For some patients, oral steroid medications are not adequate enough to maintain quality of life, therefore, alternative cortisol replacement methods are a life saving intervention.
Below is an interview with Lauren, a cortisol pumper whose life was saved because of the cortisol pumping method!
Q-Please introduce yourself?
A- Hi, my name is Lauren Michelle and I am 23 years old. I’m a former ballerina turned chemist turned full time chronically ill patient. I am nearly done with my Bachelors of Science in Chemistry, started up at Northern Arizona University, but because of illness I have had to move back home and am finishing the degree at Arizona State University. Currently though I am on medical leave and training my German Shepherd puppy Nova to be my service dog.
Q-What country do you live in?
A- The United States of America. Specifically the state of Arizona.
Q-What form of adrenal disease were you diagnosed with?
A- At the beginning of 2020 I was diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency at the hospital after an acute adrenal crisis. I had zero basal cortisol that they could detect, and then the stim test came back as 0.55 cortisol. Later in the year I was diagnosed as Addisons with further testing and more symptoms showing up.
Q-Can you tell us about your pump that helps you manage your adrenal disease?
A- Before getting on the pump, we tried EVERYTHING to manage my Addisons. The hydrocortisone oral tablets, a liquid formulation specifically compounded for me, and even IV solu cortef. I have malabsorption of my small intestine, and also suffer from MCAS including a lot of idiopathic anaphylaxis. For about 6 months I was in a cycle of anaphylaxis and adrenal crisis due to flare ups because of inconsistent cortisol levels and absorption. Since being on the pump I have been able to stay on maintenance replacement dosing for the first time since being diagnosed. I can micro titrate the amount of hydrocortisone that I need when I feel low, and I don’t have to sit there guessing how much steroid I need with the pills or liquid formulation. Sometimes I only need 1 mg more to get my body back on track, whereas before the pump that was NOT an option.
Q-What made you decide to get on the cortisol pump?
A- I realised I wasn’t absorbing pills when hospitalized for most of the month of June 2020. The doctors helped me to transition to liquid hydrocortisone. This bought me some time before my stomach completely stopped working. I started to have to give more of the liquid to just remain stable and out of crisis. When I heard about the pump I knew I needed to be on it, as I was not stable at all on anything else we had tried.
Q- Was your doctor supportive of your decision to start pumping?
A- I had to see a different endocrinologist than my main one, as she had never done cortisol pumping but was fully supportive of the idea for me. Once I found an endocrinologist who knew how to program and monitor cortisol pumping than the one I was seeing, both endocrinologists and all of my other specialists, specifically my allergist and immunologists, were very supportive of the pump. One of my doctors literally told me they thought I was going to die last year because of how poorly my body was responding to other forms of treatment. I can say with confidence that I felt the same way. I couldn’t stop crying tears of relief and joy once I got on the pump.
Q- Did your insurance cover your pump and supplies?
A- I am one of the fortunate ones where my insurance has covered my Medtronic and supplies. I think this is because I had been hospitalized almost every month in 2020, that or in the ED to treat an adrenal crisis. Literally anything to keep me out of the hospital.
Q- What is something you wish you could tell all adrenal disease patients?
A- Something one of my favorite ED nurses told me when I was first diagnosed was that during her first year of diagnosis (she also has adrenal insufficiency) she thought she was going to die, but once she figured out what worked best for her body she has been fine ever since. I am thankful she told me that. I wish someone had told me that adrenal insufficiency treatment isn’t one size fits all. That you are going to feel overwhelmed. That steroids will make you gain weight. That this will be one of the hardest diseases for you to manage throughout your lifetime. But you WILL be able to manage it. To trust yourself, as the longer you live with the disease (or knowledge that you have the disease), the better you are going to know your own body and what to do to keep it functioning. No one is going to fully understand what you are going through, especially because it is a rare disease. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your health needs, and be sure to keep a log of symptoms and dosing.
Q-How has adrenal disease changed your life?
A- In a very strange way it has brought me so much closer to my family and specifically my mom. We were never the closest growing up but when I was diagnosed she essentially became my caregiver. I treasure this relationship so much. I have faced a lot of life or death situations in the past 4 years leading up to the diagnosis, so my perspective on what is important in life changed drastically. Before, I was so career driven and independent, but now I see that school will always be there and it doesn’t actually matter how long it takes to get through it. I learned quickly that the friends who are true friends and love you will be there for you no matter what, but I have lost a significant amount of friends due to having to deal with my own health. Overall I have been incredibly humbled and grateful since diagnosis, and have so much more empathy for others.
Q-Do you think the cortisol pump has improved your life?
A- 2020 I was so so sick, all of the time. Since getting on the pump I have finally begun healing. My doctors believe that I never had a consistent amount of cortisol in my body until I got on the pump, so I spent last year fighting for my life often because of malabsorption issues. Since starting the pump I finally have a basal cortisol level, making it possible to tackle a lot of my other health issues. If it were not for the pump I do not think I would be here today.
Q-What is a quote that you live by?
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
You can follow Lauren’s journey on her instagram or tiktok at the handle: @cortisol.queen