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Letter to Friends and Family

Someone on the Cushing's Help website wrote this letter and I thought this was a great way of explaining this disease to friends and family - the link to the original letter can be found here:

Dear friends and family:

I am writing this letter to share with you some basic
facts about Cushing's Disease/Syndrome and the
recovery process so that you will have sufficient
information to form realistic expectations about me
and my ability to engage in certain activities in
light of this disease and its aftermath.

As you know, Cushing's is a rare endocrine disorder
characterized by hypercortisolism. Cortisol is a
hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is vital to
regulate the body's cardivoascular functions and
metabolism, to boost the immune system and to fight
inflammation. But its most important job is to help
the body to respond to stress.

The adrenal glands release cortisol in response to
stress, so atheletes, women experiencing pregnancy,
and those suffering from alcoholism, panic disorders
and malnutrition naturally have higher-than-normal
levels of cortisol.

People with Cushing's Syndrome live life with too much
cortisol for their bodies as a result of a
hormone-secreting tumor. Mine is located in the
pituitary gland. Endogenous hypercortisolism
leaves the body in a constant state of "fight or
flight," which ravages the body and tears down the
body's major systems including cardivascular,
musculo-skeletal, endocrine, etc.

Symptoms vary, but the most common symptoms include
rapid, unexplained weight gain in the upper body with
increased fat around the neck and face (“moon
facies”); buffalo hump; facial flushing/plethora;
muscle wasting in the arms and legs; purplish striae
(stretch marks) on the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms
and breasts; poor wound healing and bruising; severe
fatigue; depression, anxiety disorders and emotional
lability; cognitive difficulties; sleep disorders due
to abnormally high nighttime cortisol production; high
blood pressure and high blood sugar/diabetes; edema; vision
problems; premature osteoperosis; and, in women, signs
of hyperandrogenism such as menstrual irregularities,
infertility, hirsutism, male-patterned balding and
steroid-induced acne.

Attached, you will find a sketch of a typical
Cushing's patient. As you can see, the effects of the
disease on the body are dramatic.

Worse, the psychological and emotional effects of
having a chronic, debilitating and disfiguring disease
range from distressing to demoralizing.

Imagine that, in the space of a year, you became
unrecognizable to those around you and to yourself.
You look in the mirror, but the person staring back at
you is a stranger. You endure the stares and looks of
pity from those who knew you before Cushing's, fully
aware that they believe you have "let yourself go" or
otherwise allowed this to happen to your body.
Nothing you can say or do will persuade them
otherwise, so at some point, you stop trying and
resolve to live your life in a stranger's body.

You feel increasingly sick, but when you explain your
array of symptoms to your doctor, you are dismissed as
a depressed hypochondriac who needs to diet and
exercise more. Worse, your family members think the
same thing -- and are often quick to tell you how you
need to "change your lifestyle" to overcome the
effects of what you eventually will discover, once
properly diagnosed, is a serious and rare disease.

If only it were so simple! No one would choose to
have Cushing's. Those of us who have it would not
wish it even on our worst enemy.

Most people with Cushing's long for the ability to do
simple things, like walk a flight of stairs without
having to sit for half an hour afterwards, or vacuum
the house or even unload a dishwasher.

One of the worst parts about this disease is the
crushing fatigue and muscle wasting/weakness, which
accompanies hypercortisolism. Not only do we become
socially isolated because of the virilzing effects of
an endocrine tumor, which drastically alters our
appearance, but we no longer feel like ourselves with
regard to energy. We would love to take a long bike
ride, run three miles or go shopping like we used to
-- activities, which we took for granted before the
disease struck. Those activities are sadly impossible
at times for those with advanced stages of the

Sometimes, as with any serious illness, performing
even basic tasks of daily care such as showering and
dressing can exhaust the limited reserves of energy
available to a Cushing's patient.

How do we explain to you what it's like to watch our
lives slip away? What response is sufficient to
express the grief and frustration over losing so much
of ourselves? It is often difficult to find the
strength to explain how your well-meaning words of
prompting and encouragement (to diet or exercise)
only serve to leave us more isolated and feeling alone.

