From a Tiara to a Tumor
(June 26, 2008 - Los Angeles, CA)- Christina O'Neil was crowned MISS NEVADA in 2003 and when she competed for the title of MISS AMERICA, little did she know that a brain tumor that had been slowly growing would change her life forever.
During her college years, Christina experienced headaches, fatigue, menstrual problems and heart palpitations, so she began taking medication. Eventually, her doctors weaned her off the meds because they could find nothing wrong with her. After she competed in the MISS AMERICA pageant, she had symptoms that were too severe to ignore. One day she had heart palpitations that literally knocked her off her feet and she was rushed to the hospital. Physicians ran tests and put her on medications to stop the palpitations, which helped, initially. Several months later, her doctors weaned her off the drugs saying there was no reason to continue taking them. But soon, the palpitations and fatigue started again. She was advised that she needed to reduce her stress levels. Doctors even gave her double doses of birth control pills and told her to gain weight!
Then again, just before her wedding in 2005, Christina was hit with palpitations so strong that she collapsed and couldn't even yell for help. Once more, she was tested and told there was nothing wrong. Frustrated, Christina continued to live with the palpitations and stopped going to the doctor.
After her marriage, Christina noticed that she was rapidly gaining weight in her midsection and she began lactating from her breasts. She thought she was pregnant. Numerous pregnancy tests proved negative, which prompted her ob-gyn to order a prolactin blood test, which showed that her levels were high.
Finally, Christina's doctor suspected that she may have a tumor on her pituitary gland and recommended an MRI. Christina was terrified to think that she may have a tumor. What did this mean? Was she dying?
The MRI confirmed that she had an approximate 6mm pituitary tumor. Christina was started on Dostinex and told that this medication would "fix" the tumor and as soon as she wanted to get pregnant to go ahead and go off of birth control pills. Not long after, she went off of the pill and her periods became almost non-existent and she was getting sicker with vertigo and extreme diarrhea.
Christina began searching for information about prolactinomas and found the website for the Pituitary Network Association. She was surprised to find that thousands of people have the same type of tumor. She could finally talk to others suffering from this disease. At www.pituitary.org, she bought "The Pituitary Patient Resource Guide" and took it with her to her primary care physician. She told him about the Pituitary Center at Stanford and asked for a referral. Her doctor was not aware that such a place existed but he wrote the referral, and she made the appointment.
At Stanford, she was reassured that her symptoms were not uncommon and that she was a perfect candidate for surgery. On February 22, 2007, Christina arrived at Stanford for tumor surgery. She was terrified thinking about all of the "what ifs..." She remained in the recovery room for three hours and was then moved to a closed observation room for patients who had undergone neurosurgery.
Today, Christina is healthy and well and ready to talk. And she is the proud mother of a healthy baby boy. For years, breast cancer was a subject people shied away from. Now, it's time to talk about pituitary disease since 1 in 5 Americans are affected with pituitary disorders.
About Pituitary Disease
An estimated 60 MILLION PEOPLE in the United States have pituitary / hormonal disease or disorder and the majority of them are unaware of it
Diagnosing pituitary disease and disorders in the past has been difficult. Doctors are now beginning to recognize symptoms such as unexplained depression, mood swings, memory loss, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, excessive hair growth and weakness in limbs.
"This is an important finding that indicates pituitary tumors and related hormonal disorders are more common than previously thought and suggests many affected individuals remain undiagnosed," states Dr. Daniel F. Kelly, Director of the Neuro-Endocrine Tumor Center at Saint John's Health Center and John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica. "Given that most pituitary/hormonal disorders are readily treatable, health care professionals should have a low threshold to investigate for such disorders in patients with complaints or symptoms that may be hormonal in origin."
The pituitary is a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain that functions as the "master gland." It sends signals to the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes, directing them to produce thyroid hormone, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, and more. These hormones have dramatic effects on metabolism, blood pressure, sexuality, reproduction and other vital body functions. In addition, the pituitary gland produces growth hormone for normal development of height and prolactin for milk production.
Christina's advice to others suffering from pituitary disease:
Trust your body.
Know that you are not alone.
Be your own advocate.
Do not accept mediocrity from medical professionals.
Join the Pituitary Network Association.