Cancer can’t stop this automotive enthusiast


Courtesy of Ramy Alnass

Ramy Alnass working on the radiator of his Toyota Matrix XRS.

Noah Rozek, Staff Writer

It’s a typical day for senior Ramy Alnass, who’s working on his Toyota XRS Matrix in the driveway. He’s replacing his radiator with his trademark safety goggles on, as always.

Alnass is one of many automotive enthusiasts who spends his free time repairing and modifying cars. But for him, it has transcended a hobby to become an integral part of his life. 

Alnass’ commitment to automotive maintenance placed him fifth in state at the SkillsUSA automotive competition 2019, throwing preconceptions about his ability out the window.

“Ramy was one of the first freshmen to take [Automotive] 2 and I was afraid he wasn’t mature enough,”  CTE teacher Chris Feid said. “He proved me wrong right away.” 

Alnass’ interest in cars was sparked since his brother  who first introduced him to this hobby. Since then, the young enthusiast has built upon his knowledge by taking advantage of resources on YouTube and at Naperville Central.

“The first [project] was a go kart I made completely from scratch,”  Alnass said. “It was passed down by my brother, and I had my own way with it.”

As Alnass continued to work, peers noticed his ability not only mechanically, but also in a group environment.

“He perseveres, he’s resilient, he doesn’t give up,” senior Ahmad Alramahi said. “He ran into so many issues with [go kart he had been working on]. It took him over a year and he never gave up on it. He wanted it to be exactly what he envisioned and so he really kept at it.”

Alnass’ perseverance was tested when he noticed a small cut on his tongue in April 2020. Alnass visited the doctor’s office after it became more noticeably painful, and eventually had the newly developed mass surgically removed and tested.

When the doctors returned, the results were what they least expected: oral cancer. It had invaded five millimeters. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, only one case per 500,000 tested are reported in ages 0-19 each year.

“My reaction to when I first got [the news] was very mundane,” Alnass said. “Okay, it’s okay. I can handle myself.”

At first it was only surgery, but as school began in 2020, so did radiation therapy, making Alnass lose more than 20 pounds.

“That’s when I realized how bad it was, when I had to do the radiation therapy the pain I felt then was… indescribable,” Alnass said. “When people say ‘I have a high pain tolerance,’ my response to that is that you haven’t gone through enough pain.”

In order to maintain some degree of functionality, there were sections of his forearm that were surgically removed and inserted into the tongue, leaving Alnass with forearm scars to remember. 

Alnass also faced added pressure at school, especially when he was accused of cheating in a class.

“Seeing all that made me realize that I’m grateful to have the friends and family that have and that I can rely on them when things get tough,” Alnass said.

Alnass said that while he had the tools to deal with the extenuating circumstances of cancer, the pandemic and improper educational care, other students under different circumstances could have a serious issue due to the lack of communication from the school.

“I find it very sad that there are other students who went through medical or mental health issues, something similar or even worse than I did,” Alnass said. “They might not have that support system, and the fact that the school might be against them as well and those services aren’t really being provided. It just makes you think what is that student going to say? They’re gonna feel like they’re hopeless.”

This became a large motivational factor for Alnass to propose the idea of a new council to voice student opinions, it already has gained traction with interest from all grade levels.

“He’s always been the same. He always will be the same,” Alramahi said. “Very energetic, very passionate and very, very bright. He brings a lot of energy into a room.”