8 times the 'helpers' eased the pain of sad situations in 2015.

2015 was an intense year.

Some pretty amazing things happened. The Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage, we made incredible progress in space exploration, and yet another country eradicated polio.

But we faced some seriously difficult times, too. There were many mass shootings in the U.S., Paris suffered a terrible terrorist attack, and all around the world, girls as young as 8 years old were still being forced to marry. And like every year, 2015 was another that saw ongoing problems, like homelessness and hunger.


But even in the tragic and sad times, there were so many people who showed us the very best of humanity. So many people who reminded us that the good far outweighs the bad.

Mister Rogers calls them the helpers.

Actually, his mom called them the helpers, but close enough!

Sometimes the helpers are those who, in the wake of a tragedy, are quite literally saving lives. There are also the quieter helpers. The ones who are there to do what they can, long after the news cameras have gone. The ones who see serious everyday problems and know that even small gestures of compassion can make a world of difference.

There were a lot of helpers in 2015.

Here are eight of them that I want to remember because they remind me of the good in the world and inspire me to do my part when I can, no matter how small, to help make the world a better place.

1. A California mom found a way to help Syrian refugees with young children.

Image via "Today."

By now, we've all read about the Syrian refugee crisis: Millions of people have been forced to flee Syria, leaving everything behind. They have to travel great distances, often risking death, to reach safety.

When Cristal Logothetis noticed how many refugees were carrying their babies and young children for long distances, she decided to do something about it.

She raised money and began collecting baby carriers, which she and other volunteers personally deliver to those who need them as they're traveling to safety. She called her movement Carry the Future. And as a result of that movement, refugees are better able to travel more safely and comfortably with babies and little kids.

"All they're trying to do is get to a better place and protect their family," Logothetis said in a Today interview. "Not only do they have a problem solved for them by receiving a carrier, but they realize that people care about them, that people want to help."

2. Two Muslim organizations joined forces and helped the families of the San Bernardino shooting victims by raising nearly $200,000.

Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The day after 14 people were killed in the San Bernardino mass shooting, two Californians knew they needed to do something to help. Neurologist and president of MiNDS Network Faisal Qazi and founder of CelebrateMercy Tarek El-Messidi got together and formed Muslims United for San Bernardino. Their original goal? To raise $50,000 for the victims' families. But with the help of many people who donated money, they raised over $215,000 for the family members of those whose lives were tragically stolen.

"This united American Muslim campaign aims to reclaim our faith from extremists by responding to evil with good, by rebuilding what they destroy," El-Messidi said in a press release. "We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action."

3. This Ohio pizza shop fed the hungry on Thanksgiving.

Photo by Bada Bing! Pizzeria/Facebook, used with permission.

Homelessness and hunger are both big problems that many people face every single day. Over 48 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they have "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods."

Jason Hague, owner of Bada Bing! Pizzeria, was already planning on having a Thanksgiving dinner for his friends and family. He thought: Why not invite more folks? He put out on open invitation for anyone who couldn't afford a meal to join them. Hague initially thought they'd have maybe 15 guests, but after news of their offer spread, he realized they needed to be prepared for more. His pizzeria bought enough food to feed 100 additional guests. It was just one meal on one day, but imagine how much of a difference it would make if everyone who was able helped in small ways, like donating to food banks?

4. A paramedic left in the middle of her own wedding to help the victims of an accident.

Photo by Marcy Martin, used with permission.

In between her wedding ceremony and reception, Sarah Ray learned that there was an accident a mile away. It turned out that her father and grandparents were involved. She and her new husband, also a paramedic, immediately left their wedding and raced to the scene, where she assisted her family members — while still rocking her wedding dress.

"This is a testament that people that work in EMS are always on duty. It is a testament to the willingness to help others," Jimmie Edwards, who is both Sarah and Paul's boss, said. True story! Thank you to the helpers who are the first responders in difficult situations.

