More

A German entrepreneur had an idea to give people an extra $1,100 a month. It's going well.

Could a small benefit really improve people's lives? I don't know ... but it worked for me.

A German entrepreneur had an idea to give people an extra $1,100 a month. It's going well.

If you were given $1,100 a month, with no strings attached, how would your life change?

Would you take more vacation days? Maybe you would stress less about your bills or expenses. Would you even go to work anymore? Would you finally start that business or write that novel?

Basically, would your life be better than it is now?


Those are the questions that German entrepreneur Michael Boymeyer wanted to answer with his new My Basic Income project.

Michael Bohmeyer, creator of the My Basic Income project. Image via Mein Grundeinkommen.

The crowdsourced program, called Mein Grundeinkommen in German, is a bold economic experiment that aims to improve the lives of average Germans with a relatively small investment.

$1,100 (a little over 1,000 euro) per month is less than half the average German monthly wage but more than twice the welfare there, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The money for the project comes from donations made to the program, and recipients are chosen at random from a pool of applicants.

So far, 26 people (chosen from over 66,000 applicants) are receiving the monthly benefit payments. Additional recipients are chosen whenever enough money is raised to support someone for a whole year.

The money, which Mein Grundeinkommen describes as "unconditional" has been used for a wide variety of things by the chosen recipients so far.

One woman said she wanted to "spend more time with her children and do volunteer work." Another said she wanted to "develop a theatre production."

Another recipient, 9-year-old Robin, plans to use his basic income to buy more books.

Robin and his family started receiving benefits in December 2014. Image via Mein Grundeinkommen.

However, as Michael Bohmeyer told the L.A. Times, "Not a lot changes: The students keep studying, the workers keep working and the pensioners are still pensioners. But there is a big change that takes place in their minds. People feel liberated and they feel healthier."

The idea has even gotten the attention of the German government, where leftist politicians have long supported the idea of a federalized basic income. Those who oppose it say that receiving unconditional money from the government might take away incentives to find work — an argument that sounds really familiar if you pay attention to discussions about "entitlement programs" here in the U.S.

German President Angela Merkel opposes basic income but has discussed it internally several times. Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images.

The big question: Could receiving a small benefit really improve your life?

Frankly, it's hard to imagine a situation where it wouldn't. But I also have some personal experience with this.

Less than two months ago, I was unemployed. Like, really unemployed. The kind of unemployed where you start to wonder if maybe your career destiny is at the local deli and not, as you imagined, in the corner office of a New York City skyscraper (or whatever your thing is).

During that time, I regularly received an unemployment benefit. It wasn't much, but it was enough to pay rent and buy some inexpensive groceries. (Put that cultured butter down, Zuckerberg.)

So me and my tiny government check had some time to ask important questions: What do I want to do with my life? What am I good at? How can I eat lentils again without jamming this fork into my eye?

It was in that time that I decided, definitively, that I wanted to write professionally.

So I wrote. A lot. I got published wherever and whenever I could, and in time (SPOILERS) I got a job writing for Upworthy.

And sure, unemployment benefits aren't the same as a no-questions-asked stipend, but it taught me a lot about being helped.

Unemployment and other government programs are constantly under threat in the U.S. via the narrative that if you receive government help, you won't want to help yourself.

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio is one of several senators who voted not to extend unemployment benefits last year. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Receiving a benefit certainly didn't remove my incentive to work. In fact, I had never wanted a job so badly in my life.

What it did was give me the opportunity, and the time, to think about and work toward the job I really wanted. It relieved some pressure. Instead of panicking, I could focus on things getting better.

So maybe a basic income isn't such a bad idea. As Bohmeyer said, "to be able to work creatively, people need some security, they need to feel free. And they can get that with a basic income."

For some, that stipend might just be a little spending money on top of their already comfortable lives. But for others, it could be the difference between giving up and pursuing a dream. It was for me.

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
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."