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by Wendy Van Camp

They say when you place a frog in cold water and slowly raise the heat, you can boil the frog alive and it won’t realize that something is about to kill it because it comes on slowly.  My body was boiling, but I did not perceive that this was abnormal.  I thought that staying up late at night to write my novel was my choice, not due to cortisol levels keeping me awake.  When I started to need a list for grocery shopping, when I never needed one in the past and that thinking itself was slower, I put it down to my age and natural processes.

Then my diabetes went haywire.  I developed high blood pressure issues.  The final warning that my life was boiling away was when an old friend came by and I had not a clue who she was.  Later, I realized I had known this woman for many years.  Every alarm bell in me went off.

Thanks to a new endocrinologist, my life was about to change.

“I believe you have Cushing’s Disease.”  My doctor opened a book to show me pictures of people that reminded me of my old world relatives from Ukraine.

“No, my body is normal.  I’m from old Russian peasant stock.”  How could this possibly be happening to me?  It was inconceivable.

“Let’s do some tests.”

Saliva tests.  A test for bone loss.  Blood work.  Urine tests. It took months. During the entire time, I did not believe I had this rare, fatal disease. Yet, the results could not be denied.  I had high cortisol levels, the start of osteoporosis years too young, and my stomach was slowly turning into a distended beach ball while my legs and arms shriveled into twigs.

The final tests were MRIs of my brain.  I was so large I barely fit inside the chamber and feared that I’d become stuck inside. When the test finished, the technician was very gentle and told me how brave I was. He had seen something, but didn’t tell me in words. His face said it all.

My neurosurgeon showed me the results later.  In the center of my skull, a tumor the size and shape of an almond had penetrated my pituitary gland and had taken over its function.  It was pumping my body full of
cortisol at destructive levels that would end up killing me. I would undergo two surgeries to remove the tumor and lost one-third of my pituitary gland in the process.  I was warned that recovery would be brutal and would take at least two years.

I became housebound and unable to do more than sit in a chair and watch television for half a year.  I had no appetite and dropped forty pounds.  During my fourth month of recovery, the first miracle happened.  My blood pressure went back to normal. I no longer needed medicines to regulate this condition.

Six months in, one winter morning, my photographic memory returned.  My thinking process increased. I suddenly could remember conversations going back for months with the clarity as if they happened yesterday. 
As a writer, I found that the creative connections were so quick that I had trouble adjusting to the speed. Solutions to story problems in my novels appeared rapidly.

One year into my recovery, my need for insulin reduced. Over a six month time period, my need for insulin was cut by over half. My liver and pancreas were healing.

My “new normal” is not perfect.  I am infinitely better off than I was with this crippling disease, but not everything is what it could be.  I can’t push myself physically without consequences and my sense of
balance is permanently affected. I keep a cane by the door if I know I will need to walk a long distance. I have also given up riding my bicycle due to my poor balance. I’ve made social adjustments for my improved recall and now enjoy it as an enhancement to my writing career, having the ability I was born with restored. This “frog” has managed to leap out of the pot and find a new better life.

Wendy Van Camp
Orange County, CA

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