth hormone gene and the insulin gene. The foundation of Genentech and the idea of making growth hormone was just fermenting at UCSF when I was there. In one of the labs was Herb Boyer, PhD, who was one of the first people to clone growth hormone, and he was on the cover of Time magazine. The head of the metabolic research unit and my boss was John Baxter, MD, who was president of the Endocrine Society years ago. There is now a prize named after him; he was on the cover of The New York Times magazine. So, here I am at UCSF and somebody in the lab down the hall is on the cover of Time magazine and my boss was on the cover of The New York Times magazine, so it was an exciting time to be at UCSF in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Another defining moment in my career from a research perspective was when I was a fellow, I had to do a project. We were seeing a lot of patients with Cushing’s — of course, that’s why I went there — and in those days we had no good imaging. There were no CT scans, no MRI, there was no way to image the pituitary gland to find out whether there was a tumor. By the late ’70s it became obvious that some patients with Cushing’s syndrome didn’t have pituitary tumors. They had tumors in their lungs and other places, and there was no good way of sorting these patients from the pituitary patients.

My mentor at UCSF, Blake Tyrrell, MD, had the idea of sampling from the jugular vein to see if there was a gradient across the pituitary. I took the project up because I didn’t think this is going to be helpful due to there being too much venous admixture in the jugular vein from other sources of cerebral venous drainage. We went into the radiology suite to do the first patient. As I was sampling blood from the peripheral veins, the interventional radiologist, David Norman, MD, says, “Would you like to sample the inferior petrosal sinus?” I said, “Why not? It sounds like a good idea to me.” That turned out to be helpful. We then studied several patients, and it eventually went to publication. Now everybody acknowledges it is necessary, maybe not in all patients with Cushing’s, but in many patients with Cushing’s to separate pituitary from nonpituitary Cushing’s syndrome.

That was kind of a defining moment in terms of my research career because it was complete serendipity. I had never even heard of this vessel before. I went to the library to get a bunch of books to try to figure out what the venous drainage of the pituitary gland looked like. That was not easy to find. That was the defining moment of my research career as a postdoctoral fellow in endocrinology at UCSF. I was blessed because there were so many people smarter than me that it was a big help and an inspiration.

What do you think will have the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?

Findling: Most people would say genetics. The genetic diagnosis of so many disorders and the connection of disorders because of germline mutations or somatic mutations in tumors is just exploding. Whether you talk about pheochromocytomas, pituitary tumors in Cushing’s disease or adrenal tumors, you can go on and on and on.

Genetics wasn’t even on the radar screen when I was in training, so I feel a little bit lost because I’m behind the eight ball in terms of trying to keep up with that. Nobody was talking about that back in 1979, and I wish I understood it a lot better than I do. If I was going to think that there’s going to be anything that’s going to change the future of endocrinology it’s that, and not just for diagnosis but its potential applications for therapy.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of practicing medicine?

Findling: I’m an avid golfer. I live in Wisconsin, so right now it’s only 4° — so not too much golfing going on. I golf in the summer about once a week. I have a nice group of people I play with, and its one of my passions.

I run a lot. Not in 4° weather, but when the weather’s nice I run a lot and my goal is to run a half marathon this year. I’ve done one in the past, but it’s been many years since I’ve run one. I still enjoy running. Fortunately, my hips and knees and ankles and feet are capable of withstanding it. I don’t run very far. Maybe 8 to 10 miles per week.

I enjoy gardening. My wife and I, she loves flowers and I love vegetables, so we have a nice garden we put up every spring. So that’s another passion I have. We also love live theater, so we go to a lot of theater here in Milwaukee and all over Wisconsin.

Whom do you most admire and what would you ask that person if you had 5 minutes him/her?

Findling: The person I’d most like to meet is President Barack Obama. He’s one person I have a lot of admiration for. I would tell him I want more than 5 minutes. I’d want to play golf with him. I think his skill level is about the same as mine, so we’d have a competitive game. We’d probably do a lot of trash talking along the way.

I would ask him, “How did you stay so calm and have so much grace with all the criticism he got from so many people?” Some criticism is always a little bit justified, but a lot of it was so unjustified. How did he stay so calm and not raise his voice? Sometimes when you’re getting a lot of criticism and people are saying negative things about you, how do you stay professional and graceful? It’s not easy to do.

What was the last book you read , and what did you think of it?

Findling: The last one I finished was American Dervish. It’s a novel by Ayad Akhtar, who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee. His parents are from Pakistan, and he grew up as a Muslim. This young man is going to be a force in American literature.

This particular book is the story of a young Pakistani-American boy growing up in the American Midwest and a growing up story with the struggle of identity and religion. It’s a fascinating read.

In fact, Akhtar has won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his plays called Disgraced. He’s just had a play on Broadway that was nominated for a Tony Award called Junk, which the Milwaukee Repertory Theater just performed here. My wife and I saw it recently and it was entertaining

Much of what he’s written is regarding Muslims and the struggles they have living in the United States. If you haven’t seen one of his plays or read any of his stuff, I think he’s going to be a real force. He’s still a young man and he’s creative and provocative. This book, as I understand it, he’s going to make it into a play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday it might even be a movie. It’s an interesting perspective and I enjoyed it.