Though we wouldn't want it, we wish our disease were
as well-understood as cancer so that those who love us
would have a frame of reference for what we go
through. With Cushing's, there is such limited public
awareness that we are left to describe the effects of
the disease from a void, often with limited
understanding from those who love us most, which is

The most frustrating misconception about this disease
is that we somehow are "doing this to ourselves,"
or delaying recovery because we need to continue steroid
replacement or lack the energy to excercise often,
which is sadly false. Trust me that we would love to
have that much control over such a terrible disease.

Fortunately, there is a good likelihood of remission
from Cushing's in the hands of a skilled (pituitary/adrenal)
surgeon. Unfortunately, the long-term remission rate
is only 56%, meaning that 44% of people with Cushing's
will require a second (sometimes third) pituitary
surgery, radiation or bilateraly adrenalectomy to
resolve the hypercortisolism. Without successful
treatment, Cushing's leads to death. Even with successful
treatment, I will have to be monitored for possible recurrence
for the rest of my life.

After surgery or other treatment, the recovery
period can last months or even years. Because the
tumor takes over control of the body's production of
cortisol, the adrenal glands, which had lain dormant
prior to surgery, require time to start functioning
properly again.

Until this happens, we must take synthetic steroids or
else risk adrenal insufficiency or adrenal crisis,
which can be quickly life-threatening. Careful
monitoring of our cortisol levels is critical during
the weaning period. It is a rare but sad fact that
some people's adrenal glands never return to normal,
and those people must continue to take hydrocortisone
or prednisone -- sometimes for life -- simply in order
for the body to perform correctly its basic systemic functions.

The physical recovery from surgery can be quick, but
the withdrawal from hydrocortisone can be a lengthy
and extremely painful process. As I described above,
Cushing's causes a tearing-down of muscles and bone.
While there is an over-abundance of cortisol in our
bodies (as a result of the tumor), we often can't feel
the effects of the muscle-wasting and bone
deterioration because of the anti-inflammatory action
of cortisol. Upon weaning, however, these become
painfully (literally!) evident.

The physical pain experienced while weaning from
cortisol has been described as worse than weaning from
heroin. When cortisol levels are low, one experiences
the symptoms akin to a really bad flu, including
severe fatigue ("like a wet cement blanket laid on top
of me"); weakness and exhaustion; nausea; headache;
vomiting; mental confusion. It is imperative for
people who are on replacement steroids after Cushing's
surgery to carry extra Cortef (or injectable
Solu-Cortef) with them at all times in addition to
wearing a medic alert bracelet so that medical
professionals will be alerted to the possiblity of
adrenal insufficiency in the event of an adrenal

People who have struggled with Cushing's Syndrome all
hope to return to "normal" at some point. Though none
of us want to have Cushing's, it is often a relief
finally to have a correct diagnosis and treatment
plan. For many, there is a gradual resolution of many
Cushing's symptoms within a few years of surgery or
other successful treatment, and a good quality of life
can be achieved.

But regrettably, this is not possible in every case.
Depending on the severity of the disease and the length
of time before diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis
can be poor and lead to shortened life expectancy and
diminished quality of life. This is not a choice or something
we can control, but it is the reality for some people who
have suffered the consequences of long-term hypercortisolism.

The best support you can give someone who is suffering
from Cushing's or its aftermath is to BELIEVE them and
to understand that they are not manufacturing their
illness or prolonging recovery. Ask them what they are able
(and not able) to do, and then be prepared to help them in
ways that matter -- whether that be to bring them a meal or help
them to run errands, pick up prescriptions from the
pharmacy or clean their house.

Because it's these little everyday tasks, which can
fall by the wayside when someone has (or has had)
Cushing's, and these are the things we miss the most:
doing for ourselves.

Ask us questions about the disease, and then actively
listen to what we say. We know you don't know much
about Cushing's -- even our doctors sometimes lack
information about this rare disease. But know we
appreciate the interest and will tell you everything
you want to know, because those of us who have it
necessarily become experts in it just in order to

Thank you for caring about me and for hearing what I
am saying in this letter. I know you love me and are
concerned about me, and I appreciate that so much.
Thank you also for taking the time to read this
letter. I look forward to discussing further any
questions you might have.

In the meantime, I am attaching a brief article
written by a woman who recently was diagnosed with
Cushing's. I hope hearing another person's
experiences will help you to understand what I'm going
through so that when we talk, we will be coming from a
similar starting place.


