‘I think you’re a little bit stressed love’: a pituitary tumour misdiagnosed as stress

Guest post by Catherine Gladwyn

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Delegate VA - Virtual Assistant - Catherine GladwynI was 34 years old and it was 2011.

Nothing particularly different had happened in my life. I’d struggled for years with depression but that was the way life was supposed to be for me I guess. I’d learnt to live with it. But something changed…

It started with trips to the supermarket; I’d get there and not have a clue why. I would sit in the car and think perhaps I’ll remember when I get inside then I’d walk aimlessly up and down the aisles trying to remember. I describe it as, whenever I tried to think; there was a grey breeze block wall in front of me clouding any progression in my thoughts.

I’d go home without whatever it was I’d gone for and initially thought no more about it. I
guess at first it felt like when you run upstairs to get something, reach the top and then
can’t remember what the hell it was you went up for. But, that usually comes back you
eventually. Perhaps the next time you need that ‘thing’ but that never happened for me. It was never as if I’d open a cupboard see no tea bags and think ‘that’s what I needed at Asda’.

It was happening frequently too. I’d forget meetings at work, I’d forget seeing people, I’d
forget people completely. Another turning point for me was when I was baby-sitting for a friend. I was watching television while her daughter slept, the adverts came on and immediately I had forgotten what I was watching until the programme came back on.

As well as all of this, 12 months previously my periods had got really heavy and then they just suddenly stopped. Not even any spotting. I had been to the doctor about that but it was quite normal (I’m still 34 at this point) apparently so they asked me to leave it 12 months as they’ll probably kick start themselves soon, or it might be the beginning of early menopause (although there was no history of early menopause in my family).

I saw a variety of of doctors at the surgery primarily about my periods I had mentioned that my memory was getting bad and it was initially dismissed as ‘perhaps I’ve just got a lot on’ and ‘we all get forgetful at times’. Because my memory problems were really scaring me I didn’t push it initially, I was just thankful they didn’t agree that it was something really sinister, otherwise they’d investigate, right?

I started to get really tired too. I was only working part-time, finishing some days at 1pm. I’d rush home so I could grab a couple of hours sleep before my daughter came home from school at 4:30. I was doing a lot of exercise at the time but it hadn’t increased to the point where it would warrant this tiredness.

I’ve now got a year of not having a period, memory problems getting worse and extreme
tiredness. That’s it, I am going back to the doctors…

I saw a female doctor and explained everything that have been going on. I said I was scared and that I believed it was early dementia or a brain tumour. She looked at my notes and agreed with the last doctor that it was probably early menopause, and let’s do another blood test to see if it is despite the previous blood test showing it wasn’t! I said ‘no, what’s the point?’ I gave as many examples as possible of the memory problems – I’d been writing them down because, well, I kept forgetting them! – she turned in her chair, put her hands in between her legs and slightly bent her body towards me, looking me straight in the eye she said: “I think you’re a little bit stressed love”, and with that she prescribed me beta blockers.

Stressed? I’ve been so much more stressed in my life and I haven’t had these memory problems, but before I could finish she handed me the printed prescription and smirked.
I drove home in a bit of a daze; frustrated, angry, disappointed – was I being silly? No! I knew that there was something wrong. I know my body, we know our bodies – yes, some
humans are hypochondriacs but that’s a limited few, so why are we all treated as if we don’t understand that something isn’t right?

Unembarrassed, I booked another appointment with a different GP from all the others I’d seen. This was going to be my last appointment. I was going to get action. I didn’t allow them to rush me; I was having as long as I needed and I was going to explain
everything. I asked for a second opinion and, given how many times I’d been previously,
how long I’d not had a period, and the revelation that I’d approached the roundabout
outside the GP surgery and didn’t have a clue which way to drive the car around it, he
agreed it wasn’t a bad idea.

I was referred to a gynaecologist because at this time they still thought it was early
menopause. He had my notes and asked me if I’d had a prolactin test? Now, as you know
my memory at this point was quite bad but I didn’t recognise that word so I said I didn’t
think so. As this was a private referral I had a blood test immediately and within 24hrs the gynaecologist phoned me at home and said he needed me to come back in.

My prolactin test had come back with a reading of over 9000. A normal reading should be around 20. This indicated that my pituitary gland and had some problems and it was likely there was a tumour!

What is the pituitary gland? The pituitary gland is one of our major organs which controls our endocrine system – it sits at the base of our brains.

It was now March 2012. In November 2012, I was anaesthetised and wheeled in for 6 to 8 hours of surgery to remove a large tumour from my pituitary gland.

Before the surgery I was told I would have been irreversibly blind in six months as the
tumour was growing at a rapid rate and pressing on my optic chiasm.

In 2014 the tumour made a reappearance and was zapped with gamma knife radiotherapy.

Tell me again I’m a little bit stressed, love.

Oh, and the ‘depression’? Gone!

Please, don’t be embarrassed or feel you’re a burden to anyone if something doesn’t feel
right. You CAN get a second opinion, you can change doctors, you can even change the hospital you receive ongoing treatment at – this is your life, don’t let others make it hard.


Alongside all of this Catherine also lives with Addison’s disease, as a result of the pituitary problems, which is a life threatening chronic disease. She takes medication three times a day to keep her alive, but that doesn’t seem to stop anything – she also runs her own successful Virtual Assistant business and has written an award winning bestseller inspiring others to start and run their own VA business too.

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