By Rebecca Drew
MEET the woman who is finally getting her life back on track after living with unexplained weight gain, easily bruised skin and hair loss for five-years that left doctors baffled, thanks to diagnosing herself with a rare hormone condition.
When music consultant and video director, Jennifer Trujillo (33) from Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, noticed she was mysteriously gaining weight and losing muscle despite training for an athletic event in 2012 she went to the doctors who couldn’t identify what the cause was. As time went on, Jennifer’s skin started to bruise to the touch, her hair fell out, bones were fragile, with her foot breaking unexpectedly and her face started to become significantly round in shape. Her anxiety increased, and she suffered with debilitating migraines, returning to the doctors, experts told Jennifer that she might have a thyroid problem, bad genes or the start of osteoporosis – she didn’t.
To Jennifer, none of this made sense as she was working out twice a day and eating a vegan diet. It wasn’t until she noticed a ‘hump’ growing on the back of her neck, known as buffalo neck, that she googled her symptoms and found they matched those of Cushing’s disease. Jennifer discovered she had a tumour on her pituitary gland that caused the body to overproduce cortisol – which doctors confirmed. Thanks to her active lifestyle, Jennifer’s weight gain from 7st 7lbs to 10st 5lbs was not as big as it could have been as doctors warned that she could have hit 14st 4lbs otherwise.
Jennifer had Transsphenoidal surgery in August last year to remove the tumour on her pituitary gland and has been rebuilding her life ever since.
“It all started around 2012, I was training for an athletic event and started noticing that I was gaining weight, not losing it. I was losing muscle, not gaining it. Shortly after that my blood pressure shot up through the roof. My skin would bruise to the touch. My hair was falling out. My bones started to get very fragile,” she said.
“My face was taking on a moon shape, very round and chubby. My anxiety was so high. Unbelievable migraines. I’d explain all these things to doctors for years and nobody would listen to me.
“They said I may have a thyroid problem, or I may be getting osteoporosis, or I just had bad family genes and I would have to struggle to stay a good weight. But none of it made sense. I was even referred to a therapist because they said I was making up too many symptoms to make sense.
“But I knew better, I knew my body. I was working out two times a day and practically a vegan at this point. Nothing made sense. In this time, I started to notice a hump growing on my neck but I always thought it was hunchback because I had terrible posture.
“One night I was looking at it and I was so disgusted so I googled the words ‘fat on back of neck’, and this thing called buffalo neck came up. From there everything unfolded. I found Cushing’s disease and it was every symptom I had to a T, everything down to my foot breaking out of nowhere.
“I took this information to my doctor and he was the only one who listened to me. He helped me and the rest is history. He himself was amazed I diagnosed myself with such a rare disease.
“In my best description I would say Cushing’s slowly attacks different areas of your body. You literally experience pain and symptoms from head to toe, and it felt like each week I was waking up to something new.
“I was able to maintain a somewhat tolerable weight before this because I became obsessed with working out and eating healthy because all this time I just thought I couldn’t lose weight. My doctors mentioned that if I hadn’t done all of this activity then I would have been in much worse shape. I’d easily be over fourteen-and-a-half-stone, may have diabetes, osteoporosis, the list goes on.”
Cushing’s disease develops when the body makes too much cortisol, the condition often develops as a side effect of treatments for inflammation and autoimmune conditions but can also develop as a result of a tumour inside one of the body’s glands.
The main treatment is to stop taking the medication causing it or to remove the tumour. If left untreated, it can cause high blood pressure which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. It affects about one in 50,000 people.
For Jennifer, recovery has been more difficult than living with the condition itself and sometimes struggles getting out of bed as her body adjusts to producing less cortisol but since her operation, her symptoms started to disappear almost instantly.
“After surgery my symptoms quickly started to disappear like rapid fire. It was crazy. My weight dropped. I stopped bruising. The hump on my neck went down. My bones healed. My hair grew back. My face returned to its normal shape, and the best part, my blood pressure returned to normal,” she added.
“My friends and family are amazed. Every time I see someone new they say I look like a completely different person.
“Recovery is hard. I’m still going through it. Believe it or not it’s been harder than the actual disease. When your body is used to producing so much cortisol to all the sudden be producing nothing, your body crashes.
“Some days it’s hard for me to get out of bed and move, I’m tired all the time and have zero energy. I’m only able to walk at the gym maybe two days a week. I’m currently on cortisol replacements so that my body levels out. Every two weeks I reduce my medication because the goal is to be completely off it and have a normal functioning pituitary gland.
“However, every time I reduce my body crashed all over again, so it’s like a never-ending cycle. But I know that someday it will get better so I’m getting through it.”
Jennifer charts her progress on Instagram and shared her advice to others.
“never give up trying to find an answer and push your doctors to listen to you,” she added.
“If I hadn’t discovered this on my own I’d probably still be suffering.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/jtrufitmusic