Lanham resident to speak at Patient Education Day event about Cushing’s disease
Lanham resident Stacey L. Hardy, a survivor of Cushing’s disease, will speak about her experience with the pituitary disorder at an upcoming event at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Stacy L. Hardy of Lanham described herself as athletic, which is why she became concerned when in 1996 she mysteriously gained 240 pounds that took five doctors 14 years to determine she had a potentially fatal disease.
Now Hardy said she wants to raise awareness among others who may unknowingly have Cushing’s disease, but are unaware of the symptoms and treatment.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Hardy, now 43, was diagnosed with the disease, a rare disorder that causes the body to release too much cortisol, the body’s stress or “fight or flight” hormone, said Gary Wand, a pituitary gland specialist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Excess cortisol causes weight gain, especially in the stomach, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, anxiety and depression, he said.
“I didn’t even know what Cushing’s was. I was ready to just live with [the symptoms],” Hardy said, adding that by the time she was diagnosed she felt so tired she could barely move.
At 5 feet, 4 inches tall, Hardy said she reached 365 pounds during her struggle with the disease.
“We knew something for a while wasn’t right, but I never thought it would be something like that,” said Hardy’s daughter, Paij Hardy, 21, a student at Baltimore City Community College.
Just three out of every one million people are diagnosed with Cushing’s each year, said Wand, who estimates he sees 30 patients per year worldwide.
In 2011, Hardy underwent 16 hours of surgery at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore to remove four tumors from her pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain that controls the release of cortisol.
Today, she is 100 pounds lighter, with the weight still rapidly coming off, and said she is determined to serve as a lifelong support and education source for her fellow “cushies” — others with Cushing’s disease.
Hardy will speak Saturday at the Johns Hopkins Pituitary Gland Center’s fifth annualPatient Education Day, an event to raise awareness about the disease, Wand said.
Since the pituitary gland is the size of a kidney bean, Hardy underwent several brain scans before doctors, who previously suggested she might have leukemia or needed to diet and exercise more, could tell there were tumors on her gland, she said.
Hardy’s experience with delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis is not unique, Wand said.
Cushing’s is a “subtle” disease, which is difficult to diagnose, and not everyone exhibits the same symptoms, he said.
If left untreated for more than a decade, the disease is fatal, but removing the pituitary gland tumors has proved extremely successful, Wand said.
“I’m evidence that there’s help out there,” Hardy said. “I can move. I can almost run. I can bend over and pick up a box. Oh my goodness, I can dance.”