By Julia Preszler, news staff
Eugene “Neil” Fachon, a third-year student at Northeastern characterized by his optimism and kindness, died from a rare form of brain cancer on Feb. 19 at Hope Hospice & Palliative Care in Providence, Rhode Island. He was 20 years old.
Fachon, an industrial engineering major from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, was loved and admired for his caring treatment of others, intelligence and dedication to school. Fachon left Northeastern in the middle of the spring 2016 semester to pursue treatment for diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG).
“Especially during his illness, he’s been so optimistic and reasons to think that bad things that happened were good things,” Evie Fachon, Neil’s older sister, said.
Fachon was born on May 8, 1996, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Fachon’s older sister, Evie Fachon, said he was born on his grandfather’s birthday and given the same name as his grandfather: Eugene Emil. To avoid confusion, Fachon’s family took the last two letters of his first and middle name to form his nickname, Neil.
He graduated in 2014 from East Greenwich High School in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Throughout high school, Fachon was involved in the Student Leadership Training Program (STLP), a group that puts on leadership conferences for teenagers, based in Dudley, Massachusetts.
At Northeastern, Fachon was involved in a multitude of activities, including the Huntington Hall Council and the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He also conducted research about the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon that explains why cities are warmer than their surrounding areas.
In the summer after Fachon’s freshman year, he traveled to Italy as part of a Dialogue of Civilizations program that focused on resource recovery and waste management. Fachon loved exploring Italy and its culture, said Evie Fachon, a senior biology and environmental science double major at Northeastern.
Fachon wrote a blog about his trip called “Sardegna Adventures,” where he wrote about his first few days in Italy.
“Over the past few days, we have explored much of Cagliari, eaten many delicious and exotic foods along with a 13 course meal, begun learning about waste management, made friends with a great group of Italians from Padua and partied our butts off with them!” he wrote on May 16, 2015.
Fachon maintained a 3.9 GPA and excelled in math and chemistry. His sister said he was also a people person. He decided to pursue a career in industrial engineering in order to mesh his academic and social abilities.
“He seemed to think it would be a good way for him to combine his interests and help people solve problems,” Evie Fachon said.
Friends also described Fachon as a thinker. Evie Fachon said her brother would carefully consider issues and devise fully-formed solutions to them. It was difficult to win a logical argument with him.
“Neil is very competitive, and so he would definitely drive me crazy sometimes when it came to playing games or arguing,” she said.
Above all, those who knew Fachon say he was very friendly and kind.
“Even when he was sick, all he wanted to hear about was how we were doing,” said Scott Louis, a third-year physical therapy major and the president of Northeastern’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi. Fachon would have been sworn into the fraternity if he had not needed to leave school to receive medical treatment.
Louis, who first met Fachon during their freshman year when they both lived in White Hall, said he was initially taken aback by Fachon’s kindness.
“At first, it was funny because I couldn’t believe someone could be that nice,” Louis said. “I almost thought he was just messing with me, but he was just that friendly about things.”
Fachon was outgoing. He loved to talk to people and, when needed, draw them out of their shells, Evie Fachon said.
John Lambert, a junior behavioral neuroscience major who also met Fachon as a freshman, recalled a time that Fachon invited Lambert to be a part of his Husky Hunt team during the fall of their sophomore year. Fachon served as the team captain for Husky Hunt, a 24-hour scavenger hunt with teams of Northeastern students. Their team successfully progressed past the qualifying quiz and were able to move onto the scavenger hunt.
Lambert said Fachon was one of the few members on the team who stayed awake for the whole 24 hours. He did anything that needed to be done, whether it was going out into the city to fulfill one of the challenges or staying where the team was set up in Snell Library in order to organize their next move.
Lambert has videos on his phone of Fachon dancing in Snell as part of one of the challenges.
“He didn’t really know how to dance,” Lambert said.
Aside from being a fun-loving individual, Louis remembered Fachon as an extremely selfless person. The members of Beta Theta Pi raised money for the Fachon family to use for living expenses such as food and gas while Fachon was in Houston receiving treatment.
Fachon turned the money away, instead insisting that his fraternity brothers donate to the leadership program, STLP, that had such a large impact on him when he was in high school.
“He loved [STLP] so much because he would see people go from the most quiet and introverted to the most energetic and talkative people in all of camp,” Louis said.
Fachon and his family fought his illness for nearly a year. Originally, doctors thought Fachon’s blurry vision and memory problems were caused by a series of concussions he sustained while roughhousing with friends during September and October 2015.
Around the time of spring break last year, Fachon was diagnosed with DIPG, a rare pediatric cancer that involves the growth of a tumor at the base of the brain, which interferes with functions controlled by the brainstem such as breathing and heart rate, according to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Once diagnosed, Fachon pursued a controversial treatment at a clinic in Houston. At one point, the FDA stopped his treatment out of concern that it was dangerous. Fachon’s family hired a lawyer to contest the FDA. They won the case, receiving a federal court order that allowed Fachon to continue his treatment.
Those close to Fachon marveled at his ability to stay positive during his illness, which has a near-zero percent survival rate.
Louis and Lambert believe Fachon’s ability to keep a positive outlook during his ordeal can only be explained by who Fachon was as a person.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Louis said. “I just think he has more courage and heart than anybody.”
Fachon is survived by his parents, Wendy and Dean Fachon; sister, Evie Fachon; grandfather, Eugene Fachon; grandmother, Ellie Nadherny; and aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Calling hours will be held on Friday, March 10 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Carpenter-Jenks Funeral Home & Crematory in West Warwick, Rhode Island. A memorial service will be held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Greenwich, Rhode Island on Saturday, March 11 at 11 a.m.
Grief counseling is available for Northeastern students through WeCare and University of Health and Counseling Services.