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A Mom Played Apples To Apples And Couldn't Believe What Word Got Paired With 'Feminist'

Feminism isn't about a new group of people and systems (instead of the patriarchy) telling women what they should be doing, but rather everyone helping women get rid of all "shoulds," freeing each other up to do what works best individually. Alisha Huber, a coworker of mine, wrote something along those lines, and I had to share it with you.

A Mom Played Apples To Apples And Couldn't Believe What Word Got Paired With 'Feminist'

"This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" by Alisha Huber

Several years ago, I was playing Apples to Apples. The adjective to match was “scary,” and the “judge,” a young woman majoring in mathematics, chose “feminists.” I said, “I’m a feminist, what’s scary about that?” Another player, also a woman, who was in her 50s and had spent a long time working as an engineer, said, “Are you wearing a bra?” as if to imply that wearing a bra makes one NOT actually a feminist (not that it matters, but I was. Wearing a bra, that is).

I wish I had had the presence of mind to respond to her as Caitlin Moran would: “What part of liberation for women is not for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man that you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that stuff just get on your nerves?” I was so flabbergasted that all I could muster was that feminism is about a lot more than underwear.


And there’s nonsense like this article from Slate, an online magazine I usually respect. The argument the writer makes is that “natural parenting” is incompatible with feminism. She writes about the “new, upper-middle class trend of naturalistic mothering (often incorrectly called ‘parenting,’ to conceal that fact that it’s mothers who have to step up more to meet demand).” This article pisses me off so much, I can hardly even think. Choosing to parent my children a certain way does not make me any less of a feminist. Sure, if someone, like, say, my husband, were to require me to practice this particular style of parenting, making some argument about my duty as a woman, that would be anti-feminist. Feminism is, as bell hooks says, for everybody. It’s about choices. It’s about saying that a woman can self-actualize however she wants, whether by becoming the CEO of Yahoo! while pregnant or by homeschooling her children and canning food from her garden. It’s also about saying that a man who chooses to be a stay-at-home dad is not less of a man.

This is what a feminist looks like: presenting at an academic conference while Silas was home with JC.

Feminism is what happens when I make an informed decision about how a baby is going to get out of my body–for example, on the timetable my female body decides is right, and not the timetable decreed by some (mostly male) hospital administrators who have to keep enough beds open–and my husband says, “If this is how you want to have our baby, I will support that.” It’s also what happens if I decide I want an epidural as soon as is humanly possible. If I felt coerced into giving birth naturally, on my bedroom floor, without so much as an Advil for the pain, sure, that’s anti-feminist. That’s yet another way of turning my body into an instrument of someone else’s priorities. If, instead, it happens as it did, as an empowered decision, then I am just one more link in a chain of feminists stretching back a hundred years and a bit more.

This is what a feminist looks like: burping Silas after nursing him at the National Botanical Gardens, following his first political rally.

It’s called attachment parenting because it is about parenting. My husband does every “attachment parenting” thing that does not require a vagina, a uterus, and/or functional mammary glands. We’re pretty good at co-parenting, although he isn’t so awesome at the whole waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night bit (due to a medical problem, not a Y chromosome). Dr. Sears, in The Baby Book, advocates “fathering to sleep,” where a dad wears his baby in a sling and hums and rocks until the little critter finally falls asleep. He actually says that men, because of their deeper voices, can sometimes do a better job of getting baby to sleep than the mama can. We’ve found this to be true. JC still has an easier time getting Silas to sleep than I do.

This is what a feminist looks like: cuddling Silas before bedtime.

Dr. Sears also strongly advocates that mothers stay home to care for their children, even if this means having to borrow money to get by. I think it’s a good idea for a parent to be present for their child a lot of the time, but I don’t agree that it must be the mother. Also, I think that childhood poverty is probably significantly worse for a kid than day care. Parents who are frustrated because they need a job that lets you cross items off a list and talk with other adults and are not getting that need met are not healthy for kids–definitely less healthy than the child spending a day with someone who loves 40 hours a week with kids. Feminism doesn’t mean slavish adherence to the proclamations of a guru. Quite the opposite, I’d say.

JC has opted to skip out on a certain kind of promotion/raises track so that he has the flexibility to spend more time at home, caring for our children. I respect and support that decision–just as he respected and supported my decision to work full-time during our son’s first year.

This is what a feminist looks like: jiggling a lap baby while managing a roll out. Like a boss.

About a year before I got pregnant with Silas, as I was getting ready for my first stint with Pigeon Creek Shakespeare, in Michigan, one of my grad school professors asked me if I had any kids. Before I could even answer, he said, “Oh, wait, of course not. If you had kids, you wouldn’t be doing this Michigan gig.” I was so shocked that he said that that I couldn’t even summon the presence to ask him if he would have said that to a man (Hint: he wouldn’t have.) Here, I would include a photo of myself solo parenting, while pregnant, for two months, almost exactly two years later, during my second show with Pigeon Creek, but my hands were too full to get that picture.

Feminism is about not necessarily choosing between out-of-the-home work and stay-at-home momming. It still requires choices, of course (let’s not kid ourselves about having it all), but it creates a paradigm of seeking a third way.

When I left full-time employment, it wasn’t exactly to spend more time with Silas. It had more to do with wanting to explore other career opportunities, while making way less money. JC just said, “Whatever you choose, I’ll support you in that. We’ll make it work.” He didn’t say, although many other people did, that he felt like the right decision was for me to stay home with our son, because I’m the mom.

This is what a feminist looks like: directing a play, while eight months pregnant, with a toddler assisting.

I breastfed my son as long as it was working for both of us, and plan to do the same with our new baby, but not because anyone made me. Maybe it was more of a feminist rejection of all those men in suits on Madison Avenue trying to convince me that male scientists had concocted a formula that was better for my baby than anything my female body could produce. That sounds like a feminist high-five to me. More likely, it’s because I’m too lazy to sterilize bottles all the time. And hey, if you chose to go with formula (or just wound up there), feminist high-five to you, too. Your body, your choice, and you have better things to do than listen to anyone who says otherwise.

My son sees my husband cook dinner half of the time (we have a schedule). He understands that Daddy does the laundry almost as much as Mama does, and that Daddy is better at loading the dishwasher. He sees me do most of the minor electrical work in our house, because I’m more stable on a ladder than JC is. He saw me take equal turns with JC wielding a chainsaw during our storm clean-up. When he’s bigger, he will have to pick from the same bucket of chores as any sisters he has. When he graduates from high school, I want him to know how to cook and clean and do his own laundry so that he doesn’t have to rely on a woman to take care of that stuff. I want Silas to grow up to understand that feminism means that men and women can do most of the same things, and it’s what they choose to do that matters.

I wish I had a picture of myself using a pneumatic nailer to lay flooring at 37 weeks pregnant, because that is what a feminist looks like. Instead, here’s the beginning of that project–ripping out 400 pounds of red shag carpet.

We’re not magically egalitarian around here. I still handle our social calendar, am more likely to notice that the bathroom needs cleaning, and send thank-you notes and birthday cards. We’re aware of these tendencies, though, and we talk about them and try to correct them. If things get too lopsided, I challenge JC to a month of ChoreWars, and that, by making the inequities trackable, fixes things. We are both committed feminists, and we manifest that in our home by naming our biases and refusing to let them power our decision-making.

Welcome to the third wave, people.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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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."