Summer academy student’s work on neural stem cells is tribute to father

August 7, 2014 | by

Stevee Rowe has a very personal connection to the research she’s conducting on neural stem cells: Her late father participated in a City of Hope clinical trial involving neural stem cells.

Student Stevee Rowe

Stevee Rowe is researching neural stem cells through the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy. (Photo by Darrin S. Joy)

Rowe — her full name is Alissa Stevee Rowe, but she prefers to use her middle name — will enter her senior year at the University of California, Riverside, this fall. She currently is enrolled in the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy. Her project examines neural stem cells used to target brain cancer.

Her father, Steven Keith Rowe, was a patient at City of Hope who enrolled in a clinical trial to treat his brain tumor with neural stem cells. “My father wanted to help further research and was always willing to try anything he could,” she said. Now she hopes to do the same.

A loving father and husband

An outdoor enthusiast, Keith Rowe (who, like his daughter, preferred to use his middle name) often would take Stevee and her two sisters exploring near their Victorville, California, home when they were young. They would search for lizards, frogs, snakes and other desert creatures.

“He taught us the meaning in life and to always be kind to animals. This is one of my best memories with my father,” Rowe said.

Married to Isabel Rowe for nearly 30 years, Keith was diagnosed in August 2010 at age 47 with glioma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. After initial treatment at another medical facility, Rowe persuaded her parents to seek a second opinion at City of Hope. Two weeks later, her father underwent a brain scan at City of Hope. The test revealed the tumor was still present, and Keith was admitted for treatment.

Following a two-year battle that included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and three clinical trials, Keith succumbed to the disease. Though saddened by their loss, Rowe and her family are grateful for the extra time Keith gained through treatment at City of Hope.

A chance to further her father’s legacy

While her father received treatment at City of Hope, Rowe would sometimes see summer academy students on campus. She decided to apply for an academy position and was accepted for this year’s session.

Ultimately, Rowe hopes her efforts during the summer help advance trials like the one in which her father participated. Beyond her summer academy work at City of Hope, she aims to enter medical school after graduating from the university.

“If I can get into medical school, I want to be an oncologist,” she said. “It’s the only specialty I’d consider.” That focus just might be what her future patients — perhaps those like her father — need to turn the tide on the disease.


Learn more about the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy at City of Hope and about our brain tumor research.


  • alissa rowe

    My story: contributing to my article above.

    August 13th, 2010 –
    August 17th, 2012

    My father was initially having many headaches and cold
    chills. He would turn pale yellow and perspiration would become present. He
    loved his job and continued working under these conditions. One late night I
    woke with an uneasy feeling. I walked to the living room and found my father in
    great pain. It scared me to see him this way. He was never one to complain
    about anything and he sat there waiting for his headache to go away. Not waking
    any of us for help. He was so compassionate and caring that his pain and
    suffering weighed less to him than waking us from sleep. I knew then we needed
    to go to the emergency room. We had no health insurance at the time and he did
    not want to acquire us a bill, a bill was the last thing on our minds. We
    wanted answers; we wanted him to be okay. I woke everyone because I knew they
    would all want to go, we are a close knit family and very supportive of each
    other. My mother, younger sister and I all gathered together and I drove him to
    a nearby hospital the next city over. We entered the doors and were quickly
    seen by medical professionals. One mentioned, “Here let’s take this guy,
    he will be quick he only has a headache”. I now look back and think
    “he only had a headache”, how inconsiderate was this gentlemen to
    make that assumption. Shortly after they performed a brain scan and it was
    found, the mass, the ugly tumor that took my families lives away that night.
    The shock we all felt was unforgettable. Due to us having no insurance they
    transported my father to the nearest county hospital. Arrowhead Regional center
    was our next stop that day.

