Shortly before Northface 50k I started taking anti-depressants. Over the last six months I’ve felt worse and worse and worse to the point where it was affecting my work. The new meds impaired me during the race, specifically stomach-wise. I’ve historically been iron-stomached, but not that day.
When I described my life situation to the prescribing GP he suggested that I should also have physiological causes ruled out. He’s treated depression for a long time and young healthy grounded family men without financial or other substance problems just don’t become depressed out of the blue like this.
One CT and one MRI later, we found this:
That’s my head… and that golf ball with the red circle is a 3cm brain tumor.
Technically it’s not a brain tumor, as it’s not technically in my brain tissue. It’s a growth of the pituitary gland, or otherwise known as a pituitary adenoma.
I spent a few hours on the Tuesday after Northface fretting impending death. I had the initial CT scan at 9 and at 10 the doctor wanted to see me that same day. The prognosis on brain cancer is pretty bad. It was a tough day.
A week later I had the MRI done. I’m not a radiologist, but it’s easy enough to compare pictures like these to the ones on Google. My GP suspected that this adenoma was “micro” – tiny, like 5mm or something. The MRI obviously painted a different picture. That was a tough day, too.
I’ve since been to an ophthalmologist and an endocrinologist, and the results are in.
Other than the depression – which is most likely caused by this condition – the tumor is impacting me in the following ways:
- The blurriness and lack of peripheral vision in my left eye particularly when running – which I previously thought was my contact lens drying out – is the tumor pressing against my optic nerve, exaggerated by elevated blood flow;
- I have significant hypothyroidism, reducing my metabolism and causing me to gain weight and sleep a lot. That I still have a normal BMI is due only to the large volumes of running I do, evidently;
- I have rather low cortisol despite running 40 miles the week of the test. Long distance running supposedly tends to elevate cortisol levels. One of the main jobs of cortisol is to increase the glucose concentration in the blood to make more energy readily available to the muscles. The impact of chronically low cortisol levels should be evident to training & race performance.
This is all due to the tumor compressing the pituitary stalk and impairing its function. It is not able to produce its signaling hormones to inform the other glands, e.g. my thyroid and adrenals, to produce their hormones.
On one hand, I’m naturally bummed that I’m afflicted with these problems. On the other hand, at least some of the inexplicable fatigue I occasionally encounter is now at least partially explained. I can’t blame ever bad run or bonk on a tumor but I have really begun to wonder.
The bad news is that I am going to need neurosurgery to correct this condition and there’s a non-zero chance of disastrous complications including but not limited to meningitis, partial or total blindness and even death. I am going to need to find a specialist who has already performed at least 300 of these surgeries to limit my risks. Fortunately I live within driving distance of Johns Hopkins which has such surgeons on staff.
In addition to the emotional toll this has taken on me in the last few weeks – which has also exacerbated my abnormally long recovery window from NF50k – it is impossible for me to make long-term training plans. When I have this surgery – and that is a date yet undecided – I will most likely be unable to run at all for at least an entire month; possibly longer, depending on how well I am recovering.
It’s hard to program the next 6 months of the year. It’s hard to sign up for races. It’s hard to find motivation to put in the miles each week, and I’ve let it slide. I was hoping to establish a baseline 5k time this season at Parkway this past memorial day, but I’m not in shape for it and I’m not mentally or emotionally there.
I’m in running limbo and I think that’s worse than the tumor.