🦓 Day 12: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

In March of 1987, after the endo finally confirmed that I had Cushing’s, I was sent 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 floor.

When I left this hospital after a week, we didn’t know any more than we had before, except I found out that my brain cancer roommate had died.

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 French-speaking hospital in Quebec to do this then-rare pituitary surgery called a Transsphenoidal Resection.

My husband asked my endo if it were his wife, if he would recommend this surgery.  The endo responded that he was divorcing his wife – he didn’t care what happened to her.  Oh, my!

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 night before I was admitted, I signed my will.  I was sure I was going to die at NIH.  If not during testing, as a result of surgery.  The scary this is that I didn’t really care.  I’d rather take this chance than continue to live with Cushing’s.

The first time I was there was for 6 weeks as an inpatient. More of the same tests, except for one that they don’t do anymore.  I guess it didn’t really work for Cushing’s.

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 going bald, couldn’t walk, having strokes, had diabetes. One was blind, one had a heart attack while I was there. Several were from Greece.

My first roommate was a nurse.  She spent the entire first night screaming in pain.  I was very glad when they moved me to a new room!

Towards the end of my testing period, I was looking forward to the surgery just to get this whole mess over with – either a cure or dying. While I was at NIH, I was gaining about a pound a day!

During the time I was home the weekend 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 reading the alumnae magazine a couple months later!  She was the same class, same major, same hometown, same disease…

We have a Scottish doctor named James Lind to thank for the clinical trial.  He conducted the first-ever clinical trial in 1747 and developed the theory that citrus fruits cured scurvy.  Lind compared the effects of various different acidic substances, ranging from vinegar to cider, on groups of afflicted sailors, and found that the group who were given oranges and lemons had largely recovered from scurvy after 6 days.

I’d like to think that I advanced the knowledge of Cushing’s at least a little bit by being a guinea pig in 1987-1989.

From the NIH: http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx

Hope through Research

Several components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research on Cushing’s syndrome and other disorders of the endocrine system, including the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Center for Research Resources.

NIH-supported scientists are conducting intensive research into the normal and abnormal function of the major endocrine glands and the many hormones of the endocrine system. Researchers continue to study the effects of excess cortisol, including its effect on brain structure and function. To refine the diagnostic process, studies are underway to assess the accuracy of existing screening tests and the effectiveness of new imaging techniques to evaluate patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome. Researchers are also investigating jugular vein sampling as a less invasive alternative to petrosal sinus sampling. Research into treatment options includes study of a new drug to treat the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome caused by ectopic ACTH secretion.

Studies are underway to understand the causes of benign endocrine tumor formation, such as those that cause most cases of Cushing’s syndrome. In a few pituitary adenomas, specific gene defects have been identified and may provide important clues to understanding tumor formation. Endocrine factors may also play a role. Increasing evidence suggests that tumor formation is a multistep process. Understanding the basis of Cushing’s syndrome will yield new approaches to therapy.

The NIH supports research related to Cushing’s syndrome at medical centers throughout the United States. Scientists are also treating patients with Cushing’s syndrome at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. Physicians who are interested in referring an adult patient may contact Lynnette Nieman, M.D., at NICHD, 10 Center Drive, Room 1-3140, Bethesda, MD 20892-1109, or by phone at 301-496-8935. Physicians interested in referring a child or adolescent may contact Constantine Stratakis, M.D., D.Sc., at NICHD, 10 Center Drive, Room 1-3330, Bethesda, MD 20892-1103, or by phone at 301-402-1998.

🦓 Day 9: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

The Seven Dwarves of Cushing's

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

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

Here are some of the many areas affected.

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

Women with Cushing’s syndrome may experience:

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

Men with Cushing’s syndrome may experience:

  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased fertility
  • Erectile dysfunction

Other signs and symptoms include:

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


         

🦓 Day 7: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

sunday-glitter

 

 

It’s Sunday again, so 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, especially since it often shows up at funerals and memorial services.

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 Reader’s 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.

~John 15:7

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;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

🦓 Day 6: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

 

Uh, Oh – I’m nearly a day late (and a dollar short?)…and I’m not yet sure what today’s topic will be.  I seem swamped by everything lately, waking up tired, napping, going to bed tired, waking up in the middle of the night, traveling, work, starting all over again…and my DH was recently diagnosed with cancer which makes everything more hectic and tiring.

It’s been like this since I was being diagnosed with Cushing’s in the mid-1980s.  You’d think things would be improved in the last 35+ years.  But, no.

My mind wants things to have improved, so I’ve taken on more challenges, and my Mom and DH have provided some for me (see one of my other blogs, MaryOMedical).

Thank goodness, I have only part-time jobs (5 0f them!), that I can mostly do from home.  I don’t know how anyone post-Cushing’s could manage a full-time job!

I can see this post morphing into the topic “My Dream Day“…

I’d wake up refreshed and really awake at about 7:00AM and take the dog out for a brisk run.

Get home about 8:00AM and start on my website work.

Later in the morning, I’d get some bills paid – and there would be enough money to do so!

After lunch, out with the dog again, then practice the piano some, read a bit, finish up the website work, teach a few piano students, work on my church jobs, then dinner.

After dinner, check email, out with the dog, maybe handbell or choir practice, a bit of TV, then bed about 10PM

Nothing fancy but NO NAPS.  Work would be getting done, time for hobbies, the dog, 3 healthy meals.

Just a normal life that so many take for granted. Or, do they?

 

me-tired

🦓 Day 5: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

 

Sleep.  Naps.  Fatigue, Exhaustion.  I still have them all.  I wrote on my bio in 1987 after my pituitary surgery “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.

