LOOKING at herself in the mirror, Rebecca Churan could no longer recognise herself.
The 29-year-old’s chin and nose had nearly doubled in size and her feet had grown by a size and a half in less than a year.
And Rebecca’s changing appearance had caused her self-esteem to plummet – as she felt as though she was becoming uglier by the minute.
Desperate for some answers, Rebecca saw her doctor and was told she had a brain tumour that was releasing a growth hormone and causing the terrifying changes.
It came after years of being misdiagnosed with conditions including borderline diabetes, generalised anxiety disorder, depression and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Now in recovery, Rebecca, from Ontario, Canada, is sharing her story to raise awareness for the condition and its symptoms.
Rebecca, who works with children in deprived areas, said: “Never judge a book by its cover because those covers can be redrawn, just like more pages can be added to a story.”
Over the years, Rebecca had noticed dramatic changes to her body including weight gain despite hardly eating, fatigue, rapid growth in her feet and her facial features.
She saw more than ten doctors to address the signs, however, they misdiagnosed her with borderline diabetes, depression and PCOS.
Rebecca tried to carry on with her life, but things took a turn for the worse when she was out celebrating her birthday earlier this year.
She spent most of her celebrations in tears as she tried to explain to her friends that she believed her face was changing and becoming ugly, but she didn’t know why.
Rebecca said: “I went out for my birthday with a group of friends but during the evening I was unable to stay awake and needed multiple naps before going out with the girls.
“They all tried to cheer me up, but I was crying uncontrollably, and I knew something was wrong.
The tumour caused the extreme tiredness, my anxiety, weight gain, the growth of my hands, feet, nose and chin
“My best friend, Anisa, held my hand while we went from pub to pub and I remember her asking me where my confidence had gone since we met at university.
“Thankfully she was there for me because I would have never made it through that night without her cheering me on.”
Over the next few days, Rebecca could barely stay awake and soon went to see a doctor to get some answers.
And she was desperate she’d get some constructive news – after years of being misdiagnosed.
She added: “The next few days were awful, I slept most of the day and still required more than ten hours of sleep at night.
“I went to see a doctor for an opinion in the hopes of any sort of answer.
“I have seen more than ten doctors over the years who would just address my symptoms.
“I told this doctor that my face was changing, and I was getting uglier, and that I didn’t understand why I was gaining weight since I was barely eating.”
By the end of March 2019, the doctor finally issued Rebecca with an IGF-1 blood test which measures the quantity of insulin-like growth factor in the body.
The typical measurement of the growth hormone should be between 97-297, depending on age, however Rebecca’s measurement was an astonishing 1015.
The blood test confirmed that Rebecca had a pituitary tumour which was releasing the growth hormone.
There was very little information for Rebecca surrounding pituitary tumours, so she researched it and was horrified to find photos of giants and disfigured people online.
Rebecca said: “Normal range for the growth hormone is between 97 and 297, and I was at a whopping 1015 level – which is high even for a teenager with gigantism.
“There really is no information other than extreme cases online.
“There’s barely any awareness or tools to help people recognise the signs, so many cases are diagnosed as hormonal disorders.
“I saw the scariest photos of Andre the giant and others who had not been treated early on during the process. I was mortified, scared, and hopeless.
I was petrified because I had a tumour in my brain which they needed to remove, but if I didn’t have surgery then I would continue to become disfigured
“The tumour caused the extreme tiredness, my anxiety, weight gain, the growth of my hands, feet, nose and chin.
“I had this tumour for over 15 years based on the photos I’ve looked back over, but I just thought it was the way I was ageing at the time.
“I questioned my growth a few years ago when my feet shot up half a size, but I had gained weight too and I thought it must have been caused by water retention or my borderline diabetes diagnosis.”
Rebecca was soon told she needed to have the tumour removed through her nose – which terrified her.
She said: “I was petrified because I had a tumour in my brain which they needed to remove, but if I didn’t have surgery then I would continue to become disfigured.
“Surgery was April 6 by Doctor Cusimano and the tumour was taken out through my nasal cavity.”
Before going into surgery Rebecca traced the outline of her hands to see if they changed size.
Since the surgery, Rebecca’s hands have shrunk by an inch, her feet have gone down a size and a half, she has lost 2st 5lb in weight and her nose and chin are smaller.
What is a pituitary gland tumour?
Pituitary tumours start in the pituitary gland, which produces and helps regulate hormones.
Pituitary tumours, sometimes called adenomas, are usually benign (non-cancerous).
Symptoms can be caused by a tumour producing extra hormones, or by not producing enough hormones. Other symptoms can be caused by the tumour pressing on the optic (eye) nerve.
These include headaches and vision problems.
To diagnose a pituitary tumour, you will need different tests.
These include blood tests, eye tests, and a CT scan or MRI scan.
Your specialist will talk to you about the best treatment for you and explain its benefits and disadvantages. Surgery is the most common treatment.
The operation is done through the nose without having to open the skull.
Radiotherapy is sometimes used after surgery.
Some people with small tumours may have a specialised type of targeted radiotherapy called stereotactic radiosurgery.
Doctors often treat tumours that produce a hormone called prolactin with drugs that reduce prolactin levels.
If the whole pituitary gland is removed, you will need to take drugs to replace the hormones that are normally produced (hormone replacement).
She said: “Recovery from surgery was way better than I could have asked for.
“The team I had in the hospital understood me, they didn’t think my shrinking was odd at all and they took very good care of me.
“After having the tumour removed, my nose and chin have shrunk, while my feet are down a size and a half.
“I’ve also lost two stone and five pounds effortlessly.
“I lost almost an inch off the tops of my fingers and the width of each finger has gone down by about half a centimetre.
“People aren’t aware of pituitary tumours, which is crazy to me because the pituitary gland is the master controller of all your glands and endocrine system.”
Rebecca is now hoping to encourage others with an unexplainable problem to stay positive and push for answers.
She said: “Being rare is a very difficult thing, especially when many doctors don’t know how to treat you.
“You must stay positive and find hope in any way you can while fighting.
“I want people to understand that a simple blood test can often diagnose a pituitary tumour.
“Don’t just accept any diagnosis without digging deeper and asking if something else could be causing it.”
You can follow Rebecca’s journey on her Instagram page here.