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5 lessons from 9/11 that won't be in the history books.

Sept. 11, 2001, taught us things that will never make it into the history books. It's time to pass those lessons on.

5 lessons from 9/11 that won't be in the history books.

Today is the anniversary of 9/11.

Right now, there are teenagers walking around texting, having their first kiss, and skipping class who have lived their entire lives after Sept. 11, 2001. Isn't that crazy?


I've been thinking a lot about kids lately. I've imagined what it would be like to raise a little human one day, and I've pictured all the memorable experiences that we will share together.

Photo by Sabine Nuffer/Pixabay.

But it hit me just how many major moments in world history, like 9/11, that I have lived through that will be nothing more to my kids someday than pictures in a textbook or the subject of a summer blockbuster movie.

These children will probably learn the details of that day in school. They will read how many people lost their lives and about the political response that ultimately led to the war in Iraq.

But that time was so much more than news events and politics. 9/11 taught us deep lessons about life, humanity, and ourselves that will never make it into a history book. Which of those special lessons will we pass on to the next generation? Here are my five:

1. There is no such thing as "far away."

From the moment the towers fell, the news was full of theories about American "interests" and actions abroad. For those of us who were younger and not personally connected to any country outside the U.S., it may have been the first time we'd really given any thought to the relationship between the other side of the world and our own personal lives — let alone Middle East politics. It was the awakening of the idea of global connectedness for us.

Photo by Vano Schlamov/Getty Images.

It also exposed us to the love and support of people all over the world who had no reason to care about our pain beyond the simple fact that we are all human. 9/11 taught us that what happens in one place has ripple effects that extend across the globe. We should never stop looking out into the world and paying attention to issues, cultures, and global realities different from our own. We should never stop recognizing that it's our common humanity and our capacity for empathy that connect us all.

2. You can't put a timeline on healing.

Just last month, survivor Marcy Borders — who was photographed covered head to toe in dust in an iconic 9/11 photo — died of cancer at the age of 41. She believed that her illness was directly connected to effects from that day. And she may have been right. The CDC's World Trade Center Health Program reports that thousands of survivors and first responders have been diagnosed with cancers that resulted from the attack.

Healing from trauma can take an unpredictable amount of time.

These stories and the stories of survivors still battling PTSD offer us a valuable lesson: Just as America is still dealing with the vicious legacy of slavery over a century later, just as victims of childhood abuse may struggle with the effects well into their adulthood, healing from trauma in any form can take an unpredictable amount of time. The scars aren't always obvious and they usually can't be erased with a quick fix.

That's why we have to be able to look beyond what we can immediately see to be compassionate, understanding, and supportive of those who have been hurt — for as long it takes.

3. Behind every major headline is one person's story begging to be heard.

For weeks after the attacks, you couldn't turn on the TV without seeing a slideshow of faces. Every photo of a 9/11 victim was accompanied by a name and a story. Every person became more than just a number. They became real. Seeing their pictures and stories made me feel love and solidarity in a way that opened up my heart.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

I learned then about something called statistical numbing. It's why we're less able to process the pain of thousands of people dying than we are when we hear the story of the loss of a single life. 9/11 helped me to think of every major story in the headlines — the mass genocide, hunger, and injustice that we hear about every day — as one person's story. Remembering this lesson can grow your heart a thousand times and inspire true empathy.

4. Your values will always be challenged in times of chaos. And that's exactly when they matter most.

I recently asked a friend of mine what she remembered about 9/11. Her answer shook me to my core. For her, it was the day that she started being harassed and mercilessly bullied at school. That was the day her parents sat her down and told her she was no longer safe. And that was the day that set in motion a series of events that ultimately forced her Muslim American family to move to a different neighborhood for fear of hate crimes.

After 9/11, America was so gripped with grief and panic that we allowed some of our most important values — diversity, equality, and privacy, for example — to be overtaken by fear. Just a quick look at the hashtag #AfterSeptember11 on Twitter reveals how many people are still suffering the consequences of this. What I learned in the aftermath of 9/11 is that, in the face of fear and chaos, it's vital to hold on to your values tightly. It may be difficult, but that's when those values are most at-risk.

5. There is a never-ending supply of good in the world.

It sounds cheesy, but over and over again, we see that in the midst of terrible times, the good in people continues to shine. Americans all over the country came together after 9/11. For a moment in time, all races, ethnicities, and religions joined together to mourn those who were lost, to rebuild what had fallen, and to create a renewed sense of community. It wasn't the first time that happened — and it certainly wasn't the last.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and after the shootings at Sandy Hook. We continue to see it on a day-to-day basis. Like when thousands of people sent money to help a stranger they read about on the internet. 9/11 taught me the true value and impact of compassion. Our task, each and every day, is to live our lives at peak goodness and humanity — even when we're not in a crisis situation. If we do that, we'll never lose our sense of hope that the world truly can be a better place.

These are just a few of the lessons that I hope every child takes with them when they learn about Sept. 11, 2001.

What lessons would you share?

via Pixabay

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It's good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don't see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

"Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

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via Pixabay

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It's good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don't see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

"Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

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."