Courtesy of Kristopher Stonewall

According to the World Health Organization, colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer and accounts for 10 percent of cancer cases globally. With new testing and developments unfolding every day, one young man is taking matters into his own hands. Keven Stonewall is a 22-year-old cancer researcher who spends most of his time monitoring cancer cells and sharing his love for science. At 17, Stonewall landed an internship at Rush University, where he performed groundbreaking research on a potential vaccine for colon cancer. Stonewall went on to research a breakthrough colon cancer vaccine through a treatment called immunotherapy, at just age 19. This Chicago native has already been recognized by ABC, Blavity, BET, and has been a TEDx speaker. Stonewall’s efforts stem from his love for science since the age of 10. This change agent shares his journey and drops tips for Millennials who aspire to make a difference just like him.

Your story is motivational and personal. Why did you decide to pursue cancer research?

I definitely feel that my burning desire to pursue cancer research resulted from the cancer death of my friend’s uncle during my freshman year of high school. Realizing how impactful cancer was on my friend’s family opened my eyes to the importance of proper medical care and treatments. Limited treatment options and care heavily contributed to his ailments. This cause of death ignited a high level of motivation in me to contribute to research to help provide future patients with proper medical treatments. That moment was my calling.

What are two misconceptions you’ve heard regarding cancer?

So far the biggest misconception about cancer I’ve heard is once you have cancer, your life is over. I would largely disagree with this statement because there are too many factors to consider while determining one’s life expectancy due to cancer. You have to consider factors such as the effectiveness of the treatment at hand and how quickly or slowly the cancer cells can metastasize to another part of the body.  I know many people who have won the battle against cancer and they are living a wonderful life. In addition, another misconception is the only way to treat cancer is through chemotherapy. While chemotherapy is amongst the most known treatment of cancer, I would like to share that alternative treatments include radiation, surgery, and immunotherapy — the treatment therapy I applied in my research.

Being so young and gifted in a challenging field, what are some failures you’ve faced along the way?

Something I never revealed to the public was that I was rejected from my high school science fair three years in a row. During those days, I questioned my STEM journey and my interest and abilities in a career as a physician. I witnessed many of my peers’ science projects advance to citywide, state, and even international science fair competitions. Instead of being discouraged and remaining doubtful of myself, I became more motivated and encouraged to research a project that would be impactful to the field of science and our society. Until this day, I always remind myself that  without struggle, there is no progress made.

As a Millennial who’s accomplished so much for only being 22, I’m sure you’ve heard some great advice along the way. What’s one quote you like to live by?

“If you’re not planning to succeed then you’re planning to fail.”

What are three quick tips you can share with fellow Millennials who want to create change in their community?

Tip 1: Energy is contagious. You truly have to believe in the change you’re trying to evoke.

Tip 2: It’s essential to understand that change doesn’t happen overnight so having that dedication and patience is crucial.

Tip 3: Keep yourself available to those in need. Remember that we all were at a place once when we needed to lean on someone else for help and support.

You have a lot going on as a researcher, student, TEDx speaker, advocate, and member of a fraternity. What do you do to unwind?

I love to dance. If you ask people who are close to me, they would tell you that I’m always cracking jokes and just being goofy. I try to find a reason to smile every day.  Also, I can cook … sorta so be on the lookout.

What can we expect to see from Keven Stonewall in the near future?

I’m currently in the process of applying for medical school. This is major milestone I am getting ready to approach so that’s pretty exciting. I recently established a collaboration with JORD watches so that was a neat experience for me as well.

Lastly, if you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

I want to be remembered for inspiring others to break the status quo by following their dreams; especially in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — STEM.

Tyra Laster

Corporate Communications enthusiast, Storyteller, Millennial. Tyra Laster is a digital contributor who loves career-focused content about dope people making a difference.