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20-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Stealing The Show At Vatican International Cancer Conference

THE VATICAN (CBSNewYork) - Doctors, patients and politicians are meeting in an unlikely setting for an international cancer conference -- the Vatican -- to discuss breakthroughs and future treatments.

"It's exciting, I mean this is crazy," said 20-year-old cancer survivor Elana Simon. "Even when I first started doing research, I never expected it to be this successful."

Simon delivered remarks to some of the world's leading cancer researchers at the Cellular Horizons Medical Conference at the Vatican. Eight years ago, doctors diagnosed her with a rare liver cancer.

"I've been healthy, have a newly-grown liver," she said.

Simon was 12 when doctors removed her tumor.

"My initial response was 'OK, I'm done that was an interesting chapter of my life, but I'm done with it,'" she said.

But when she was in remission, she started a new chapter, to investigate her disease and help others. That investigation has brought her all the way to the Vatican.

Simon turned to YouTube and asked other young people with the same type of cancer to send in samples of their tumors, and 65 did.

Under the supervision of her father, who is a scientist, she discovered a common mutation in each sample.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez introduced Simon at the conference.

"She was able to take her own cancer and grab it by the horns, and do genetic sequencing on it, and really find out what it was that caused her cancer," Gomez said. "That's remarkable."

Her work was recognized by President Barack Obama.

Simon says her research could one day help find cures for more common cancers.

"It's good I was the person who ended up getting it because it has turned into something good," she said.

Simon will return to the lab this summer, after she heads back to Harvard for finals.

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