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Alberta woman told she was dying of cancer discovers it’s actually a parasite

Edmonton woman 1st diagnosed with rare cancer had parasite
WATCH ABOVE: First, an Edmonton woman was told she was dying of a rare cancer. Then, her diagnosis became even more bizarre. Su-Ling Goh has the story.

In the past few months, Cassidy Armstrong has been forced to cope with two disturbing diagnoses. First, doctors said she was dying of a rare cancer.

Then, she found out the mass in her liver was actually a rare parasite from coyote or dog feces.

“[Doctors] said, ‘We have some good news for you. We don’t think this is cancer. We think this is a parasite,'” Armstrong told Global News.

“I was like, ‘This is good?’ They’re like, ‘Yes, it’s very good. It’s much better.'”

READ MORE: More cases of deadly tapeworm that causes tumour-like growths appearing in Alberta

In November of 2019, the 36-year-old started having severe pain near her ribs and noticed she was losing weight. An MRI revealed a mass the size of a grapefruit in her liver. She was diagnosed with a rare, terminal liver cancer.

“I was basically getting ready to just die,” said Armstrong. “It didn’t look good. It was pretty sad and scary.”

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Magnetic resonance image of large, dark mass in Armstrong’s liver.
Magnetic resonance image of large, dark mass in Armstrong’s liver. Cassidy Armstrong

Surgeons removed 65 per cent of her liver, her entire gallbladder and some nodules from her lungs. Then a biopsy revealed the mass was actually a large cyst created by the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis.

“This (parasite) is a totally new thing… this didn’t used to be here,” said Dr. Stan Houston, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta.

Since 2013, Alberta has confirmed 15 cases of the parasite in patients; 13 were dog owners.

Houston explains the parasite likely came from Europe and is becoming more common in Alberta coyotes. The tapeworm eggs are passed in the feces, which rodents eat.

A dog can become infected by eating the feces or an infected rodent. Humans can become infected if they touch the infected dog’s feces and then touch their face or food.

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Human cases have also been confirmed in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.

“Coyotes are no longer wild creatures of the forest and the prairies. They are urban animals,” said Houston.

He reminds everyone to wash their hands after touching a dog, and to clean fruits and vegetables that may come from a contaminated garden.

Dog owners are advised to de-worm their pets for tapeworms, not just roundworms.

READ MORE: Fox or coyote tapeworms acting like ‘aggressive tumours’ threaten dogs, humans: expert

Doctors believe Armstrong’s parasite was growing inside her for about a decade.

She has no idea where she got it from, as she washes her hands and produce regularly and hasn’t owned a dog since she was a kid.

Armstrong will stay on anti-parasitic medication in case any cells remain in her body. She hopes to prevent other patients from being misdiagnosed.

“[Doctors are] saying that I might have a chance at a normal life expectancy, which is great,” Armstrong said with a smile. “I’m forever grateful.”