Yamini Karanam is a PhD student from Hyderabad, India, who came to Indianapolis to study computer science. After coming to US, Yamini started having troubles comprehending and relating information given to her. She was also feeling very sick. It was not Jet lag or the normal home sickness or cultural shock. Her problem lay in understanding where her problem lays
Deep within her brain
Yamini slept for two weeks straight, missing school. “Then came the headaches. Slips and misses at work followed,” she wrote on her blog. “There were doctors. First, a couple of them and then more.” Then came the “revelation”: Doctors spotted what they thought was a cyst on Karanam’s pineal gland, a tiny pea-like structure in the center of the brain that French philosopher René Descartes called the “principal seat of the soul.”
“The fear didn’t sink in yet,” Karanam wrote. “[My] will was undeterred because it was hardly put to test. [My] energy levels were sinking and fatigue started crippling [my] days. … Months and weeks slipped through [my] fingers. There weren’t any diagnostic procedures left to run on [me]. Consultations followed procedures but nobody said anything useful. It was like white noise passed from the doctor to the patient to the support system. Now, they called it a tumor and that’s all 21st century medicine could do in three months.”
As the tumor grew larger and larger, reading became impossible. Soon, walking was, too. Only 26 years old, Karanam could barely eat. Pains ran from her head throughout her body. “But the men of science found no correlation between her suffering and the images,” she wrote. “[I] thought they would take [my] problems and own them. But they don’t and they didn’t. There was frustration and anger. Most of all, there was self-doubt. When sanity is in question, the best of us lose ourselves to the answer.”
Then came the medical procedure — a miracle by another name, really — that would save Karanam’s life and reveal the bizarre malady behind her meltdown. Karanam found a doctor, Hrayr Shahinian, performing radical “keyhole” brain surgeries at something called the Skullbase Institute in Los Angeles. Using the $32,437 her friends had raised for her, Karanam flew out to L.A. and put her life in Shahinian’s hands.That’s when the doctor made a startling discovery.
Karanam’s tumor wasn’t just a tumor. It was a teratoma: a clump of bone, hair and teeth. A Frankenstein’s monster within Karanam’s own mind.
It’s not clear whether Karanam’s tumor was really her twin. But it was killing her. Shahinian successfully removed the tumor, which was not cancerous. He now expects Karanam to make a full recovery.
When Karanam awoke in the hospital, she was stunned to learn that her tumor wasn’t just a lump of cells, but her “evil twin sister who’s been torturing me for the past 26 years,” she told NBC 4. Physically, Karanam should be back to normal in three weeks. But her near brush with death at the hands of her own “twin” has clearly affected her. Her blog is titled, “The ‘n’ Phases of her Tumor,” which is basically a math joke about her ordeal. It features a blue cloud with a smiley face that could be easily confused for the tumor she had removed.
“I was stuck with it much longer than I thought,” she says. “It doesn’t leave you much choice other than to deal with it the best you can.”