That seems to be changing back, at least on the weekends.  A recent weekend, both days, I took 7-hour naps each day and I still woke up tired. That’s awfully close to taking a whole day off to sleep again.

In 2006, I flew to Chicago, IL for a Cushing’s weekend in Rockford.  Someone else drove us to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the day.  Too much travel, too Cushie, whatever, I was too tired to stay awake.  I actually had put my head down on the dining room table and fallen asleep but our hostess suggested the sofa instead.  Amazing that I traveled that whole distance – and missed the main event 😦

This sleeping thing really impacts my life.  Between piano lessons, I take a nap.  I sleep as late as possible in the mornings and afternoons are pretty much taken up by naps.  I nod off at night during TV. One time I came home between church services and missed the third service because I fell asleep.

I only TiVo old tv shows that I can watch and fall asleep to since I already know the ending.

At the beginning of last year, I was doing physical therapy twice a week for 2 hours at a time for a knee injury (read more about that in Bees Knees).  I come home from that exhausted – and in more pain than I went.  I know it worked some and my knee is getting better, but it’s such a time and energy sapper.  Neither of which I can really spare.

Now that I’m nearly 12  years out from my kidney cancer (May 9, 2006) I have gone back on Growth Hormone again.  My kidney surgeon says he “thinks” it’s ok.  I’ve asked my endo about it and he finally gave it an ok last summer.  Considering the GH wasn’t supposed to contribute to my cancer, it’s interesting that these doctors prefer me not to be on it.  I want to feel better and get the benefits of the GH again but I don’t want any type of cancer again and I certainly can’t afford to lose another kidney.

I’m not sure how long I will stay on the Gh this time since I have a very high co-pay and I’m not seeing any benefit.

I’ll probably just muddle through without it.  I always laugh when I see that commercial online for something called Serovital.  I saw it in Costco the other day and it mentions pituitary right on the package.  I wish I could take the people buying this, sit them down and tell them not to mess with their pituitary glands.  But I won’t.  I’ll take a nap instead because I’m feeling so old and weary today, and yesterday.

And tomorrow…

🦓 Day 4: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

You may be wondering about the zebra in the title of these posts.

This is one of the suggestions from the Cushing’s Awareness Challenge post:

“Give yourself, your condition, or your health focus a mascot. Is it a real person? Fictional? Mythical being? Describe them. Bonus points if you provide a visual!”

Our “Official mascot” is the zebra.

Our mascot
Our mascot

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.

zebra-mug
A zebra cup my DH bought me 🙂

By 1960, the aphorism was widely known in medical circles.”

Why? Because those of us who DO have a rare disorder know from personal experience what it feels like to be dismissed by a doctor or in many cases, multiple doctors. Many physicians have completely lost the ability to even imagine that zebras may exist!  Cushing’s is too rare – you couldn’t possibly have that.  Well… rare means some people get it.  Why couldn’t it be me?

Although one of my signature images has a zebra, many have rainbows or butterflies in them so I guess that I consider those my own personal mascots.

 

 

 

I posted this in 2010 in 40 Days of Thankfulness: Days Twenty-Two through Thirty

I have a special affinity for rainbows. To me, a rainbow is a sign that things are going to be ok.

Years ago, our little family was in Florida. I felt guilty about going because my dad was terminally ill with his second bout of colon cancer. I was worried about him and said a little prayer for him.

I was lying on the beach while DH and our son were in the ocean and I looked up and saw a rainbow. It was a perfectly clear, sunny afternoon. I even called the people out of the water, in case it was something I wanted to see that didn’t really exist. They saw it, too.

Where in the world did that rainbow come from, if it wasn’t a sign that everything would be ok?

Butterflies are something else again.  I like them because I would like to think that my life has evolved like a butterfly’s, from something ugly and unattractive to something a bit easier on the eye.

My Cushie self was the caterpillar, post-op is more butterfly-ish, if not in looks, in good deeds.

From July, 2008

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved butterflies for their beauty and what they stood for. I’ve always wanted to shed my cocoon and become someone else, someone beautiful, graceful.

One of my first memories as a kid was knocking on the back door of my house and when my mom answered, I’d pretend to somehow be an orphan, looking for some kind person to take me in. And I would try to be that different child, with new habits, in the hopes that my parents would somehow think better of me, love me more as this poor homeless kid than they did as their own.

The butterfly was trying to emerge but it never got too far. Somehow, I would slip into my original self and be a bother to my parents.

Hope springs eternal, though!

 


🦓 Day 3: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2019

 

This is one of the suggestions from the Cushing’s Awareness Challenge post:

What have you learned about the medical community since you have become sick?

This one is so easy. I’ve said it a thousand times – you know your own body better than any doctor will. Most doctors have never seen a Cushing’s patient, few ever will in the future.

If you believe you have Cushing’s (or any other rare disease), learn what you can about it, connect with other patients, make a timeline of symptoms and photographs. Read, take notes, save all your doctors notes, keep your lab findings, get second/third/ten or more opinions.  Make a calendar showing which days you had what symptoms.  Google calendars are great for this.

This is your life, your one and only shot (no pun intended!) at it. Make it the best and healthiest that you can.

When my friend and fellow e-patient Dave deBronkart learned he had a rare and terminal kidney cancer, he turned to a group of fellow patients online and found a medical treatment that even his own doctors didn’t know. It saved his life.

In this video he calls on all patients to talk with one another, know their own health data, and make health care better one e-Patient at a time.

7a4e4-maryoonerose