Amy Gadsden, Pituitary


​How UW Medicine put my world back together.

Sometimes it’s amazing how something so small can impact your life.

In my case, that “something small” was a 4 x 5mm pituitary tumor. It was non-cancerous and didn’t seem to be growing fast, so on paper, it didn’t seem like anything to be too worried about. But my life isn’t just on paper.

Let me back up for a second …

I was a normal 20-year-old girl (OK, maybe a bit quirky). I had a great job, great friends, a great fiancé, and I had dreams. Not big Hollywood dreams but still important to me; a happy marriage, a successful career — and kids. I really wanted to be a mom. What I didn’t know was that this little tumor was trying to derail all of that.

For you technical folks out there, my condition was prolactinoma. Put simply, the tumor was throwing my hormones way off-balance. It became noticeable to me because I was feeling more emotional than usual — fragile — when I’m normally a pretty mellow chick. On top of that, my cycle was off and, even weirder, I started lactating. But the hardest part was that it was preventing me from getting pregnant.

My endocrinologist prescribed medication designed to put things back in balance and shrink my tumor. It’s a treatment that’s proven successful for many others, but in my case, that’s when everything started going downhill.

If I thought I was emotional before, that was nothing compared to this. I’d cry at the slightest provocation — a wrong word, a TV commercial, a glance. There was this high-pitched voice my fiancé would do that used to make me laugh — now it would instantly set me bawling. But the crying was just the tip of the iceberg.

I was quick to snap at people. My fiancé and I began fighting, coworkers walked on eggshells around me and my family began to worry.

My doctor suggested changing medications. It got even worse. Not only were my emotions like an unpredictable rollercoaster, but I then started getting sick.

This went on for over a year, trying new meds, up and down. Nothing worked. I’d forgotten what it was like to be a normal 20-something. And worse still was its effect on my relationship. I mean, my fiancé loved me, but even I wasn’t sure who “me” was anymore. At this rate, not only would I not be able to have kids, I feared that I would never feel normal again.

This little growth about the size of a pea was wreaking havoc out of all proportion to its size. It needed to go.

Remember how I described how I looked on paper? I suppose it’s understandable how an outside observer might see my case as less urgent. That is, if they only look at the numbers. And that’s exactly what the first surgeon had done when he refused even to see me. I knew it might happen, but I still bawled my eyes out. (I know, big surprise, right?)

Repeated appeals were denied over and over. It seemed my options were either stick with the medication (not an option) or quit it. Either way, my visions for my life dreams were slipping away. But I refused to give up.

My persistence led me to the pituitary program at UW Medicine, and Drs. Ferreira and Failor (UW Physicians, Harborview Medical Center). Together, these two changed my life.

They work as a team — surgeon and endocrinologist — even scheduling their patient appointments back to back. As I had to come from Mt. Vernon, this in itself was wonderful.

But the best part was that they listened to me. They didn’t just glance at a file and make their determination; they heard me out, tears and all. They factored in all of my symptoms, not just what could be measured. Not just immediate risk to my life, but my quality of life. That’s what this was really all about.

And they considered what I wanted for my life: to be a mom. A month later and I was on the books for surgery.

The procedure went perfectly, and it wasn’t long before I noticed a clear difference. My symptoms subsided and I began to feel … normal again. Tests confirmed that my prolactin levels were back to normal, and I was elated. The old me was finally back.

Just over a year later, we’re expecting a girl. When she’s born, I want to take her to meet Dr. Ferreira and Dr. Failor. They deserve to see the happy result of looking past the numbers, and seeing the person behind them.