    My father taught me to drive at a young age because I had
    a great interest in cars and wanting to drive. I now was 19 years old and that
    day I drove the freeway for a long distance for my first time. I drove with my
    mom beside me and my sister in the back seat. The car was quiet and I had tear
    filled eyes. We arrived at our destination and had to wait 2 hours to see my
    father again. The hospital was crowded and filled with sick people; I now look
    back and see all these people that were there, but at that moment I seen nobody
    present. I was in a trance wondering when I would wake up from this bad dream.
    The doctors that day told us my father had Glioblastoma multiforme IV, a very
    aggressive brain tumor. That he needed surgery immediately and that he might
    not be able to recognize us when he woke from this surgery. We sat beside him
    all morning and night, we prayed and we walked to the hospital chapel. My
    father believed that God always listened to me. I am no one special; I did not
    think this was true. He asked me to read the bible and pray. For him I read
    healing prayers and we prayed as a family. Shortly after they moved him to a
    private hospital room where we sat the rest of the night starring at one
    another, and talking. I stayed up all night in a chair at the end of his bed
    taking this day all in. Praying he would make it through surgery, remembering
    him as he was, just admiring him all night. I was scared, and lost. I did not
    know why this was happening to my family, to my father of all people. The best
    father in the world, the most loving individual anyone could ask for in their
    lives. The Sun rose quickly and it was time for surgery. I did not want this
    night to end because I knew he would go under the knife that morning. I seen
    his eyes, the tears and the fright in them shattered my heart. To see him
    scared but not trying to frighten us was hard. This day was him and him only,
    yet he was worried about us. We were not okay, but we also were not undergoing
    invasive brain surgery. He was so brave.

    Hours later his
    surgery was over, and they rolled his bed by us. My mother yelled his name,
    “Keith”. He replied “yea” slowly but he replied. We were
    happy to see he recognized us. The doctors came to speak with us and mentioned
    that they removed the entire tumor and just left bread crumbs. The joy we all
    felt and the relief was great. Two weeks later he was going to start
    chemotherapy and radiation therapy at Arrowhead regional center. I felt uneasy
    about this and told my mom we need a second opinion. Something inside me told
    myself that something still was not right. We called City of Hope and the very
    next day we got a phone call that they had a cancellation and we could bring my
    father in for a clinical visit. We met with one of the most caring doctors I
    know, Dr. Jana Portnow. She continued to be my dad’s oncologist the remainder
    of his 2year and 4 day battle. They did a brain scan and revealed that the
    tumor was still present, and could see where the other hospital removed tumor,
    but it looked like just a biopsy. My father was going to start treatment at
    Arrowhead and it would not have worked because his tumor was still very large.
    I remembered the doctor’s words that they had removed all the tumor and just
    left bread crumbs. These words will forever haunt me. They were not true and we
    were very grateful for the second opinion at City of Hope. They performed
    another surgery; this was my father’s 2nd surgery in a month time. He began
    radiation and chemotherapy. He participated in clinical trials that City of
    Hope had to offer and this I believe is what gave my family and me hope and
    more time with my father. Over the
    course of the time he underwent 3 brain surgeries and 3 clinical trials. We
    built a new normal for our family at City of Hope. My sister, my mother and I
    never missed an appointment with my father. My parents stayed several months on
    and off at City of Hope’s village while my sister and I took care of the house
    an hour and a half away. We came on weekends to spend the nights with my father;
    we built a new home at City of Hope.

    Towards the end of
    my father’s life we as a family became one complete soul. When my father’s soul
    went away we felt like ours went away as well. I am forever grateful for City
    of Hope and my Boyfriend who lifted my dad during his entire hospice term. My
    father lost all functions, even talking went away his last month of his life.
    To see such a strong man this way changes your outlook on life. My dad taught
    my sisters and me the importance of life. That day of August though I did not
    want to go on anymore. Life still is very difficult to imagine without my
    father, and he has almost been gone 2 years. Within these two years I had three
    jobs at once to help support my family, moved away from home and transferred
    schools. I now will attend my senior year at the University of Riverside and
    joined City of Hope as a summer academy student researching a cure for cancer. To
    working closely with doctors that helped my father, and clinical trials that
    helped him as well. I never imagined life to turn out this way. To be so knowledgeable
    of such a deadly disease, to want to kill this disease, to not having a father
    anymore, to not knowing what tomorrow will bring. One thing I do know is I
    truly dislike cancer; I want it gone from everyone who suffers from this
    terrible disease. My father wanted this too. He wanted there to be a cure, if
    not in his lifetime then in mine. I can only help contribute to this by
    hopefully becoming an oncologist and helping others like my father.

    Cancer went on to attack my father’s brother, who passed
    away several months after my dad’s passing. He had passed away from Colon cancer;
    my dad’s mother passed away from Melanoma metastasized to brain cancer, my
    dad’s grandma passed away from brain cancer, my dad’s sister passed away
    shortly after my dad’s brother from a heart attack. Cancer is too personal, it will know one day
    that it attacked the wrong family. I will try to strive my hardest to find a

    • City of Hope

      Hi Stevee, thank you again for sharing your family’s story with us, and for all your support. You’re in inspiration to us all and we know you’re going to accomplish great things with your dedication. Good luck with school and everything!