Then, Dr. Edward
McNeil, whom she refers to asan angel, entered her life.
Lillian described what happened next. He was a sharp young internist who would sit
by my bedside for hours watching me and planning on what to do next to save my life, and
that he did.
As I fought for
life with every fiber in my body, she continued, he would walk me through what
all had happened and held my hand while I digested the information. Thyroid dead, severe
adrenal gland failure, enlarged heart, every cell in my body had been hit and that meant
mini-strokes that had did some brain damage.
Lillians primary goal was
I was on many medications to stay alive and was never going to be what I was
before, Lillian remarked.
Gone was the wonderful career, she added. Gone was a fine memory, gone
were many friends, but I was and I am still alive.
Lillian almost lost her life before being
diagnosed with Addison 's disease.
Addisons is a condition in which the adrenal glands (above the
kidneys) do not function, or do not function properly.
Most people associate the adrenal glands with
the fight or flight situations when the adrenaline that is secreted in times
of stress. However, the adrenal glands do much more than that. The adrenal cortex is the
outer layer of the glands. It produces the hormones, cortisol and aldosterone. These
hormones have an effect on blood sugar and blood pressure. They also regulate water and
salt levels in the body.
Addisons disease destroys or damages this cortex. The major cause is an
autoimmune response in which the bodys own system attacks itself. There is no cure,
but it can be treated successfully.
TheNational Adrenal Diseases Foundation (http://www.medhelp.org/nadf/) states that even
though Addisons disease is considered a rare disease, it is estimated that at
least 10,000 individuals in the United States have this condition (this is probably an
However, Lillian was no stranger to adversity. Twenty years ago, she defeated uteral
cancer. Then in 1979, she began her career as an art instructor and program director for
her citys recreation department. She worked her way up to CEO. She then started a
local YMCA chapter and became CEO.
She had a fulfilling career, a loving husband, four grown children and was enjoying life
again only to become ill with breast cancer in May of 1995. Lillian had to have surgery
and was put on an adjunct drug therapy.
That was when the hell of all hell started, Lillian explained.
I started to complain to my doctor about
this pain in my head. Every time I would use the word pain he would correct me
and call it a headache. The doctor would say very little other than most people have not
complained of a headache on this drug.
This went on for three months and he finally sent me to a neurologist who said it
was acluster headache. However he did send me for a MRI (MRI is magnetic
resonance imaging. It is a way to look into the body, three dimensionally, without x-ray).
The result was swelling of the meninges, the mass that surrounds your brain.
Lillian thought she was finally getting somewhere, but her doctor wanted to wait a month
and do another MRI test.
After five months, Lillian had showed no sign of improvement. She was then sent to a
Cranial Base surgeon who told her to undergo another MRI in a month.
Lillian expanded, I was staggering. I was a zombie, couldnt sleep, developed a
horrible pain in my back, had slurred speech, and incoherent. I was dropping weight at 20
pounds a week.
I went back to my surgeon, who of course, once again, did not know what was wrong. I
then went to another doctor and told him I was dying. He took my hand and said he would
not let me die.
Within two days I was in the emergency room and they said my thyroid level was
Lillian has been left with no thyroid or adrenal gland function and an enlarged heart.
She went on to mention, I am now diabetic, have short term memory loss, can only
drive a short distance, and fatigue, but the meds help me make it.
Lillian will have to take numerous medications for the rest of her life. Her near death
drama has also caused her to have Cushings Syndrome, a related hormonal condition
that causes weight gain, a back hump, weakness, increased thirst and urination.
In Lillians opinion, she beleives Addisons is not difficult to diagnose. She
states, I think it has more to do with uninformed doctors and the pressure of
pushing patients through without truly listening
Despite all this, Lillian remains positive,
I have had so many wonderful people help me through the rough road, she
comments, and it was time for me to give back.
I believe in giving, and in doing so, receive much. I spend many hours a day
researching for cancer, helping cancer people travel the journey. It has made me believe
that I have a purpose in life. I think the emphasis on feeling we walk this path alone is
so important, when in fact, we dont. There are good people on the cyber-highway to
help one through all of this.
Lillian refers to the Internet and the MOL web site forums
I am also a strong believer in God, she added. I
have a wonderful husband who not only took excellent care of me, but pushed me to move
Her husband, Charles Jennings, is currently undergoing a five week cancer treatment at
Staten Island Hospital. Lillian says he is doing well and describes herself as being at
about 80% now.
The road ahead will not be easy for Lillian. She will need
many medications and regular medical care for the rest of her life.
But Lillian has survived, and continues to be a help and inspiration to many people.