20 Aug 2014
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Local Woman Resilient Against Rare Disease

Having survived a battle with colon cancer at the age of five, Katrina Rhodes of Evanston became familiar with the meaning of pain and suffering, both physical and mental, at an early age. Colon cancer was Katrina’s first major health issue but it unfortunately would not be her last. Her next opponent would be a far less common foe. Through her struggles, Katrina has also become familiar with the meaning of resilience.

It was in 2000 when Katrina started gaining weight for no apparent reason. She was always pretty active and nothing in her lifestyle had changed to account for the recent weight gain. Katrina met with her doctor but she received no explanation for the changes to her body. Soon she developed high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes and also began experiencing constant pounding headaches. Doctors initially attributed the issues to stress. Exhausted and depressed, Katrina had no energy to do even basic daily activities. Her job at a movie theater became too exhausting and in 2000 she left for a position at a telemarketing company where she could sit down most of the day but even this became too difficult to manage and she had to quit within a year. For some time, Katrina had wanted to have a child but due to her recent health issues she was told she wouldn’t be able to carry a baby to term. Katrina’s sister would ultimately serve as the child’s carrier.  Katrina felt blessed to finally have a baby daughter but watching over her became extremely difficult while dealing with her mysterious health issues, and she moved back in with her mother and relied on her for assistance. For years Katrina remained unemployed and reliant on her family’s support while she struggled to understand what was wrong with her body.

After five years of suffering, Katrina had an MRI which showed a pituitary tumor had developed. She was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, a rare hormonal disorder that occurs when tumors in the body cause the production of high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal glands that performs vital tasks such as regulating the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. However, too much cortisol in the body can lead to such problems as:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Cushingoid appearance
  • Skin changes
  • Severe fatigue
  • Weak muscles
  • Early osteoporosis

In 2005, Katrina had pituitary surgery which removed all but a small piece of the tumor. Her condition had not improved and in 2007 gamma knife surgery was performed but it also was unsuccessful. She was feeling defeated and weak, both mentally and physically. Katrina knew she needed to get better so she could take care of her daughter. When things seemed their worst, Katrina began taking a once daily pill called Korlym (developed by Corcept Therapeutics Incorporated) that interferes with the receptors to which cortisol binds and helps control high blood sugar. Katrina’s condition began to improve, physically and emotionally. At one point she was taking 400 units of insulin each day for her diabetes and now it is regulated through diet and exercise, without injections or medications. Since starting Korlym, Katrina has lost 70 pounds and her energy and confidence levels are now where they were before she had Cushing’s. Like some patients on Korlym, Katrina developed irregular menstrual bleeding. Rather than discontinue the medication, Katrina decided to have a hysterectomy.

Today, Katrina has the energy and ability to take care of her now 11-year-old daughter who she says “keeps her running around like crazy.” She’s back working and is living on her own – thankful that she is able to live a normal, productive, and happy life once again. Katrina serves as an example of someone who refuses to let anything stop her from living the type of life she desires. With a strong will and improvements in modern medicine, patients with Cushing’s can continue living the life they desire. Katrina’s advice to others suffering from Cushing’s is, “Don’t blame yourself and don’t be down on yourself. You need to love yourself for who you are. You have to be strong and do whatever it is you have to do to be ok with it. Take it from there and learn from it. You can’t let the disease take over. You have to deal with it. It can be managed. It doesn’t have to take away your life unless you let it.”

Check here for prescribing information for Korlym - https://www.korlym.com/docs/KorlymPrescribingInformation.pdf

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