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I cleared my throat, fighting back tears. I’ve never liked crying, much less crying in public — even though it would have seemed perfectly normal on this occasion. I was standing inside a marble mausoleum, watching two soldiers fold the American flag over a mahogany casket. All the feelings of disbelief leading up to that moment evaporated, and I was hit with the cold hard truth: My cousin Gaston was dead; cancer had stolen another member of our family.
Just a few months earlier, I was at Gaston’s house — unsure if I was there to say goodbye or to give him hope. I knew it was “goodbye” when I saw the man we called “Doc” sitting up on his bed, looking frail and weak. “What?” I thought, when my dad first shared the diagnosis, “doctors don’t get sick.” I was wrong, of course. Gaston had stage four colon cancer.
You’ll sometimes hear people call colon cancer “one of the bad ones” — the joke being that all cancer is bad, though colon cancer is particularly vicious. It’s the #2 killer among cancers in the US. Cases like my cousin’s — which was detected late — are often considered hopeless (the survival rate for these cases is 15%). But don’t bring any of that doom and gloom around Keven Stonewall. The twenty-two-year-old scientist has his sights set on ending the disease, and you’d be a fool to doubt him.
Stonewall, a Chicagoan, was just 19 when he researched a breakthrough colon cancer vaccine through a treatment called immunotherapy. His work also revealed that the vaccine needed to be age specific, after Stonewall led an experiment injecting a mitoxantrone-based vaccine (mitoxantrone is a well-known cancer-fighting drug) into two sets of mice, an older group, and a younger group. He then shot the mice with aggressive colon cancer cells and monitored them for several days. Stonewall found that the tumors in the younger mice were entirely gone after they had been injected with his vaccine, but the older mice were still affected.
“He should be heralded for helping to develop more effective colon cancer treatments,” Carl Ruby, the Rush University professor who ran the lab where Stonewall did his research, told DNA Info. “He has all the tools. He will go far.”