$5 Bonus for Cushings Help!

As most of you know, I hate to ask for money, but this website, and all websites, cost money.  Most have ads but I decided long ago not to go that route.

This is a very easy way to give back without it costing you anything –   From iGive:

Summer shopping can help Cushings Help grow their donations this year. New members’ summer shopping can help even more!

Every new member who joins to support your organization by July 15th and makes their first purchase by July 31st earns a $5 Bonus for Cushings Help!

So, Tell-A-Friend about iGive today, and encourage all of your supporters to do the same! You can post to Facebook, Share on Twitter, send an email (here’s your JoinLink to use: https://www.iGive.com/cushings) or literally tell someone.

Cheers!

The iGive Cause Support Team

Fine Print: Referred member MUST be new to iGive. They must join iGive by July 15th AND make their first purchase by July 31st, 2017. New member must join by using your Tell A Friend or Cause JoinLink to qualify.

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 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.

Day 6: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

On Becoming Empowered. Adapted from my blog post Participatory Medicine

The Society for Participatory Medicine - MemberThis is kind of a “cheat” post since it’s a compilation of other posts, web pages, message board posts and some original thoughts.  I wrote it to submit to Robin’s Grand Rounds, hosted  on her blog.

For all of my early life, I was the good, compliant, patient.  I took whatever pills the doctor prescribed, did whatever tests h/she (most always a he) wrote for.  Believed that whatever he said was the absolute truth.  He had been to med school.  He knew what was wrong with me even though he didn’t live in my body 24/7 and experience what I did.

I know a lot of people are still like this.  Their doctor is like a god to them.  He can do no wrong – even if they don’t feel any better after treatment, even if they feel worse.  “But the doctor said…”

Anyway, I digress.

All this changed for me in 1983.

At first I noticed I’d stopped having my periods and, of course, I thought I was pregnant. I went to my Gynaecologist who had no explanation. Lots of women lose their periods for a variety of reasons so no one thought that this was really significant.

Then I got really tired, overly tired. I would take my son to a half hour Choir rehearsal and could not stay awake for the whole time. I would lie down in the back of the van, set an alarm and sleep for the 30 minutes.

A whole raft of other symptoms started appearing – I grew a beard (Hirsutism), gained weight even though I was on Weight Watchers and working out at the gym nearly every day, lost my period, everything hurt, got what is called a “moon face” and a “buffalo hump” on the back of my neck. I also got stretch marks. I was very depressed but it’s hard to say if that was because of the hormone imbalance or because I felt so bad and no one would listen to me.

I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal magazine which said “If you have these symptoms…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”. After that, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s and asking my doctors. Due to all my reading at the library and medical books I bought, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. Doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.

I asked doctors for three years – PCP, gynaecologist, neurologist, podiatrist – all said the now-famous refrain.  It’s too rare.  You couldn’t have Cushing’s.  I kept persisting in my reading, making copies of library texts even when I didn’t understand them, keeping notes.  I just knew that someone, somewhere would “discover” that I had Cushing’s.

My husband was on the doctors’ sides.  He was sure it was all in my mind (as opposed to all in my head!) and he told me to just think “happy thoughts” and it would all go away.

A Neurologist gave me Xanax. Since he couldn’t see my tumor with his Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine there was “no possibility” that it existed. Boy was he wrong!

Later in 1986 I started bruising incredibly easily. I could touch my skin and get a bruise. On New Year’s Day of 1987 I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker, like the rings of a tree. When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.

Fortunately, the Hematologist/Oncologist ran a twenty-four hour urine test and really looked at me. Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s. Of course, he was sure that he did the diagnosis.  No matter that I had been pursuing this with other doctors for 3 years.

It was not yet determined if it was Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary) or Syndrome (Adrenal). However, he couldn’t help me any further so the Hematologist referred me to an Endocrinologist.

The Endocrinologist, of course, didn’t trust the other tests I had done so I was back to square one. He ran his own multitude of tests. He had to draw blood at certain times like 9 AM. and 5 PM. There was a dexamethasone suppression test where I took a pill at 10 p.m. and gave blood at 9 am the next day. I collected gallons of urine in BIG boxes (Fun in the fridge!). Those were from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. to be delivered to his office by 9 a.m. same day. I was always worried that I’d be stopped in rush hour and the police would ask about what was in that big container. I think I did those for a week. He also did standard neurological tests and asked lots of questions.

When the endo confirmed that I had Cushing’s in 1987 he sent me to a local hospital where they repeated all those same tests for another week and decided that it was not my adrenal gland (Cushing’s Syndrome) creating the problem. The doctors and nurses had no idea what to do with me, so they put me on the brain cancer ward.

When I left this hospital after a week, we didn’t know any more than we had before.

As luck would have it, NIH (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland) was doing a clinical trial of Cushing’s. I live in the same area as NIH so it was not too inconvenient but very scary at first to think of being tested there. At that time I only had a choice of NIH, Mayo Clinic and a place in Quebec to do this then-rare pituitary surgery called a Transsphenoidal Resection. I chose NIH – closest and free. After I was interviewed by the Doctors there, I got a letter that I had been accepted into the clinical trial. The first time I was there was for 6 weeks as an inpatient. More of the same tests.

There were about 12 of us there and it was nice not to be alone with this mystery disease. Many of these Cushies (mostly women) were getting bald, couldn’t walk, having strokes, had diabetes. One was blind, one had a heart attack while I was there. Towards the end of my testing period, I was looking forward to the surgery just to get this whole mess over with. While I was at NIH, I was gaining about a pound a day!