5. Muslims raised money to rebuild Christian churches that were damaged and destroyed by fires.

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

In June, there was yet another terrible mass shooting that stole the lives of nine members of a black Christian church in Charleston, South Carolina. As if that wasn't awful enough, at least eight churches with black congregations were burned in the wake of the shooting, many of them as a result of suspected arson. The suspected reason for the fires started by arson was racism. The outward displays of it seemed to worsen following the mass shooting, which was racially motivated, and subsequent call to remove the confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse.

A handful of Muslim American groups began raising money to help members of those Christian congregations rebuild their houses of worship. The Muslim groups exceeded their funding goal of $100,000 — now that's an example of people living out faith through their actions.

6. This family invited homeless people to enjoy a wedding reception dinner when the groom backed out.

When their daughter's fiancé called off the wedding at the very last minute, the Duane family from California decided not to let all that amazing food go to waste. Sure, they were sad for their daughter, but as the intended bride's mom said, "When I found out on Monday that the wedding would not be taking place, it just seemed like, of course, this would be something that we would do to give back."

As with the Ohio Pizzeria, this one-time event didn't solve hunger, but it made a difference to the guests who enjoyed salmon, tri-tip beef, gnocchi, and other delicious food. If we all used opportunities — big or small — to help the hungry, it would add up.

7. Instead of ticketing people who panhandle, the mayor of Albuquerque found a simple way to help them.

Photo by the city of Albuquerque, used with permission.

Feeding the homeless is one way to help. Offering them the opportunity to work is another. When Albuquerque mayor Richard Barry saw someone with a "will work" sign, he thought they should have the chance to do just that. His administration expanded a homeless assistance program to include work by the day. Those who accept the offer work five-and-a-half hour shifts for $9 an hour.

"We want to give the dignity of work for a day," Berry told Upworthy. "The dignity of a day's work for a day's pay is a very good thing. It helps people stabilize, it helps them with their self-confidence, and it helps them get back on their feet." At the end of each workday, the driver who transports the workers drops them off at St. Martin's Hospitality Center, which offers food, shelter, and other services.Here's hoping other cities will follow suit.

8. This couple provides a safe home for gay children who were rejected by their families.

Photo via Deb Word, used with permission.

Deb and Steve Word, observant Catholics, learned their son was gay when he was 23 years old. They asked why he didn't tell them sooner — and they learned he was worried they might not approve because of their religion.

That made the couple realize that others kids faced the same struggle — and they might not have parents who receive them with open arms, which is particularly problematic if they're still young and living at home. So they decided to open up their home to LBGT kids who needed a place to stay.

During the past six years, they've fostered a dozen such kids, many of them rejected by their own families. "[It was a] WWJD kind of thing," Deb told Upworthy. "We really just welcomed hurting kids into our spare bedrooms." It feels a whole lot bigger than that — and Deb and Steve are an amazing example of what a difference helpers can make.

I'm certain 2016 will have it's share of challenges, but here's to a new year full of the kindness and empathy in action these helpers have shown us.

via ABC and Bee Gees / YouTube

A year ago a woman in Pearland, Texas helped save her husband's life because of her quick thinking and the sweet, four-on-the-floor disco beat of the Bee Gees.

After finishing a two-mile run with her husband Quan, Ganesa Collins watched him fall to the ground. "We sat on the bench, and he was in front of me," Collins told ABC. "I was standing behind and stretching, and he just went face forward. His head hit the dirt."

She quickly called 911 and the operator said he was having a heart attack.

Keep Reading Show less
via ABC and Bee Gees / YouTube

A year ago a woman in Pearland, Texas helped save her husband's life because of her quick thinking and the sweet, four-on-the-floor disco beat of the Bee Gees.

After finishing a two-mile run with her husband Quan, Ganesa Collins watched him fall to the ground. "We sat on the bench, and he was in front of me," Collins told ABC. "I was standing behind and stretching, and he just went face forward. His head hit the dirt."

She quickly called 911 and the operator said he was having a heart attack.

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."