Lisa Nicholas, 37, was 12 weeks pregnant with two-year-old Lizzy, when she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease - a condition caused by having too much cortisol hormone in the body.
The mum-of-five felt like she was ‘rapidly ageing’ as symptoms left her with high blood pressure, weakened bones and thinning hair.
Doctors discovered the cause was a noncancerous tumour growing on Lisa’s adrenal gland on her kidney and if it was left any longer she ‘might not be here’.
The condition increased the chance of miscarriage but Lisa was determined to carry on with her pregnancy.
She underwent surgery to remove the 2.5cm tumour at 21 weeks along and she was closely monitored until she went into labour in February 2019.
Despite arriving 10 weeks premature, baby Lizzy - who weighed 2lb 15oz - was able to go home after eight weeks at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, and Lisa’s symptoms have vanished since the tumour was removed.
Lisa, a kitchen assistant, who is also mum to Charlie, 19, Millie, 14, Rosie, 12, and 11-year-old Evie, said: “I was ageing 10 times quicker than I should have been.
“I felt like an old lady - my hair was thinning and falling out.
"I was constantly breaking bones - I broke my ankle twice - once putting the kids socks on and another time getting off a spin bike.
"It's extremely rare to fall pregnant with this condition and I was terrified about losing Lizzy.
"She's such a little fighter and after removing the tumour, my symptoms have pretty much gone.
“I’ve gone back to being a 37-years-old, not the 88-year-old woman I was turning into.”
Lisa had been experiencing the unusual symptoms for years and noticed them getting worse.
After various tests, doctors finally diagnosed Lisa with Cushing’s disease in April 2018.
Symptoms include high blood pressure, weak bones, bruising easily and weight gain.
The condition had been caused by a tumour growing on one of her adrenal glands - found just above the kidney.
Lisa - who lives with her husband, Gareth Nicholas, 33, a tree surgeon - said: “I had the issue for years and it was getting worse.
"I was constantly black and blue from bruising easily.
"I was in my 30s and taking tablets for high blood pressure.
"After testing, doctors finally discovered it was Cushing's disease.
“It was nice to have some answers, but it got more complicated when I found out I was pregnant.”
Lisa discovered she was 12 weeks pregnant with her fifth child when she was diagnosed.
Doctors warned Lisa that Cushing’s disease could be dangerous to pregnant women.
The high levels of cortisol can cause complications like diabetes, cardiac failure, and even death.
At 18 weeks, Lisa was told she had no choice but to have surgery to remove the tumour.
She said: "We didn't plan to have another baby but when I found I was pregnant, I was so excited.
"I had a miscarriage before I fell pregnant with Lizzy, we think it may have been due to Cushings, which we didn't know at the time.
"I knew the dangers but I couldn’t give up on my baby.
“I was offered an abortion but I said no - I wanted to see it through.
“I started having some complications, like diabetes, and other issues with my blood pressure.
“At 18 weeks doctors said if I didn’t remove the tumour then I was going to die.”
At 21 weeks, Lisa underwent a life-saving operation at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, in November 2018.
They successfully removed the tumour, along with the adrenal gland, but Lisa had to be closely monitored for the rest of the pregnancy.
She said: “I went for regular scans and towards the end, doctors noticed she had stopped growing.
"Things didn't change so I had a planned c-section booked.
"It was like a scene from casualty - there must have been 20 doctors delivering her.”
Lizzy Nicholas arrived on February 6 2019 at Stepping Hill Hospital weighing a tiny 2lb 15oz.
Lisa was kept in intensive care and Lizzy was transferred to Oldham Hospital, Manchester, and then transferred back to Stepping Hill Hospital where she was kept on the neonatal ward.
Lisa said: “I was so poorly and so was she.
"They had to get her blood pressure down and kept her on oxygen.
"At first, I couldn't hold her, I could only see photos of her.
“When I finally saw her in the incubator she was so tiny.”
After eight weeks, Lizzy was able to go home but she continued to receive oxygen.
In August 2019, she was finally removed from oxygen and has been doing well.
Lisa said: "There were lots of ups and downs during her time in hospital.
"She is still very small and struggled to gain weight - we discovered she's allergic to milk.
"Otherwise she's doing amazingly and started to crawl."
Lisa's symptoms have gone since the tumour was removed but she's been left with one adrenal gland.
The remaining one doesn't work so she has to manually take the hormone cortisol everyday as her body no longer produces it naturally.
Lisa added: "The one I have left isn't working or 'asleep' - we don't know why.
"Cortisol is the body's stress hormone and without it, my body doesn't know how to respond to stress.
"It just means I have to take cortisol everyday and I have to up my dose in preparation for a stressful day.
"Otherwise I'm doing well, I don't take blood pressure tablets anymore.
“Cushing’s can cause quite a round face and people say I look totally different now.
"It's such a rare thing, I'm often telling doctors about my condition and dosage - not the other way around - hopefully I can help and educate people about the condition."