‘RARE BIRD’ SET TO SOAR
Cancer Survivor Gives Back as Researcher, Future Physical Therapist

Cancer survivor-turned researcher Lauren Stahl
Cancer survivor-turned researcher Lauren Stahl

PHOTO: ROSS LAKE

Lauren Stahl ignored the bump on her arm for a long time. After all, she was 18, a senior in high school, focused on important stuff like college applications. But the knot near her left elbow, sitting right on the funny bone, kept bothering her. It became painful. After a few months, she visited her doctor, who scheduled a procedure to remove what everyone thought was just a cyst. But Stahl had a bad feeling it was something more. She was right. She was diagnosed with stage 1 spindle cell sarcoma, a very rare soft tissue cancer.

Despite the life-altering medical news, Stahl graduated from high school and enrolled in community college. One month into classes, she underwent two surgeries and radiation therapy and received a good prognosis. Life got back to normal…sort of.

“I had really changed,” she explained. “Having cancer, at my age…the experience of being in the hospital, having radiation treatments made me realize how blessed I was. In my oncologist’s office, I was always the youngest patient. And this cancer I had, nobody had ever seen before. I never met anyone else who had it. They were always calling me ‘the rare bird.’ I started to wonder how other people—those who had to have chemo or those with more serious cancers— managed to get through it all. I just felt that I had to help others have hope and see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had this tremendous need to give back in some way.”

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WINDOW INTO THE MIND
Linguistic Analysis Yields Reliable Diagnoses, Cecchi Shows

Dr. Guillermo Cecchi
Dr. Guillermo Cecchi

Anything that generates a pattern can be analyzed mathematically. Speech and language generate patterns, and the mathematical savvy of scientists such as Dr. Guillermo Cecchi of IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center holds the promise of enabling accurate diagnosis—from speech alone—of ailments ranging from psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

In short, the way you talk, and write, can yield not only a medical diagnosis, but also the likelihood that you will convert, in time, to a condition.

Speaking at an NIMH lecture series in the Neuroscience Center, Cecchi, a native of Argentina whose first language is Spanish, demonstrated that the title of his talk—“A privileged window into the mind: language as a tool for diagnosis of mental disease”—applies not just in English, but also in other tongues.

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