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10 photos of seriously wounded vets remind us about the real costs of war.

It's not rude: These photos were meant to be stared at.

10 photos of seriously wounded vets remind us about the real costs of war.

Photographer David Jay specializes in fashion and beauty, stuff that's "beautiful and sexy — and completely untrue," as he puts it. But that's not all he photographs.

Three years ago, Jay began to take pictures of young, severely wounded soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trigger warning: These portraits don't shy away from wounded bodies.


Be prepared. I found them shocking at first. But keep looking. The more I looked, the more beauty and humanity I found reflected here. (The photo captions are from the Jay's Unknown Soldier Project Facebook page.)

This is 1st Lt. Nicholas John Vogt, U.S. Army. On Nov. 12, 2011, he was severely injured by an IED while on a foot-patrol in Panjwaii, Afghanistan. We took these pictures this past weekend in the swimming pool at Walter Reed Medical Center. I asked Nicholas for his permission to post these images and this was his response: "The only thing that I want to pass on is this: Losing limbs is like losing a good friend. We wish we could still be with them, but it wasn't 'in the cards.' Then we get up, remember the good times, and thank God for whatever we have left." Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography. All images used with permission.

In a National Public Radio interview about his project, Jay said, "You can imagine how many times each of these men and women have heard a parent tell their child, 'Don't look. Don't stare at him. That's rude.'"

"I take these pictures so that we can look; we can see what we're not supposed to see. And we need to see them because we created them." — David Jay

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

Jay wants us to see, to become even a little familiar with the tragic loss of limbs and burned skin of wounded vets — his portraits are 4 feet wide — but he also wants us to see them as people and to think about their experiences and those of people in their lives.

This past week, I went to San Antonio, Texas. There I had the privilege of photographing both Daniel Burgess and Bobby Bernier. They are friends. Daniel stepped on a IED, losing one leg and destroying the other. Bobby was hit by incoming artillery, sustaining burns over 60% of his body. He is pictured here with his daughter Layla. Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

This is Maj. Matt Smith. This past week, Matt allowed me to photograph him in his room at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Less than three months ago, on June 8, 2013, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Matt was shot along with five others by a member of the Afghan National Army. The bullet severed his femoral artery, resulting in the amputation of his leg. A private and soulful man, it was an honor to photograph him. Thank you, Maj. Smith. Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

This is Jerral Hancock. He was driving a tank in Iraq. A roadside bomb pierced the armor, breaching the interior. We shot these pics two weeks ago at his home in Lancaster, California, where Jarral lives with his two beautiful children. We ended up hanging out into the night, smokin' ciggys ... so I kept taking pictures. Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

"To the men and women of The Unknown Soldier, I can't thank you enough for your courage and sacrifice ... both on and off the battlefield. It is an honor to photograph you." — David Jay


On July 25, 2012, SFC Cedric King, an Airborne Ranger, was severely injured by an IED while serving his country in Afghanistan. Due to the explosion, Cedric sustained a multitude of internal and external injuries, losing both his legs. Cedric was doing his laps while I was photographing 1st Lt. Nicholas Vogt in the pool at Walter Reed Medical Center last week. Cedric kept watching, so I had to ask. Cedric said, “That man (Nicholas) doesn't know it, but he changed my life. There was a point when I was so down that I thought I couldn't go on. And then one day I saw him swimming ... and I just thought, wow ... if he can go on like that, then I can go on too." Cedric will also change people's lives. Already has. Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

This is Michael Fox, a 27-year-old Marine and an amazing man. On Nov. 15, 2011, Michael was on foot-patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. His is the first picture of "The Unknown Soldier." Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.


This past weekend, I photographed Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris in Houston, Texas. He came up from San Antonio to see one of my other exhibitions, The SCAR Project (www.thescarproject.org). Shilo was severely burned on Feb. 19, 2007, by a roadside bomb estimated at 700 pounds. He lost three men out of a crew of five. Only Shilo and his driver survived the blast. Shilo has a book coming out soon. He is truly an amazing man, and I am honored to call him a friend. Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

"The Unknown Soldier is about neither war or politics ... but rather something infinitely simpler and more powerful." — David Jay

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

The Library of Congress has acquired images from Jay's The Unknown Soldier project as part of its documentation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This speaks to the power of these images in capturing war's aftermath. But they are so much more than documentation.

Pictures like these help those of us who remain at home to begin to comprehend the true human cost of war.

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."