Sian's story - Cushing's
It begins in about 2007. I had developed stretch marks on my abdomen, legs, and arms, I was getting a little ‘round’ in the middle and I was just not feeling well.
I had gone to the doctor who had told me that some people do develop stretch marks for no reason and could be due to the weight gain which in turn could be down to diet and lack of exercise.
Later that year I went back to the doctor, complaining that I was very thirsty in the morning and also kept having headaches that would turn into painful migraines o the right side of my head. They gave me some blood tests to rule out diabetes and some other routine tests. When they came back they said I had low potassium levels and my B12 vitamins were low. They recommended eating a banana a day for potassium. I accepted this and bought a bunch of bananas!
In the October that year I and my then boyfriend went to Canada for a two week holiday. The experience was fantastic and we had a great time! The down side was that I was starting to get self conscious of my size. At 5 foot I was starting to look more that a little podgy.
I had also noticed I was getting hairy although I never admitted this to any one, I used to buy facial hair removal cream so I could get ride of my increasingly noticeable moustache and neck hair. I felt horrible and totally unfeminine.
When we got back to the UK my friend persuaded me to go to Fitness first gym with her as a guest. I wasn’t too sure at first as I was never one to play sport or do exercise in school. In fact I would be the one forging notes or illness/injury so I didn’t have to take part!
I went along anyway as I decided that I did need to lose weight. I ended up loving the gym, I didn’t feel self conscious and I knew with the help of my friend Louise I could get to the at least 3 times a week. I thought this would solve my problems. But this was only the beginning.
About 2 weeks into joining the gym I hired a personal trainer called Gemma, she was a lovely girl, who understood what it felt like to be fat. She took a look at my diet and almost killed me! After a hard talking to it hit home that I would never lose weight if I didn’t change my eating habits. So I did. I managed to lose around half a stone with her help (I was currently weighing in at 10 stone!).
After several months of not loosing any more weight I went back to the doctor to ask if there was anything I could do to help me loose weight. He said that I just have to be persistent with my diet and exercise. Again I just accepted this and carried on as normal.
Then just after Christmas 2008 I went for a routine check up for my contraceptive pill. It was too high and the doctor said he wasn’t happy to give me any more. He recommended I stopped taking my current one and switch to a different brand.
Just over a week later I had a motorcycle accident. I was on my way home from work when I rode into the back of a car. I’m not sure what happened but I think I hit my face on the rear windscreen wiper. I had massive cash between my nose and some called an ambulance. Once they arrived I was put on a stretcher (as a precaution) and had the usual test done. Pulse and blood pressure. I told the paramedic that my doctor had changed my pill so me blood pressure would still be high. He asked me when I changed them and when I told him he said that it should have dropped down by now and should go back as soon as possible.
The doctor decided to run some urine tests to check for any abnormalities. When the came back abnormal he said he wanted to send me to see an endocrine specialist as I may have a problem with my kidneys.
I had by now changed my personal trainer to man named Philip Shoyer, little did I know that he would be one of m biggest help factors in the next come 18 months.
The specialist said I need to have an urgent MRI scan and needed an appointment in 4 months time but they would be running more tests it the mean time.
It began with an ultra sound on my kidney. These came back normal. The next sets of tests were to test my cortisol levels. These came back high and I was now hypertensive with my blood pressure reading at 163/98. I was beginning to notice that my skin was bruising easily from the blood tests and my face was bright red and puffy.
After several more blood pressure tests and the MRI scan I was told I had a small tumour the size of a pea on the right side of my pituitary gland. I was scheduled to have key hole surgery to remove the tumour in August 2008.
I told Phil that I was scared of what was going to happen to me. I’d been told I may lose some of my vision, my fertility, that I might not be the same as I was before. He said it didn’t matter, that if I didn’t have the surgery I could only get worse. I listened to his advice and went into the hospital to have the 2 hour surgery. When I woke up I felt drained and tired. I was dizzy, I had a head ache and I just wanted to sleep. I had several blood tests done to test my cortisol levels while at the hospital and after 5 days in hospital was told that I would need to take hydrocortisone because I was cured of Cushing’s disease. I didn’t feel like I was any better and here is where it all starts.
I wasn’t allowed to go back to work for 6 weeks, I couldn’t lean forward, swim, or sneeze. I hated it. I was bored, tired and becoming depressed. A week after the surgery I went back to the gym. All I could do was walk but it felt good to be able to do something. 4 weeks after I had my first personal training session with Phil since the surgery. I lasted around 20 minutes before I broke down in tears because I couldn’t do any more. I told me it was fine, reminded me that I had major surgery only a few weeks ago. That it was fine and we would just have to take it slowly until I felt better. I was diagnosed with depression just before Christmas. I felt ashamed. I didn’t want to be depressed. I wanted to be normal. Who I was before. I wanted to go kickboxing. To train 5 days a week like I used to. Now I could barley stay awake on the bus after 6 hours work.
I was very unhappy and was beginning to wish I’d never had the surgery.
The anti depressant did work though and within weeks I was feeling better. I had returned to kickboxing and taken on private lessons so I could catch up.
I had managed to shift 2 and a half stone by February; my body fat went form 33% to 18%! My blood pressure was normal and I felt better. Me and Andy were actually looking forward to our wedding in April.
By April I was back to training a full hour with Phil and at the gym 5 days a week again. Phil was so supportive of me when I told him I wanted to take part in my first kickboxing tournament in September. I won gold! I also double graded in kickboxing! Finally I was starting to feel better not just look like a new person.
I took a short break with my sister in July. When I came back to work I decided I no longer wanted to be a chef. I wanted to give something back to people like me, just a Phil did. He made me see that I could get through this that it just took time. I enrolled on a personal training course in August 2009!
Fitness First also does an award ceremony for members. I entered into it thinking that I would never get any ware with it. I received a phone call in late November saying I was one of the 12 finalists and was asked to go to London for the even in January! I was shocked this shouldn’t happen to someone like me!
I was also told I no longer needed my hydrocortisone because I had enough for daily function though if I were to get stressed or ill I would need to take it. As a result I still take antidepressants. But now I realise it doesn’t matter. I need them to keep me happy for now and that’s fine. It’s ok.
I didn’t win the award for Fitness First but was so proud to be there. I was finally realising that what I had gone through was a big deal and I actually managed to push through it.
My story was published in ‘Pick Me Up Magazine’ and I hope that someone might read it and believe that they too can achieve what they want if they put their mind and bodies to it.
This year my goals are to qualify as a Personal Trainer and actually work as one, work towards my black belt in kickboxing and go on holiday!
I know that I will always be a pituitary patient and it will always be with me. But I believe that with people like Phil who give their time and patience’s to people like me, we can get better and feel ‘normal’. Without him and all the staff at Fitness First plus my wonderfully supportive husband Andy, I would never be where I am today. I look forward to life and its challenges. At times I wished I’d never had the operation because I didn’t like this person that was left behind. Now I realises that that person was the best bits of me, I just needed a little faith in myself and a goal to aim for. It took me over 6 months to feel ‘better’. But in that time I learnt so much about my body and myself as a person. I found my mortality. I’ve realised that you need to make the most of what you got and don’t worry too much about the future. Just go for it!!
Sian Fletcher, 2010.
Sian is now keeping a blog to document her experience of her second Cushing's surgery - please click here to read this.