5 lessons I've learned from seeing my childhood friends become dads.
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Fathers Everywhere

I'm not a dad — not yet, anyway. But if all goes according to plan, I'll probably become one sooner than later.

My wife assures me that I'm going to be the Objectively Greatest Dad in Dad History; she says it's half the reason she married me. But now that I'm facing down the potential of a fatherly future, it's also a little terrifying.

However, I'm fortunate to have some friends who are in the throes of fatherhood themselves. And as I've watched them all dadding in their unique ways, I've learned a few lessons that I hope to carry with me when I embark on that same journey.


Me and my dad in matching ugly sweaters, circa ... 1990? He did a pretty good job of teaching me the ropes, too.

1. To Anik, for warning me that my priorities and perspectives are going to change — and that's OK.

Even though you wanted to be a dad, you said your wife would always be your #1 priority. But then Ronan was born and, well, I think you'll both admit that he's taken that top spot (which is totally understandable).

Now when we go out and talk politics, you're no longer interested in abstract ideas about making the world better for the future. Now the policies you care about are so precise because they're things that make a difference for Ronan.

Also, I kind of love that every time I tell you about a play or short story I'm working on, you start suggesting ways that I could make it accessible for RoRo.

All photos courtesy of their respective dads, used with permission.

2. To Dave, for letting me know that dads can still have fun and be responsible (even if that does mean carting children to a brewery).

You've taught me that a balance exists between parenting and leisure and that I don't have to fill some boring, stuffy dad stereotype.

Sometimes when I see you, it's a quick hello to trade some cans of microbrew; sometimes we're drinking those cans on your back porch while your parents look after your little girl inside. You've found a way to keep yourself happy and sane with the music, painting, and brewing that you love so much, but in ways that still let you look after your new #1 priority: your daughter.

I hope I can do that, too. I also hope you're able to buy that dream house you've been looking for soon, where she can safely play in the yard and neighborhood while you keep an eye on her from wherever your drums are set up.

3. To Nick, for teaching me that there's nothing wrong with staying home — because dads need self-care, too.

When Elliot came into the world just as your graduate program was ending, with your post-graduation plans still up in the air, I was understandably concerned.

But then, when your wife went back to work, you rose to the challenge by staying home and being a dad. I still tried inviting you to concerts, movies, and games, sometimes goading and negotiating because I thought it'd be good for you to get out of the house, and I felt like a lousy friend when you couldn't come along. But now I realize that you were doing what you had to do for your wallet, your family, and your mental health.

And it all paid off, because when you go back to school in the fall, you'll finally get to be the Space Doctor Dad that you've always wanted to be.

4. To Andrew, for knowing how to dress a child.

This isn't surprising because you were always the most impeccable dresser in our group, second only to your wife. Every time I see another picture of sweet little Rae in a dinosaur costume or some kind of silly jumpsuit, I'm in awe. It's impossible to look at those precious photos and not feel a smile stretch across your face.

You've set a high bar of cuteness for us future parents to strive toward — because let's face it, adorable baby photos are of the utmost importance.

5. To Jake, for reminding me that sometimes the only thing harder than being a dad is not being a dad.

I know I said that, if all went to plan, I'd probably be a dad sooner or later. But as I've watched you and your wife struggle with conception this last year or so, I'm reminded that things don't always go according to plan.

We hear a lot about unintended pregnancies, but we don't hear as much about the people who are longing for that kind of happy accident, who are ready and willing to face the challenge of raising a child — if only they could.

I can't fully understand yet just how much it hurts when you see other dads bringing their kids to the record store. But if we end up having the same struggle, I'll know that it's nothing to be ashamed of and that you'll be there beside me no matter how big or small either of our families are.

Image via Aaron Cohen/YouTube.

So to my dad friends on Father's Day: thanks for all the accidental advice and for giving me another thing to celebrate this year.

Fatherhood can be intimidating, and there's no one right way to do it. But I'm glad to have friends like you around to point me in the right direction when I'm struggling to fill those fatherly shoes.

For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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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."