When I first read about 24 year old PJ Lukac in Chicago's newspapers I was immediately moved by his story. Here was a young, bright, medical student with a promising future facing the most terrifying news from his own doctor -a malignant tumor lodged inside his brain. But what struck me the most is what he had done about it -- he decided to face his disease and made it his mission in life to fight it.
The tone of our first conversation was surprising -- I didn't sense any urgency in his voice, especially for someone who was facing the prospect of a disease with a survival rate of 15 months. Instead, I heard a calm, level headed scientist who wanted to raise awareness about his disease. There was no desperation in his voice and I wasn't sure what to make of it. It wasn't until I spoke with his family and his co-workers at the genetics lab at Northwestern University that I came to understand that while PJ came through as reserved and shy, he was determined and passionate about making the most of the time he has left.
Learn more about Bredel's research
Our first face-to-face meeting came the day PJ was scheduled for his 6th MRI -- a procedure he and his family has to endure every two months to make sure the cancer hasn't returned. While the family was glad to participate in our story, they were visibly nervous. Who wouldn't be?
A few hours later PJ called me with good news.
"It's clean," he said.
When Dr. Sanjay Gupta came along for the rest of the interviews, I had learned a lot more about brain cancer -- especially the research taking place at Dr. Markus Bredel's lab. Brain tumors are among the most complex of all cancers, but they've managed to find key genetic components that may one day allow doctors to target specific treatments tailored to each patient. They also provide an opportunity for patients to learn about the possible progression of the cancer.
While most patients chose to find out as much information as possible about their own tumors, PJ has chosen not to -- a decision Dr. Gupta asked him about during our interview.
"I'd rather not know and I just want to hope for the best," PJ told him.
After getting to know PJ, I understand that decision. He has better things to do with his time.
"It's good for people to know that there are lots of people such as in this lab who wake up every morning living and breathing cancer research so it's hope for the future."
Be sure to see the story on the CBS Evening News, tonight.
Alberto Moya is a producer for the CBS News Northeast Bureau