From https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/news/online/%7Baeddd4af-a2d1-430e-a421-ffa5c15dd732%7D/cushings-syndrome-expert-a-standout-in-clinical-practice

🎬 Video: How the Body Works: The Adrenal Cortex and Medulla

The adrenal glands sitting above the kidneys are richly supplied with blood and with sympathetic nerve endings. Block sections show the blood supply and cellular arrangement of the adrenals.

Two different regions are distinguishable–the cortex, controlled by the pituitary hormone ACTH, produces hormones which maintain body chemistry, and the medulla, which secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline to increase body activity.

 

💉 Helpful Doctors: California

 

Sheryl added her Helpful Doctor, Theodore Friedman, to the Cushing’s MemberMap

How would you rate your Helpful Doctor? 5/5
Your Doctor’s Name Theodore Friedman
Your Doctor’s Address 1125 S. Beverly Drive Suite 730
City: Los Angeles,
State / Province: CA
Postal / Zip Code: 90035
Phone (310) 335-0327
Email mail@goodhormonehealth.com
What are your Doctor’s Specialties? Endocrinologist, Cushing’s, Growth Hormone Deficiency, Hypopituitary, adrenal, thyroid, fatigue
Hospital Charles Drew
Website http://goodhormonehealth.com
Patient Comments: “I am a Dr Friedman patient, he is wonderful.”
” I was deteriorating so rapidly that I decided to go to LA and see Dr. Friedman. Best decision of my life.”

From other patients: https://cushingsbios.com/tag/dr-theodore-friedman/

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✍️ New Bio Form!

We have a new form to add your own bio!

Try it out below…

 

 

Thank you for submitting your bio – sometimes it takes a day or so to get them formatted for the website and listed on the pages where new bios are listed.

If you are planning to check the button that reads “Would you like to be considered for an interview? (Yes or No)” please be sure to read the Interview Page for information on how these interviews work.

Please do not ask people to email you answers to your questions. Your question is probably of interest to other Cushing’s patients and has already been asked and answered on the Message Boards.

Occasionally, people may comment on your bio. To read your bio and any comments, please look here for the date you submitted yours and click on the link.

Please post any questions for which you need answers on the message boards.

 

🦓 Day 24: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2018

Today’s Cushing’s Awareness Challenge post is about kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma). You might wonder how in the world this is related to Cushing’s. I think it is, either directly or indirectly.

I alluded to this earlier ago when I said:

I finally started the Growth Hormone December 7, 2004.
Was the hassle and 3 year wait worth it?
Stay tuned for tomorrow, April 22, 2017 when all will be revealed.

So, as I said, I started Growth Hormone for my panhypopituitarism on December 7, 2004.  I took it for a while but never really felt any better, no more energy, no weight loss.  Sigh.

April 14, 2006, I went back to the endo and found out that the arginine test that was done in 2004 was done incorrectly. The directions were written unclearly and the test run incorrectly, not just for me but for everyone who had this test done there for a couple years. My endo discovered this when he was writing up a research paper and went to the lab to check on something.

So, I went off GH again for 2 weeks, then was retested. The “good news” was that the arginine test is only 90 minutes now instead of 3 hours.

Wow, what a nightmare my arginine retest started! I went back for that Thursday, April 27, 2006. Although the test was shorter, I got back to my hotel and just slept and slept. I was so glad that I hadn’t decided to go right home after the test.

Friday I felt fine and drove back home, no problem. I picked up my husband for a biopsy he was having and took him to an outpatient surgical center. While I was there waiting for the biopsy to be completed, I started noticing blood in my urine and major abdominal cramps.

There were signs all over that no cell phones were allowed so I sat in the restroom (I had to be in there a lot, anyway!) and I left messages for several of my doctors on what I should do. It was Friday afternoon and most of them were gone 😦  I finally decided to see my PCP after I got my husband home.

When Tom was done with his testing, his doctor took one look at me and asked if I wanted an ambulance. I said no, that I thought I could make it to the emergency room ok – Tom couldn’t drive because of the anesthetic they had given him. I barely made it to the ER and left the car with Tom to park. Tom’s doctor followed us to the ER and instantly became my new doctor.

They took me in pretty fast since I was in so much pain, and had the blood in my urine. At first, they thought it was a kidney stone. After a CT scan, my new doctor said that, yes, I had a kidney stone but it wasn’t the worst of my problems, that I had kidney cancer. Wow, what a surprise that was! I was admitted to that hospital, had more CT scans, MRIs, bone scans, they looked everywhere.

My new “instant doctor” felt that he wasn’t up to the challenge of my surgery, so he called in someone else.  My next new “instant doctor” came to see me in the ER in the middle of the night.  He patted my hand, like a loving grandfather might and said: “At least you won’t have to do chemotherapy”.  And I felt so reassured.

