Lifestyle & Human Interest

Woman Believes She Has Brain Tumor, Then Surgery Reveals Parasite Growing in Her Head


When Rachel Palma’s nightmares became too intense to handle, she knew something was wrong with her. However, she never expected a diagnosis that could have been ripped straight from a horror movie.

Palma, 42, was suffering from symptoms similar to that of a brain tumor. She struggled to form coherent sentences, had conversations she didn’t remember later and dropped objects randomly. She started having strange hallucinations and couldn’t sleep well at night.

“My episodes were getting more and more bizarre,” Palma told “Today.” “There were days that I didn’t know where I was.”

When examining an MRI scan, doctors noticed a sizable lesion on the left side of Palma’s brain. Its location explained the trouble she was having with speech, memory and motor skills. Doctors informed Palma that she likely had cancer.

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“My husband and I were both in shock and we just wanted it taken care of,” Palma told “Today.” “I never really allowed myself to think that it was cancer.”

Palma agreed to undergo immediate surgery, but when doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City cut into her skull, they didn’t see the tumor they were expecting.

Instead, Dr. Raj Shivastava and his team saw a “very firm, very well encapsulated thing” resembling a “quail egg.”

The substance turned out to be a baby tapeworm.

The doctors were thrilled to find that Palma had hosted a parasite rather than a brain tumor.

This rare medical phenomenon is called neurocysticercosis and occurs when a person ingests microscopic tapeworm eggs that can be attached to raw or undercooked pork.

“She had a single parasite in her head that we were able to take out — we were very happy,” Dr. Jonathan Rasouli said. “It was one of those rare situations where you see a parasite and you’re like, wow this is great!”

The parasite can usually be killed with antibiotics, if doctors are aware that it exists.

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“It’s so rare in the United States that you really don’t have to take any sort of precautions. It’s like once in a blue moon,” Rasouli said.

Since her operation, Palma’s health is back to normal. She doesn’t “like to speculate” about how she may have contracted the tapeworm. Regardless, she’s relieved that cancer is no longer on the table.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that they saved my life. And they gave me my life back,” Palma told WABC-TV.

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Noel Marquis is a journalist and animal-lover hailing from the Midwest. After an internship with Disney following her college graduation, she pursued a career writing content that makes readers smile. Coffee, books and superhero movies are some of her favorite things.