7 older adults share the life lessons they'd give to their younger selves.
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Ad Council + Meals on Wheels

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

First off, no, we have not invented a time machine to actually help you do this. Second of all: This is serious! You can't just do the "Back to the Future Part II" thing where you give your former self a copy of a book of sports scores so they can bet on every game and win billions.

We see you, Biff Tanner. Both of you.


If you're like me — and it's totally fair if you're not, and I'm just a bit weird — you're probably taking a few minutes to think carefully about what you might say to a version of you from years or decades before. Would you suggest doing things differently or to keep on the same path? Would you talk of future love or caution about loss? Would you prefer to reveal what's to come or keep it a surprise?

Meals on Wheels posed this very question to some of the lovely humans who use their services across America. They shared the moments that moved them and the things they wish they’d known when they were younger. Here are seven of our favorites.

1. "Don't play tennis on Mother's Day — unless you're playing with her." — Stanley Smart

All images by Mark Seliger, used with permission.

Reserving Mother's Day for tennis matches is just one way Stanley "Royal" Smart honored the memory of his mom. For years, she sent birthday packets to friends and family on their birthdays. After she passed away, he took on the responsibility in her memory.

Stanley wants his former self to stay in touch with family and always "live life to the fullest."

2. "Stay open to adventure." — Lola Silvestri

Lola Silvestri always loved the fun and adventure of ice skating. Little did she know, it would end up being the hobby that led her to her beloved husband, Larry.

The two met at a rink in Santa Rosa, California, where Larry was training to become a professional hockey player. After two years of dating, they married. For 70 wonderful years, they shared a life of love, adventure, friends, family, and fun. She'd tell her younger self to "carry on with a sense of humor" and remember that close relationships with family and friends "mean everything to have a happier life in the years ahead."

3 & 4. "Never go to bed angry." — Charles and Maude Spann

Charles and Maude Spann have been married for an incredible 76 years. Their daughter Carol calls them the "most loving and understanding parents" and an "incredible pair."

As the family tells it, Charles fell instantly for Maude — and her fashionable pageboy haircut — after seeing her at church with his mother. After they married, Charles and Maude traveled the world, including a family cruise through the Panama Canal, where they held a surprise renewal of their wedding vows.

Though time has slowed them down, their love has kept them young at heart. They'd want their younger selves to know one thing: Accept each others' flaws and, above all, never ever go to bed angry at the person you love.

5. "Finish school." — Anna Bach

Anna Bach has a lot of advice for her younger self, particularly about prioritizing education and work. Along with focusing on her schooling, she said she'd tell her younger self to “have family a little later in life to save a little money. Buy homes and all that first before starting a family." Why? "Once you have a family, you are tied up, kind of," she says. "Buy a home first, because the rent you pay is all the time gone, and you have only receipts to show.”

6. "Don't be afraid to try something new. You can find adventure around the corner." — Phyllis Keppler

For Phyllis Keppler, wanderlust has always been a part of life. Working as a journalist, she had amazing opportunities to travel the world, from the jungles of South America to the deserts of the Middle East to active war zones, sometimes with her young children. Phyllis wouldn't have missed a second of any of it — and she'd encourage her younger self to dive in to new opportunities without hesitation.

“Don’t be afraid to venture out and try something new. Don’t always cling to what you know and traditions. Give it a try. I’ve done some strange things in my lifetime, and I don’t regret it at all.”

7. "Don’t always go with the flow. The flow always goes downhill." — Louis Clarizio

Louis Clarizio knows a lot about unconventional paths. In 1950, he became one of only six white professional baseball players to ever participate in the Negro Leagues. His career with the team didn't last long, but his love of baseball still keeps him going today. To his younger self, he'd share a choice batting tip: "When you get in the batter’s box, never look at any of the ball players. When you scan the field, scan only between them. Never look at anybody, just always scan between them. Then I guarantee you that ball will go between them when you hit it.”

However much we'd want — or wouldn't want — to send messages to our former selves, we can only guess what we might say, or whether it would have any impact on what happens next.

The best thing we can do is to listen to people who've lived much of their lives and learn from the words of wisdom they have for us.

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."