Day 26: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

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 one a couple males, a couple 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.  I’ve tried Water Aerobics for People with Arthritis and I actually went to class twice a week, I got a “part-time” job several years ago, my son and I will play at Steinway Hall in NYC again in June, we have plans for another trip to Scotland (But we won’t get to see/hear the Edinburgh Tattoo again this time).  This year, we plan to try to go to Lockerbie, as well!

This is the one and only life I’ll ever have and I want to make the most of it, to the best of my ability!

 

Day 25: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

So often during the diagnosis phase of Cushing’s I felt 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 Twenty-nine, last year)

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.

 

We’re all in this together with help, support, research, just being there.  I love this quote from Catherine at http://wheniwasyou.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/wheniwasyou/

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.

Thanks again. Please do keep in touch.

Catherine

Day 24: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

I have seen this image several places online and it never ceases to crack me up. Sometimes, we really have strange things going on inside our bodies.

Usually, unlike Kermit, we ourselves know that something isn’t quite right, even before the doctors know. Keep in touch with your own body so you’ll know, even before the MRI.

I asked doctors for several 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.

Finally, someone did.

These days, there’s no excuse to keep you from learning all you can about what’s going on with you. There are your computer, books and the internet. Keep reading and learning all you can. You have a vested interest in what’s going on inside, not your doctor.

 

Day 23: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

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 22: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

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 up now.  In about 3 weeks I will be 11 years free of this cancer!  My kidney surgeon *thinks* it would be ok to try the growth hormone again. My endo says probably not. I’m still a little leery about this, especially where I didn’t notice that much improvement.

What to do?

Day 21: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

Since I’m posting this on April 21, I have a built-in topic.

The image above is from our first local meeting, here in Northern VA – note the 6 Cushing St. sign behind us.  Natalie was the Cushie in the middle.

Today is the anniversary of Natalie’s death.

Last month was the anniversary of Sue’s death.

I wrote about Janice earlier.

It’s just not right that this disease has been known for so many years, yet doctors still drag their feet diagnosing it and getting people into remission.

Why is it that we have to suffer so much, so long, and still there are so many deaths from Cushing’s or related to Cushing’s symptoms?

I know far too many people, good people, who suffered for many years from this disease that doctors said they didn’t have.  Then they died.  It’s time this stopped!

Speaking of death – what a cheery blog post this is turning out to be.  NOT!  Unfortunately, this seems to be one of the realities of Cushing’s.

Tomorrow will be cheerier – watch for it!

Day 20: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

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 blood stream)
  • Recurrent opportunistic or bacterial infections
Think you have Cushing’s?  Get to a doctor and don’t give up!

MaryO
         MaryO

Day 19: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

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

I have brochures printed up that I’ll sometimes give to people who look like they might need the info.  My husband carries business cards since he’s getting pretty good at recognizing Cushies.  Robin made a great information card that anyone can print our and share with others.

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

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

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

After you’ve been diagnosed, don’t just forget all about Cushing’s – stick around the boards and help others who are just getting started.

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

Picture your name instead:

Day 18: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

In case you haven’t guessed it, one of my causes seems to be Cushing’s Awareness.  I never really decided to devote a good portion of my life to Cushing’s, it just fell into my lap, so to speak – or my laptop.

I had been going along, raising my son, keeping the home-fires burning,  trying to forget all about Cushing’s.  My surgery had been a success, I was in remission, some of the symptoms were still with me but they were more of an annoyance than anything.

I started being a little active online, especially on AOL.  At this time, I started going through real-menopause, not the fake one I had gone through with Cushing’s.  Surprisingly, AOL had a group for Cushing’s people but it wasn’t very active.

What was active, though, was a group called Power Surge (as in I’m not having a hot flash, I’m having a Power Surge).  I became more and more active in that group, helping out where I could, posting a few links here and there.

Around this time I decided to go back to college to get a degree in computer programming but I also wanted a basic website for my piano studio.  I filled out a form on Power Surge to request a quote for building one.  I was very surprised when Power Surge founder/webmaster Alice (AKA Dearest) called me.  I was so nervous.  I’m not a good phone person under the best of circumstances and here she was, calling me!

I had to go to my computer class but I said I’d call when I got back.  Alice showed me how to do some basic web stuff and I was off.  As these things go, the O’Connor Music Studio page grew and grew…  And so did the friendship between Alice and me.  Alice turned out to be the sister I never had, most likely better than any sister I could have had.

In July of 2000, Alice and I were 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 2017, we have over 12 thousand members. 12,818 to be exact.  Some “rare disease”!

This was on the intro page of Cushing’s Help until 2013…

I would like to give abundant thanks Alice Lotto Stamm, founder of Power Surge, premier site for midlife women, for giving me the idea to start this site, encouraging me to learn HTML and web design, giving us the use of our first spiffy chatroom, as well as giving me the confidence that I could do this. Alice has helped so many women with Power Surge. I hope that I can emulate her to a smaller degree with this site.

Thanks so much for all your help and support, Alice!

In August 2013 my dear friend died.  In typical fashion, I started another website

I look around the house and see things that remind me of Alice.  Gifts, print outs, silly stuff, memories, the entire AOL message boards on floppy disks…

Alice, I love you and will miss you always…

 

MaryOOneRose

Day 17: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

 

This is a tough one.  Sometimes I’m in “why me” mode.  Why Cushing’s?  Why cancer?  Why knee pain that doesn’t let up?Unfortunately, there’s not a thing I can do about any of it.  Cushing’s, who knows the risk factors?  For kidney cancer I found out the risk factors and nearly none apply to me. So why? But why not?  No particular reason why I should be exempt from anything.

Since there’s nothing to be done with the exception of trying to do things that could harm my remaining kidney, I have to try to make the best of things.  This is my life.  It could be better but it could be way worse.

One of the Challenge topics was to write about “My Dream Day” so here’s mine…

I’d wake up on my own – no snooze alarms – at about 8 am, sun streaming through the window.  I’d be well rested and not have had any nightmares or death-dreams the night before.  I wouldn’t have had any issues sleeping due to my newly-diagnosed hernia.  I’d be able to hop out of bed without my knees hurting or giving way on me. I remember my son is home for a visit but I let him sleep in for a while.

I’d get out for a bike ride or a brisk walk, come home, head for the hot tub then shower.  I’d practice the piano for a bit, then go out to lunch with friends, taking Michael with me.  While we’re out, the maid will come in and clean the house.

After lunch, maybe a little technology shopping/buying.  Then the group of us go to one of our homes for piano duets, trios, 2-piano music.

When we get home, it’s immaculately clean and I find that the Prize Patrol has visited and left a substantial check.

We would take Mimi for a long walk through the woods, where we would come across a Little Free Library so my Mom could check out the books.

I had wisely left something for dinner in the Ninja so dinner is ready.  After dinner, I check online and find no urgent email, no work that needs to be done, no bills that need to be paid, no blog challenge posts to write…

Then, I’d get a text from Alice

 

I wake up from My Dream Day and realize that this is so far from my real life, so I re-read The Best Day of My Life and am happy that I’m not dealing with anything worse.