Maggie West-Hadleigh, Thyroid Thrivers
55 years young
Graves & Hypothyroidism
Diagnosed in 1990
Maggie’s real life story of Hypothyroidism and Graves disease is truly captivating. Watch a snippet here as she meanders her way through the thyroid medical world in her upcoming film…
When I was 23 years old, I was living in one of the 6 most hazardous waste areas in the country, a tiny, little town in Texas, and I started to feel bad. I started to feel exhausted all the time. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. So, I would go to a doctor where I’d tell, usually a him, all of my symptoms and invariably he would say, ma’am, your tests came back fine, they are normal. They never paid any attention to how I felt, just to my lab test results.
Nothing was helping. Nothing was helping at all. I was misdiagnosed, undiagnosed and feeling awful.
I knew I didn’t look sick. People didn’t understand me as sick. I didn’t want to understand me as sick.
Then, when I went to art graduate school in New York, suddenly my thyroid went berzerk. It became overactive. I had many of the classic symptoms of thyroid disease, I didn’t know that then, however.
- Body temperature fluctuating
- Extreme exhaustion
- Rapid heartbeat
- Brittle hair
- Swelling (edema) of the eyelids and tissue around the eye
- Bulging eyes
I even remember my dad saying to me,
“What’s the matter with you, you look like you are ‘bugging’ out?”
Finally, after years of feeling awful, I was diagnosed with an overactive autoimmune thyroid disease called Graves. The advice for treatment that was so readily given to me, at that point, was for me to take RAI. I didn’t have any family living close by and I felt all alone, living in the Big Apple with no one to help me make this monumental decision to take this radioactive pill. The RAI procedure would burn out or kill my thyroid. In turn, I would become underactive, but I wouldn’t die and I would take medication for the rest of my life. So, I did it. Afterward, I started taking Synthroid. I distinctly remember being told that I would be fine. Hindsight is 20/20!
Deciding to kill my thyroid would continue to lead me on another thyroid journey.
My problems and issues weren’t gone. I couldn’t sleep, I was anxious all the time, my muscles were sore all of the time, they were cold, I got carpal tunnel syndrome, I couldn’t exercise, my hands and feet were cold and I was more than exhausted. It is amazing how, if you listen to your body, it will tell you. Instinctively, I knew something was wrong. I made the decision to stop exercising and cardio, something I had been doing all my life. It just didn’t feel right. I DIDN’T FEEL RIGHT!
I decided I had to change my life. I packed up and left the craziness of New York City, to find a better life with family and friends, in New Orleans.
When I turned 53 I just freaked out. I realized it had been 30 years that I had been looking for help and trying to get better. To FEEL better. So, it totally freaked me out.
I thought, “I’m never going to another doctor for as long as I live. I don’t know what is wrong with me.” So, I started looking for a therapist. I had been hiding. Some of the time I was out in the world and sometimes I felt like I had to be at home. I would collapse. Then, I’d get into bed and I couldn’t go to sleep. I was hoping to get help and to get this out of my body. I just didn’t know what it was. A lot of the time I was fine and other days I wasn’t. I felt like I was going crazy.
I decided to see this one. Last. Doctor. That was it. I was done with them. But, when he walked into the waiting room, he looked like a hero. I needed a hero at that point. He said, it looks like you’ve been suffering from thyroid problems for a long time.
Amazingly, Hope Springs Eternal…
Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
He put me on 180 mg of Armour and that same day, this ginormous brain fog lifted. I felt like I FINALLY woke up. I couldn’t believe it. It was like magic. In 1 day the brain fog lifted. I had been searching for this for so many years and I found it in one day with one doctor. This can not be true. I was in awe.
About 3 months later, I went back to that same doctor and told him that my bout with carpal tunnel syndrome had disappeared and he said, “Oh Maggie, hang on, I”ll be right back.” He went and got this big textbook and handed it to me, entitled Thyroid Disease. He told me to read the tables, and it was really like reading a road map of the symptoms I had had my entire my life. When he told me that it was written in 1945, I started crying. All of this information used to be common knowledge and it isn’t anymore and I want to know why?!
The purpose of the movie is to tell my story and to help others. The medical industry is completely dysfunctional.
My entire life, I have advocated for myself from a health perspective and advocated for others less fortunate. When I began to fully comprehend the extent of the medical corruption that surrounds thyroid disease and how it hinders our healing process, I was outraged. Thus, began the process of making the project, which includes a feature documentary called Sick to Death! and an interactive website, sick2death.com. Now I’m advocating for all of us!
In October of 2013 I received a Guggenheim Award to start this project. My producer on the project, Catherine Rierson, thought it might be interesting to share the letter that I wrote just last week when the Guggenheim Foundation requested a report on the progress of the project in the last year. So, here it is, a peek into my world and my work as a thyroid advocate.
February 27, 2015
So good to hear from you, as well. I’m very excited to report that the my sponsorship year was unbelievably productive, exciting and meaningful. I designed and developed a website for the project, the trailer for the film resides on the home page. Sick2death.com
Advisors and Consulting Producers were sought and enlisted for the website and the film:
Production of the film was completed, which entailed shooting 52 interviews between New Orleans, New York City, Ithica, and Los Angeles. Interviews included, Dr. Jerome Kassirer former Editor in Chief of New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marion Nestle, Author of “Food Politics,” and Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study.” These three luminaries informed me that the only reason they granted me an interview was because of the Guggenheim Award. (I am supremely grateful).
Interviews also included 29 random thyroid patients that were willing to travel from 3 states in order to be in the film – their stories are touching and disturbing. A total of 92 hours of footage has been logged, transcribed and is currently being put into assemblies for the rough cut.
We have begun building an online community and the website is already helping thousands of individuals with thyroid disease. Eight weeks ago, we launched our Facebook page and it already has over 10,000 “likes,” which confirms the necessity of this work.
I hired an accomplished editor, Ilko Davidov from Chicago, who moved to New Orleans to help me complete the film. So we’ve begun editing, but we also plan to shoot roughly 10 more hours. Just yesterday, I confirmed that Dr. Thierry Hertoghe – world-renowned hormone expert and 4th generation endocrinologist – will also be in the film. I will interview him in May when he’s in the US for a medical conference. His contribution to the project will bring Sick to Death! into the international arena.
Early next week we will begin our crowdfunding campaign – hopefully that will keep us in post production through October/November, as we aim for the Sundance Film Festival deadline.
And finally, when I met you all in New York, I told you all that I had almost withdrawn my application. As I write this, I want to cry….
I’m so very grateful that this award from you all tipped me over the edge into doing what I believe may be my most world-impacting film.
Already the emails that I receive are unreal in their gratitude for shining a light on medical corruption and thyroid disease. And the last thing that I expected was that my own health challenge would be supremely and positively impacted by this work – and yet, that is exactly what has happened.
Thank you all for assisting me in fulfilling my destiny. We’re a lovely team.
~From My Heart, Thyroid Thrivers, Maggie
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