The MRI still showed nothing, so they did a Petrosal Sinus Sampling Test. That scared me more than the prospect of surgery. (This test carries the risk of stroke and uncontrollable bleeding from the incision points.) Catheters were fed from my groin area to my pituitary gland and dye was injected. I could watch the whole procedure on monitors. I could not move during this test or for several hours afterwards to prevent uncontrollable bleeding from a major artery. The test did show where the tumor probably was located. Also done were more sophisticated dexamethasone suppression tests where drugs were administered by IV and blood was drawn every hour (they put a heplock in my arm so they don’t have to keep sticking me). I got to go home for a weekend and then went back for the surgery – the Transsphenoidal Resection. I fully expected to die during surgery (and didn’t care if I did) so I signed my will and wrote last letters to those I wanted to say goodbye to. During the time I was home just before surgery, a college classmate of mine (I didn’t know her) did die at NIH of a Cushing’s-related problem. I’m so glad I didn’t find out until a couple months later!

November 3, 1987, the surgeon, Dr. Ed Oldfield, cut the gum above my front teeth under my upper lip so there is no scar. He used tiny tools and microscopes. My tumor was removed successfully. In some cases (not mine) the surgeon uses a plug of fat from the abdomen to help seal the cut. Afterwards, I was in intensive care overnight and went to a neurology ward for a few days until I could walk without being dizzy. I had some major headaches for a day or two but they gave me drugs (morphine) for those. Also, I had cotton plugs in my nostrils. It was a big day when they came out. I had diabetes insipidus (DI) for a little while, but that went away by itself – thank goodness!

I had to use a foam product called “Toothies” to brush my teeth without hitting the incision. Before they let me go home, I had to learn to give myself an injection in my thigh. They sent me home with a supply of injectible cortisone in case my level ever fell too low (it didn’t). I was weaned gradually off cortisone pills (scary). I now take no medications. I had to get a Medic Alert bracelet. I will always need to tell medical staff when I have any kind of procedure – the effects of my excess cortisone will remain forever.

I went back to the NIH for several follow-up visits of a week each where they did all the blood and urine testing again. After a few years NIH set me free. Now I go to my “outside” endocrinologist every year for the dexamethasone suppression test, 24-hour urine and regular blood testing.

As I get further away from my surgery, I have less and less chance that my tumor will grow back. I have never lost all the weight I gained and I still have the hair on my chin but most of my other symptoms are gone. I am still and always tired and need a nap most days. I do not, however, still need to take whole days off just to sleep.

I consider myself very lucky that I was treated before I got as bad as some of the others on my floor at NIH but think it is crazy that these symptoms are not taken seriously by doctors.

My story goes on and if you’re interested some is on this blog and some is here:

Forbes Magazine | MaryO’s bio | Cushing’s and Cancer Blog | Guest Speakers | Interview Archive  1/3/08 | Cushing’s Awareness Day Testimonial Archive |

Because of this experience in getting a Cushing’s diagnosis – and later, a prescription for growth hormone – I was concerned that there were probably other people not being diagnosed with Cushing’s. When I searched online for Cushing’s, all the sites that came up were for dogs and horses with Cushing’s.  Not what I was looking for!

In July of 2000, I was talking with my dear friend Alice, who ran a wonderful menopause site, Power Surge, wondering why there weren’t many support groups online (OR off!) for Cushing’s.  This thought percolated through my mind for a few hours and I realized that maybe this was my calling.  Maybe I should be the one to start a network of support for other “Cushies” to help them empower themselves.

I wanted to educate others about the awful disease that took doctors years of my life to diagnose and treat – even after I gave them the information to diagnose me.  I didn’t want anyone else to suffer for years like I did.  I wanted doctors to pay more attention to Cushing’s disease.

The first website (http://www.cushings-help.com) went “live” July 21, 2000.  It was just a single page of information. The message boards began September 30, 2000 with a simple message board which then led to a larger one, and a larger.  Today, in 2017, we have over 12 thousand members and many others on Facebook.  Some “rare disease”!

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

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

When I had my Cushing’s over 30 years ago, I never thought that I would meet another Cushing’s patient in real life or online. Back then, I’d never even been aware that there was anything like an “online”. I’m so glad that people struggling with Cushing’s today don’t have to suffer anymore thinking that they’re the only one who deals with this.

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

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

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

Day 2: Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2017

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 😦

Sleeping in Rockford

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 this 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.

Maybe now that I’m nearly 11  years out from my kidney cancer (May 9, 2006) I could theoretically go back on Growth Hormone again.  My kidney surgeon says he “thinks” it’s ok.  I’ve asked my endo about it and he still says no.  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’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…

16 Years of Help and Support.

happybirthday-2015

It’s unbelievable but the idea for Cushing’s Help and Support arrived 16 years ago tonight.  That’s a long time for anything online.

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.

The first website (http://www.cushings-help.com) first went “live” July 21, 2000 and the message boards September 30, 2000. Hopefully, with these sites, I’m making some helpful differences in someone else’s life!

The message boards are very active and we have weekly online text chats, occasional live interviews, local meetings, email newsletters, a clothing exchange, a Cushing’s Awareness Day Forum, podcasts, phone support and much more.

Whenever one of the members of the boards gets into NIH, I try to go to visit them there. Other board members participate in the “Cushie Helper” program where they support others with one-on-one support, doctor/hospital visits, transportation issues and more.

Of course, we now have a Facebook page and 2 groups.  Both are secret, so if you want to join, please email  or PM me for an invitation.

Other sites in the Cushing’s Help “Family”

maryo colorful zebra

Day 22, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

This is a tough one.  Sometimes I’m in “why me” mode.  Why Cushing’s?  Why cancer?  Unfortunately, there’s not a thing I can do about either.  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 we well rested and not have had any nightmares the night before.  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.

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…

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