It isn’t every day that a person gets a chance to realize their lifelong dream of appearing on the popular gameshow Jeopardy! It’s rarer still for someone to win six times in a row and then donate their winnings to cancer research. But that’s just what 41-year old Cindy Stowell from Austin, Texas, did this past week. Episode after episode, she played to win, making smart bets and even coming from behind twice to overcome tough opponents.
What her fellow contestants did not know, though, was that Cindy had stage 4 colon cancer and had been given mere months to live before she learned that she qualified to appear on the show. During taping in August, she was battling a blood infection and fever. But she didn’t let that stop her. As the New York Times and many other news outlets have reported, getting the chance to compete was a welcome distraction for her and her loved ones, who had all been dealing with the knowledge that Cindy had stopped responding to treatment.
This was a very pleasant surprise at a time when a lot of things weren’t going right for her,” [longtime boyfriend Jason Hess] said of the show. “She threw everything she could into it, and you can see the results.
Sadly, Cindy died earlier this month, just a week before her episodes aired. In an interview with CNN’s “New Day,” Cindy’s brother, Greg Stowell, shared what it was like to watch his sister on television so soon after cancer claimed her life.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I got to be there in person for the tapings…and despite knowing the ultimate outcome, I still ended up cheering for her with my wife and kids.”
After Cindy’s final appearance on Wednesday’s episode, host Alex Trebek gave a touching message of condolence to Cindy’s family. The show also released on its website a video of Cindy sharing how she always dreamed of being a contestant on Jeopardy!, and how she was determined to help others facing cancer by supporting research.
Cindy’s story has inspired others to give to the Cancer Research Institute with donations made in her memory. All donations CRI receives in Cindy’s memory will go toward funding research into developing lifesaving immunotherapies for patients with colorectal cancer.
Last year, CRI announced that it had formed a partnership with Fight Colorectal Cancer, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of the colorectal cancer patient community, to work toward developing effective immunotherapies for these patients.
Recent clinical studies have shown that, for colorectal cancer patients whose tumors have high levels of certain genetic mutations, current immunotherapeutic strategies can be very effective. Stephen Estrada, who received treatment with immunotherapy and is beating the odds against his stage 4 colorectal cancer, is one example of the promise this treatment approach holds. The goal of the research CRI and Fight CRC will fund together is to learn how to make immunotherapy more effective in all colorectal cancer patients.
Dr. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, CEO and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute, shared this message:
“Like Cindy, we believe that funding research is how we will get to cures for all cancers. Our hearts go out to her family and loved ones on this tragic loss. But we are also grateful for Cindy’s courage and her determination to turn her spotlight on the urgent need to fund more colorectal cancer research.”
If you would like to make a donation in Cindy’s memory, you can do so here. All donations are tax-deductible as provided by law.