The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

Unmasking Cushing’s Disease


A few months before my 23rd birthday, my life took an unexpected turn. What started as subtle changes in my body soon escalated into a debilitating condition that stole the next few years of my life.

Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, Cushing’s Disease is an endocrine disorder caused by excessive levels of cortisol in the body affecting 10 to 15 people per million every year. This surplus of cortisol is typically triggered by a tumor in the pituitary gland, leading to a wide array of debilitating symptoms, which makes it hard to diagnose. Essentially, your body is stuck in flight or fight mode and it constantly keeping you in a state of stress that can wreak havoc on your health.

For me, Cushing’s Disease wasn’t just a medical condition—it was a thief that robbed me of years of my life. The initial symptoms crept in quietly, almost unnoticed. As months passed, these evolved into the textbook symptoms of Cushing’s Disease: rapid weight gain in the face (which created a round “moon face”), upper back, and abdomen; thinning skin that bruises easily; hair loss; muscle weakness; fatigue; and mood swings ranging from anxiety to depression.

After numerous medical consultations, tests, and frustrating conversations the puzzle pieces fell into place. At 24, I finally had a name for the relentless force altering my life – Cushing’s Disease. By this point, my body was struggling to keep up with the excess cortisol. I was fatigued and had brain fog all the time, and other simple daily tasks became hard to do.  Not to mention the toll this had on my family and friends who saw the drastic changes I was going through and who I depended on for help.

The turning point came a few days after my 26th birthday. After months of waiting, I was finally approved to undergo pituitary gland surgery. While the surgery was a crucial step towards reclaiming my health, the road to recovery was far from easy. It took months of patience, medical support, and time for my body to adjust to the change before I began to feel somewhat normal. By 27, I felt like myself again. Although I still had some symptoms from Cushing’s, I was able to slowly reintegrate myself back into my life.

Recently, comedian Amy Schumer made headlines after revealing her own battle with Cushing’s Syndrome. Although both are related conditions, they have different underlying causes, with Cushing’s syndrome being caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol because of medications. In these cases, removing those medications will revert the high production of cortisol in the body. Her courage in speaking out against the constant attacks on her appearance and shed light on the emotional toll that accompanies such health struggles. It’s a reminder that behind the medical complexities of Cushing’s Disease lies a deeply personal and often overlooked aspect of the emotional toll that we go through on top of the physical damage.

April 8 is Cushing’s Awareness Day, and it bears profound significance for resonating with my experience and celebrating Dr. Harvey Cushing’s legacy. He gave my illness a name and proved that what we go through was real. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of awareness around Cushing’s Disease. Because this illness shares similar symptoms with other illnesses, doctors are hesitant to label it as Cushing’s, which leads to years of uncertainty and suffering for patients. The idea that your own body is attacking itself and you have no control over it is terrifying. The unfortunate reality that many people with Cushing’s face is that they have to fight to try and prove that there is a very real medical reason to explain what is happening to them.

This prompted me to share my story, as I believe awareness is key to improving diagnosis and treatment for this condition. I hope that Schumer’s disclosure sparks greater awareness and empathy for those battling Cushing’s Disease. Additionally, I hope it leads to increased funding and research efforts aimed at improving detection and treatment options, now that a very public figure has spoken about this. Every voice raised in support of Cushing’s awareness brings us one step closer to individuals with this condition being able to receive timely and accurate diagnosis, as well as knowing that they aren’t going through this alone.

Perhaps it was fate that I also share my birthday with Cushing’s Awareness Day.

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  • K

    KenApr 16, 2024 at 6:32 pm

    First off Happy Birthday! Very brave sharing your battle with Cushing disease hopefully it will bring more awareness to this rare but life changing disease