Endocrinologists (doctors who specialize in Cushing's Syndrome and its related issues) realize the medical aspect and know the damaging effects that Cushing's has on the body. Family and friends see their Cushie suffering and know they are hurting physically and often times mentally and emotionally. However, understanding the debilitation of Cushing's and how it can affect every aspect of a person's life can only be truly realized by those who have experienced the syndrome.

Cushings Help Organization, Inc., a non-profit family of websites maintained by MaryO, a pituitary Cushing's survivor, provides this letter for patients to provide to their family and friends in hopes of providing a better understanding Cushing's and it's many aspects.

We're sorry to hear that your family member or friend has Cushing's Syndrome or suspected Cushing's. A person may feel better at times then at other times. It's common for a Cushing's patient to have burst of energy and then all of a sudden they become lethargic and don't feel like moving a muscle. There are many symptoms that are associated with Cushing's. They include weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, feeling achy all over, headaches, blurred vision, mood swings, high blood pressure, stretch marks (straie), buffalo hump, diabetes, edema and the list goes on. Hormones affect every area of the body.

It is important to note that not all patients have every symptom. Even some hallmark symptoms, such as straie or the "buffalo hump", may not be noticable on every patient. Not everyone who has Cushing's will experience the same symptoms, treatment, or recovery. Because not all "Cushies" have these symptoms, it makes diagnosis even more difficult.

Cushing's can cause the physical appearance change due to weight gain, hair loss, rosacea, acne, etc. This can be very disturbing when looking in the mirror. Changes in appearance can often cause the Cushing's patient to withdraw from family and friends making it a very lonely illness. Patients often feel alone or withdrawn because few others understand.

Cushing's can affect affect anyone of any age although it is more commen in women.

Cushing's patients need to be able to take one day at time and learn to listen to their bodies. There will most likely be times when naps are needed during the day and often times may not be able to sleep at night due to surges of cortisol. Your Cushie doesn't expect you to understand Cushing's Syndrome completely. They DO need you to be there for them and try to understand to the best of your ability what they feel and not give up on them.

Often a Cushing's patient may be moody and say things that they don't mean. If this should happen with your Cushie try not to take it personally and know that it's most likely caused by the elevated cortisol and disturbances in other hormone levels caused by the Cushing's and not from the heart or true feelings of your Cushie.

It can be very depressing and frustrating having so many limitations and experience things in life being taken from you. Cushing's patients are sick, not lazy, not hypochondriacs or even the newer term "Cyberchondriacs". If a Cushing's patient says they don't feel like doing something or they express how bad they feel let them know that you believe them. One of the most frustrating things to someone who is sick is to have those you love not believe you or support you. Telling a Cushie to think positive thoughts will not make him/her well and will just be aggrivating.

Testing procedures can be lengthy and this can become frustrating for the patient and family. Often, it takes a while for results to come back and this can be stressful. Don't look to far ahead just take one day at a time and deal with the situation that is at hand at the present time.

After a diagnosis is made then it's time for treatment. Surgery is usually the best treatment option for Cushing's that is caused by tumors. Don't be surprised if the surgeon's facility wants to run even more tests or redo some of those that have already been done. Your Cushie may have to travel a ways to find a surgeon who is trained in these delicate surgeries and who has performed many of them.

Once the diagnosis has been made and treatment has finished then it's time for the recovery process. Not all patients who have surgery are cured and they have to make a choice along with the advice of their doctor as to what their next treatment option will be.

The recovery from the surgery itself is similar to any other surgery and will take a while to recover. The recovery process obtained from getting a cure from Cushing's is quiet different from other surgeries. A Cushing's patients body has been exposed to excess cortisol, usually for quite a long time, and has become accustomed it. When the tumor is removed that has been responsible for the excessive cortisol and the body is no longer getting it this causes the body to have withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can be very hard causing an array of symptoms muscle aches, weakness, bone and joint pain, emotional disturbances etc.

Thank you for reading this and we hope it will help you to understand a little more about Cushing's and the dibilating affect it can have on a person. Thank you for being there and supporting your Cushie during this time in their life. We realize that when a family member has Cushing's it not only affects the individual but other family members and those around them as well. Showing your love and support will encourage a speedy recovery for your Cushie.



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