Adrenal gland tumor survivor: Why I wish I’d gone to MD Anderson first
I had just given birth to my third child when I started showing symptoms of an adrenal gland tumor. I wasn’t actively ill. But I felt weak, anxious and crushed with fatigue. My heart was beating too fast, and my legs were walking too slowly. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The world felt upside down.
Since I’d recently had a baby, I assumed at first that my hormones were still out of whack. I attributed my fatigue to both that and the fact that we’d just moved to Austin from Mexico. My beloved grandmother had died not long before, too, so I thought some of my issues might be grief-related.
Eight months later, I realized something else was going on. I went to several doctors. They all told me it was depression. I didn’t find out the true cause of my issues — a benign adrenal gland tumor — until I took my sister to a follow-up appointment with her endocrinologist.
Given my sister’s history, the doctor said it might be wise for me to have my thyroid checked out. So, I scheduled some blood tests, which made it very clear that something was off. The endocrinologist ordered a CT scan. That’s when we discovered the marble-size tumor on my right adrenal gland.
My adrenal gland tumor diagnosis
My first reaction to this news was actually profound relief. After everything I’d been through, I finally had an explanation. I was also relieved to learn that most adrenal tumors are not cancerous — and neither was mine. It was just causing a lot of trouble, by producing a hormone called aldosterone that seriously messed with my potassium and magnesium levels.
Fortunately, the solution was simple: surgery to remove both the tumor and the gland it was growing on. Unfortunately, the first surgeon I went to removed the wrong adrenal gland: my left one. We didn’t realize it at the time, but once we did, I knew I had a serious problem: I only had one functioning adrenal gland remaining, and it had an active tumor on it.
At that point, my life depended on finding someone who could perform a partial adrenalectomy — a very delicate procedure in which only part of the remaining adrenal gland (the part with the tumor on it) would be removed.
The endocrinologist who originally diagnosed me referred me to Dr. Camilo Jimenez, an adrenal disease expert he knew and trusted at MD Anderson. Dr. Jimenez, in turn, sent me to his colleague Dr. Nancy Perrier, a surgeon who specializes in endocrine tumors.
I went to see Dr. Perrier on Sept. 11, 2014. And once I got to MD Anderson, I felt like I was finally in the right place.
Surgeon’s attention to detail gave me hope and confidence
Dr. Perrier mapped out a very thoughtful strategy. She was very specific about when, where and how she’d be willing to perform the surgery, right down to the individual support staff she wanted in the operating room with us.
That level of attention to detail really made me trust her — and gave me hope that my surgery could be successful. When Dr. Perrier performed the surgery on Sept. 29, 2014, everything went perfectly. I was thrilled, and so, so grateful.
Life with only half an adrenal gland
Now, I am living with only half of one adrenal gland, so I have to be really careful about how I expend my energy. I’m often tired. And there are many things I can no longer do, like skiing and other physical activities that require a lot of core muscle strength.
Still, I am so glad that I finally went to MD Anderson. Dr. Perrier is by far the most talented and big-hearted surgeon I’ve ever met. And her body language, words and support staff all worked together to ease my anxiety. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her or MD Anderson to anyone.
Health is everything. It’s our biggest asset. But sometimes, we give the wrong things priority, in order not to be inconvenienced. I’ve known all my life that MD Anderson is the best place to go for cancer care. If I’d gone there first, I could have saved myself years of heartache.