Cristina Speirs, a 22-year-old student, is recovering from an orange-sized tumor of the adrenal gland that reportedly kept her sleepless and abnormally energized for most of her senior year of college. According to ABC News, Speirs initially dismissed her unusual symptoms as positive effects of her healthy lifestyle, which she says involved six workouts a week and lots of fluids. "I had a lot of energy," she told reporters. "I wasn't sleeping. ... I was always on the go. I was never tired." But in the fall of 2012, a regular check-up revealed a set of alarming values.
Doctors told her that while her potassium levels were low, her blood pressure was “through the roof.” After a cardiologist determined that nothing was wrong with her heart, the team ordered a renal sonogram to image her kidneys. Speirs remembers that the sonogram technician spent a long time staring at the screen in confusion. When she asked what was wrong, the technician said that she needed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan done right away. "She said, 'You don't feel anything?'" Speirs said. "I was like, 'No. I feel fine.'"
The scan finally revealed the cause of Speirs puzzling symptoms: a 10-centimeter tumor sitting on top of her adrenal gland. When the doctors realized that the growth was expressing the hormones cortisol and aldosterone, they began to suspect the rare cancer adrenal corticol carcinoma, and decided to schedule Speirs for surgery as soon as possible. "I was in complete shock," she told reporters. "Then, I got so upset honestly. I had no idea where this came from."
A team lead by Dr. William Inabnet of the Adrenal Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City eventually removed the tumor in October of 2012. Subsequent analysis confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: Spiers' tumor was stage 2 cancer, and consistent with adrenal cortical carcinoma. The exceedingly rare tumor affects one in several hundred thousand people.
"I was just happy to be alive,” Speirs said of the procedure, adding that she still takes medication to ensure that the cancer does not return. But a year after later, the incident continues to haunt her. "I can be perfectly fine one day, and the next day, I'll just cry and cry and get it out of my system. I feel like my body betrayed me."
Speirs' insomnia and abnormal energy exemplifies the strange psychiatric symptoms that sometimes attend cardiovascular events and tumor growth. Another notable example is the unnamed Brazilian man whose stroke left him with “pathological generosity” characterized by excessive and persistent giving.