18 men opened up about what it's like being a man in rural America.

Brendan Stermer grew up in rural Minnesota. So when he studied abroad in South Korea during college, he found his world turned upside down.

All photos by Pioneer Public Television, used with permission.

A student at the University of Minnesota in Morris, Stermer spent a year learning about Confucian philosophy in South Korea. Then he came home and got a job at a local produce warehouse.


The two worlds couldn't have been more different, and neither could the people inhabiting them.

The men in Stermer's town and his coworkers drove pickup trucks. They lifted weights. They owned guns.

His male friends in South Korea had been sentimental and open about their feelings. They encouraged him to spruce up his wardrobe and buy expensive facial moisturizers.

As a 21-year-old guy just coming into his own, Stermer felt more than a little confused about what "being a man" really meant. So he decided to ask a few of the men he knew.

Armed with his iPhone, Stermer set out to interview the men who inhabited his rural stomping grounds about what being a man means to them.

"One defining characteristic of manhood in rural Minnesota is that people don't like to talk about themselves," he said. "I definitely got turned down a lot."

But slowly, Stermer was able to gather a motley crew of guys who were willing to open up on camera for the project, which would be turned into a five-episode web series for a local public television station.

Cops, cowboys, college students, you name it. The questions were simple and broad. And though many of the volunteers were a little reluctant once the camera started rolling, they eventually warmed up.

Stermer said it's hard to draw many conclusions from his survey since the sample size was so small, but he learned a few important things nonetheless:

1. There was a lot of confusion and disagreement on the "role" of men in a changing society.

The question that drew the widest range of responses from the men was: "What is the role of men in family and community life?"

Some felt strongly that men should be leaders, breadwinners, and providers. Others didn't think there was (or should be) any difference between how men and women were expected to behave.

Stermer said this debate continued during a public screening of his series of interviews.

"Some people were saying, 'Oh, that gives me so much hope that we've finally moved beyond this gender binary,'" Stermer said. "Which was contrasted by other people saying, 'That really causes me to feel grief because I feel like we're forgetting about the reality of the body.'"

He said he personally believes in moving beyond rigid and antiquated ideas about gender, but by listening to the different perspectives of those in his community, he at least has come to understand both points of view a bit more.

2. He noticed a lot of men in America are somewhat emotionally isolated.

In one of the episodes, Stermer asks the men, "Is there anything you don't talk to your male friends about?" The responses were striking.

One man said, "I don't share a whole lot of my private life or anything."

"Some of the softer side of the things that we do on the job," one of the police officers responded, "[like] breaking down in tears after you're at an accident scene involving minor children, infants."

It's no surprise that many men have trouble opening up, but Stermer says he was definitely affected by talking to so many men who didn't feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other.

"I hope that we make space for emotional vulnerability and weakness in our perception of masculinity in our country," Stermer said. "And that more men will rediscover experiences like passion and grief and interdependence not as feminine experiences, but as fundamentally human."

3. Talking about themselves and about men's issues seemed to bring the men closer together.

It wasn't all heavy debate on gender roles and repressed feelings. In one of the more lighthearted episodes, the men share something about themselves that others might find "unmanly."

One guy joked about how he can't grow a beard. Two of the older men shared a laugh over their shared distaste for beer.

"Every group that I interviewed had a really good time," Stermer said. "I think they came out of the experience feeling closer to each other."

When all was said and done, Stermer wound up even more confused about what makes someone a man.

But that's OK, he said. In fact, maybe that's the whole point.

Stermer's goal was not to come away with clear answers, but to reflect on his own views of masculinity and to encourage others to do the same. In the end, he was encouraged to find so many different, flexible ideas of what manliness is all about.

"I think I have a more nuanced understanding of my identity as a man now," he said. "But it's definitely a topic I have a lot more questions about and I want to continue to explore."

Check out the first episode of Stermer's series, "Manhood in Rural America," or check out all the interviews online at Pioneer Public Television.

Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

The "Big 5" is an old term from the colonial era, denoting the five wild animals in Africa that were the most sought-after kills for trophy hunters. Killing those five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—meant ultimate success in the big-game hunting world.

Now there's a "New Big 5," but instead of a barbaric goal for trophy hunters, it's a beautiful goal for wildlife photographers.

The initiative was created by British wildlife photographer Graeme Green with the goal of raising awareness about threats to the world's animals including habitat loss, poaching, illegal animal trade, and climate change. In a global call for votes, 50,000 wildlife lovers shared which animals they most wanted to photograph or see in photos. And the winners are:

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Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

The "Big 5" is an old term from the colonial era, denoting the five wild animals in Africa that were the most sought-after kills for trophy hunters. Killing those five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—meant ultimate success in the big-game hunting world.

Now there's a "New Big 5," but instead of a barbaric goal for trophy hunters, it's a beautiful goal for wildlife photographers.

The initiative was created by British wildlife photographer Graeme Green with the goal of raising awareness about threats to the world's animals including habitat loss, poaching, illegal animal trade, and climate change. In a global call for votes, 50,000 wildlife lovers shared which animals they most wanted to photograph or see in photos. And the winners are:

Keep Reading Show less
True

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."