Freshman receives unconventional treatment to fight brain cancer

Rachel Yim, Science & Technology Reporter

Overcoming the life expectancy of cancer can be considered as unusual and sometimes impossible. Sam Kell, a freshman at Oakland University, did just that and is getting an unusual treatment to fight this obstacle.

Kell was diagnosed with glioblastoma in his freshman year of high school. With its average life expectancy of 12 to 18 months, glioblastoma is an aggressive, fast-growing form of brain cancer. As a young man, Kell was devastated after the diagnosis.

“I was really struggling in pretty much every area in my life,” Kell said. “I did not want to go to Stoney Creek [High School], and I was physically and mentally exhausted for months even before being diagnosed.”

For the past three and half years, Kell has been on two experimental treatments — according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan — medication and Optune.

The medication, led by Pediatric Oncologist Carl Koschmann, involves DNA and RNA genomic sequencing. This method figures out what mutation was the cause of his cancer and then provides him the most efficient, unconventional treatment for that mutation.

This eventually led the doctors to treat his cancer with a drug called “everolimus,” which is generally used to prevent rejection of organ transplants.

In addition to the medication, Kell also wears a portable device called Optune.

“It is a medical device made for stopping tumor progression, rather than killing cells,” Kell said. “A technology called tumor-treating fields magnetically holds cancerous cells together by sending electrical impulses through ‘arrays’ (the stickers on my head), and keeps them from dividing and either forming or spreading into another tumor.”

Kell was the first pediatric patient to use Optune. While this device is typically for patients who have had a recurrence of glioblastoma after surgery and treatment, he has never gone through recurrence.

Despite facing cancer, Kell didn’t lose his positivity. Rather than living his life with negativity and depression, he appreciates every day and tries to overcome this disease with daily devotions with his family.

“My mom and I have done daily devotions together since the time I was diagnosed, and we still try to do them every day while I am living on campus,” he said. “I have realized whether I beat the cancer or not, God has a bigger, better plan than I do. Keeping Jesus at the center my life has been extremely important, and having full trust in him has really kept me sane in very hard times.”

Kell’s positivity didn’t end with devotion, however. His passion for basketball led him to earn a special job.

He is a student manager for OU’s men’s basketball team. During his high school years, he was involved in the varsity basketball team at a Division I school. Kell said he wanted to continue to develop his love for basketball along with advancing his academics.

“Basketball has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember,” he said. “I am so thankful to Coach [Greg] Kampe, the coaching staff, the players and other managers for making this a great experience.”

The most important lesson he has learned from this experience is that people should not worry about something they can’t control. With this mindset, he tries to keep an optimistic attitude which he believes will take away the burden of cancer.

“When people are diagnosed with cancer, they realize how precious time is,” he said. “Focusing on what’s next is a great way to look at life, and keeping a positive mindset is always helpful when battling cancer.”