It wasn’t until later, much after my surgery, that I found out that there was no chemo yet that worked for my cancer.  I was so thankful for the way he told me.  I would have really freaked out if he’d said that nothing they had was strong enough!

My open radical nephrectomy was May 9, 2006 in another hospital from the one where the initial diagnosis was made. My surgeon felt that he needed a specialist from that hospital because he believed pre-op that my tumor had invaded into the vena cava because of its appearance on the various scans. Luckily, that was not the case.

My entire left kidney and the encapsulated cancer (10 pounds worth!) were removed, along with my left adrenal gland and some lymph nodes. Although the cancer (renal cell carcinoma AKA RCC) was very close to hemorrhaging, the surgeon believed he got it all.

He said I was so lucky. If the surgery had been delayed any longer, the outcome would have been much different. I repeated the CT scans every 3 months, just to be sure that there is no cancer hiding anywhere. As it turns out, I can never say I’m cured, just NED (no evidence of disease). This thing can recur at any time, anywhere in my body.

I credit the arginine re-test with somehow aggravating my kidneys and revealing this cancer. Before the test, I had no clue that there was any problem. The arginine test showed that my IGF is still low but due to the kidney cancer I couldn’t take my growth hormone for another 5 years – so the test was useless anyway, except to hasten this newest diagnosis.

So… either Growth Hormone helped my cancer grow or testing for it revealed a cancer I might not have learned about until later.

My five years are more than up now.  In about 3 weeks I will be 12 years free of this cancer!  My kidney surgeon *thinks* it would be ok to try the growth hormone again. My endo says maybe. I’m still a little leery about this, especially where I didn’t notice that much improvement.

The following is adapted from https://cushingsbios.com/2017/06/21/maryo-growth-hormone-update/

May 4, 2017 ~ My endo at Hopkins and I talked about maybe trying growth hormone again.  We tested my levels locally and – surprise – everything is low, again.

So, we started the insurance routine again.  My insurance rejected the growth hormone I took last time around.  I just love how someone, a non-doctor who doesn’t know me, can reject my person endocrinologist’s recommendation.  My endo who specializes in Growth Hormone, who runs clinical trials for Johns Hopkins on “Control of growth hormone secretion, genetic causes of growth hormone deficiency, consequences of growth hormone deficiency.”

That insurance person has the power over the highly trained physician.  Blows my mind.

But I digress.  My doctor has agreed to prescribe Omnitrope, the insurance-guy’s recommendation.

June 14, 2017 ~ I got a call from my insurance.  They “may” need more information from my doctor…and they need it in 72 hours.

My doctor’s nurse says that they have to refer this to their pharmacy.

June 15, 2017 ~ I got a call from the Omnitrope folks who said they will need approval from my insurance company <sigh> but they will send me a starter prescription of 30 days worth.

June 16, 2017 ~ I got a call from the Specialty Pharmacy.  They’re sending the first month supply on Tuesday.  Estimated co-pay is $535 a month.  I may have to rethink this whole thing 😦   We sure don’t have an extra $6000.00 a year, no matter how much better it might make me feel.

June 19, 2017 ~ The kit arrived with everything but the actual meds and sharps.

June 20, 2017 ~ The meds and sharps arrived along with the receipt.  My insurance paid nearly $600 – and they took my copay out of my credit card for $533.

I still have to wait for the nurse’s visit to use this, even though I’ve used it in the past.

I’ve been doing some serious thinking in the last 24 hours.  Even if I could afford $533 a month for this, should I spend this kind of money on something that may, or may not, help, that may, or may not, give me cancer again.  We could do a couple cruises a year for this much money.  I’ve pretty much decided that I shouldn’t continue, even though I haven’t taken the first dose of this round.

April 22, 2018 – I have been on the GH for nearly a year.  I don’t feel any better, any less tired, haven’t lost any weight.  The only change I notice is that I find myself more chatty, and I don’t like that.  I’m thinking of going off this again after I’ve given it a year.

What will happen?

 

What to do?

🎤 Archived Interview with Steve Owens, adrenal patient

 

Steve was diagnosed with HyperBeta Adrenergic Syndrome in August, 2005. Doctors thought he might have a pheo, now they’re checking for ACC cancer. Steve also has a newspaper article written about him. Steve’s daughter may also have Cushing’s.

Listen at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cushingshelp/2008/04/10/interview-with-steve-owens

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🎤 Archived Interview with Jackie (samsmom) and Jordan

 

 

Jackie (samsmom) & Jordan: Cushing’s in young people, the fight to diagnose, the amazing gift of a GOOD endocrinologist. Jackie has appeared on Discovery Health discussing her fight for a cure for her younger daughter, as well. Later, the gene responsible for Sam’s illness was found. Her father carried the gene as did her two sisters. Jordan, Jackie’s oldest daughter, has recently had her adrenals removed.

Listen at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cushingshelp/2008/05/15/interview-with-jackie-samsmon-jordan

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