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Alex Zhou, 20, dies after battle with bone cancer

By Zara Khan     9/30/13 7:00pm

Alex Zhou, 20, a sophomore at Sid Richardson College who transferred to Rice University this fall, died the morning of Sept. 23 from osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Zhou, who completed his freshman and sophomore years at the University of Texas, Austin, had been hospitalized at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after the Labor Day holiday. He had planned on taking a medical leave this semester and returning in the spring to pursue a major in bioengineering, according to an email sent by Sid Rich Coordinator Corinne Cammarata.

Martel College freshman Daniel Fan said he was a family friend of Zhou and knew him for many years. Fan said Zhou's illness motivated Zhou to change for the better and gave him a new outlook on life.

"Before, he'd be content with just playing video games all day, but the illness gave him a purpose," Fan said. "It was because of cancer that he chose to major in bioengineering, and it also motivated him to transfer to Rice."



Fan said Zhou, despite undergoing aggressive treatment that included the amputation of his right leg, remained his normal self.

"I'd go on regular trips to his house to drop off things - vegetables from my mother's garden, food and the like," Fan said. "Sometimes, I'd stay and talk [to Alex] for a bit. We were always able to talk about normal things. He could still just be a normal person. ... Even in the hospital, he was still a normal person."

Martel College sophomore Elizabeth Sok, one of Zhou's Orientation Week advisors, said Zhou was friendly and optimistic.

"[Alex] gave no indication of his illness on his O-Week forms," Sok said. "On Move-In Day, when he first stepped out of his car, no one knew what to expect. Within minutes, though, he was really able to put everyone at ease."

Sok said Zhou was outgoing and involved on campus despite his illness. 

"He participated so fully in all of the O-Week activities, going out to 59 Diner at 2 a.m., attending all of the talks across campus, never once complaining," Sok said. "It just goes to show how strong he was, how courageous he was, that he never once mentioned his condition or let it limit him."

Zhou's roommate during O-Week, Steven Loyd, said he missed Zhou and wished to have been able to spend more time with him.

"Alex was a such a soft-spoken, go-with-the-flow sort of guy," Loyd, also a sophomore transfer student at Sid Rich, said. "I knew ... he had some sort of condition, but he never talked about it. I was stunned and had to sit down for a while when I heard the news. ... I'm just glad that he was able to experience Rice, even if only for a little while."

At the Sept. 29 memorial service for Zhou held by his family, Zhou's longtime friend Lucy Xie said he would be remembered for his cheerfulness.

"Alex was addicted to happiness," Xie, a junior at UT Austin, said. "A song, an episode of Friends, a trip to the dining hall. ... All of these simple things cheered him up, and then he would make it his job to spread the happiness that he felt. He was always smiling."

Duncan College junior James Ragan, an osteosarcoma patient and co-founder of Triumph Over Kid Cancer, a foundation that aims to make a difference in the lives of children with pediatric bone cancer, said that although he did not personally know Zhou, his heart went out to Zhou's friends and family.

"I've met so many bright and promising young men and women whose lives we have lost to pediatric bone cancers like osteosarcoma," Ragan said. "We lose bright, creative, hardworking kids like Alex who endure so much pain and suffering yet still fight and persevere to excel in school and extracurricular activities. His memory will always be cherished in the hearts and minds of his Owl family."

In a campuswide email Sept. 22, Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson wrote, "We can feel honored that [Alex] chose to join Rice at this challenging time in his life. Let us pause to remember him and to appreciate how fortunate we all are to be part of a caring campus community with exceptional people like him. Let us also pause to take care of each other during our times of sadness, to reach out when we need help, and to reach out to those who need help."



More from The Rice Thresher

NEWS 1/22/20 12:09am
O-Week PAAs will no longer be affiliated with O-Week groups

Beginning the fall of 2020, Orientation Week Peer Academic Advisors will no longer also serve as O-Week advisors. The Office of Academic Advising instituted this change to lower the mental and physical strain for students chosen for those positions, according to Aliya Bhimani. 


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