Cancer

Frightening moment leads to diagnosis — and treatment in a new trial

Mani and Jothi

It was July when Mani Ramalingham started feeling a bit unwell. He had a bad cough for a few days, but decided to go to volleyball, to see if he could shake things off.

In the middle of the volleyball game, he decided he better just go home.

“As I was driving along, I realized I was having difficulty controlling the car,” Mani said. “It was like my arms and legs wouldn’t work.”

Mani called his wife Jothi and spoke with her on speakerphone as he carefully navigated home. Still he wasn’t too worried – he thought an intense coughing spell had just made him light-headed.

When he got home, Jothi encouraged them to go to the pharmacy to see if they could get something for his cough.

They were driving along toward the pharmacy, when suddenly Mani began to shake, his eyes were rolling back and his face turned red. He was having a seizure. A panicked Jothi tried to lean over and stop the car.

“Thankfully we were on a quiet road and going very slow,” Jothi recalled. Frightened, she called 911 and tried to explain where they were and what was happening to her husband.

When the seizure stopped, Mani didn’t know what had just happened. He didn’t think he needed an ambulance. But the ambulance arrived quickly and took them to a nearby hospital.

There, the emergency room team checked him out, and observed him for several hours. In the morning, he was sent home. Jothi and Mani took an Uber to go get their car.

“By then, we were shaken up, tired, and hungry so I said we should go get some breakfast,” Mani said.

When they got in the car, however, Mani had another seizure. It only lasted for a few seconds — a scary few seconds for Jothi. The couple immediately went back to the emergency room.

This time, Mani had a CT scan. The doctors came back with some unsettling news.

“They said ‘We see something in your brain on the CT scan. It’s a mass. We won’t know for sure what it is until you have an MRI’,” Mani recalled.

Jothi’s mind was racing: “I was sort of in a haze, thinking, ‘Is this real?’ I had so many questions – what is it? Is it curable? Is this really happening?”

She had moved to Canada to be with her husband only a couple months before.

“When Jothi arrived, I was showing her Canada, showing her how to get around on transit, introducing her to friends, and helping her to get settled. I just never dreamed that we’d have to go through this,” Mani said.

Mani was transferred to Sunnybrook where he had a “head to toe” MRI to help see if the tumour had spread from somewhere else in his body. He had a biopsy and went home to wait for the results.

Already, Mani and Jothi’s friends had sprung into action.

“Our friends began a group chat: Assist Mani. In it, they shared information with each other to reduce the number of questions we’d get, made schedules to visit us and help us with driving to appointments, prepared food for us, it was amazing – and it’s still happening.”

Mani was eventually diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumour and began a course of radiation, potentially followed by chemotherapy.

This week, Mani became the second person in Canada to be treated with radiation on the new MR-Linac Elekta Unity, as part of a clinical trial. The machine combines magnetic resonance imaging and radiation technology so the radiation team can target the tumour with unprecedented precision and spare surrounding healthy tissue.

“It’s exciting; we have hope,” Jothi said. “This is advanced technology and we are proud to be able to participate in this.”

Mani agreed. “In some ways, really, this whole experience has been a gift. We have seen this outpouring of support from our friends. And we are in good hands here at Sunnybrook.”

About the author

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Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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