|5 Dec 2022
|United States of America
|2021 Finalists Global Student Prize
A native of Brazil, Francisco had a very difficult start in life. His mother divorced his father when Francisco was four, and to provide for her children, she married a man who later turned out to have violent and schizophrenic tendencies. This difficult upbringing gave Francisco a strong desire to leave Brazil, and at the age of 17, he boarded a plane to Florida with just a backpack and a tourist visa. On arrival, he spent a year living in an apartment with six other people and one bathroom, frequenting churches in search of meals and somebody to practice English with. But with hard work, and after borrowing money to join the English Language Institute at the University of Florida, he ended up winning a scholarship to Santa Fe College, outcompeting 400 other students.
Getting to university, however, was only the beginning of his struggle. After two months as the happiest freshman in the world, Francisco was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive blood cancer. Over the next six months, he had to undergo 13 major surgeries and an extremely potent course of chemotherapy. His diary became filled with lawyer appointments, insurance company calls, and hospital cashier negotiations (though the $400,000 treatment cost was eventually paid by the hospital as an act of charity). Yet by reading textbooks between surgeries and chemotherapy sessions, Francisco continued and completed all his classes with a 4.0 GPA.
After he recovered from treatment, and having seen his life sustained only by a bag of chemotherapy agents, opioids and steroids, Francisco had a new mission. He immediately decided to learn about cancer research. For two years afterwards, he immersed himself in lab work, spending thousands of hours improving techniques, reading articles and running experiments. By the end of his second year at college he was invited to join the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program to work with cancer research at Harvard Medical School. So far, Francisco has co-authored two major papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and is also a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship, awarded to a high-achieving student with financial need.
Beyond working in cancer research, Francisco has also contributed to the lives of cancer patients – even those who are terminally ill. Based on his own drawings of himself as a cancer patient, Take This Chemo is a book of over 100 well-explained tips for newly diagnosed young cancer patients on how to handle hospitalization and chemotherapy. Francisco has also created a non-profit organization called Heroes of Medicine, which uses filmmaking to honour young palliative care patients and create a piece of legacy for critically ill adolescents and their families.
If Francisco were to win the Global Student Prize, he would dedicate the funds to the creation of a summer internship program where high school students from developing economies would apply to spend one summer learning medical research in his laboratory at the University of Florida. The money would be invested as an endowment and the earnings used to fund the summer internship of one student per year, who would be mentored by Francisco as he completes his PhD.