After seeing what these 5 women are doing for kids, it's no wonder they're winning awards.
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L'Oreal Women of Worth

There were over 6,000 submissions for the L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth awards this year. 10 women were selected.

Everyone deserves to know about these exceptional ladies.

As Women of Worth kicks off its 10th year of celebrating women going the extra mile in their communities, what better way to start than by giving a sneak peek at who they are.


Here are five of the amazing 2015 Women of Worth honorees.


1. Catherine Curry-Williams from Valley Village, California

She built the coolest playground around — and it's accessible for ALL kids.

Shane's Inspiration is changing how kids play. All images from L'Oréal Paris, used with permission

It all started when Catherine's son Shane passed away at just two weeks old from complications of spinal muscular atrophy. Everyone grieves differently, and Catherine grieved in her own way: by launching a worldwide initiative called Shane's Inspiration.

As a tribute to her son, Shane's Inspiration constructs accessible playgrounds for use by children of all abilities— which is something that's often hard to find. These are playgrounds with features that include special swings to accommodate wheelchairs, "sound walls" for the sight-impaired, and activities designed to improve balance and muscle tone for children with Down syndrome and other disorders.

The group has helped to create 57 fully accessible playgrounds worldwide so far, with 96 more under development in the U.S., Mexico, Ecuador, Russia, and Israel.

2. Schinnell Leake from College Park, Maryland

She throws super fun birthday parties for kids she doesn't know.

All kids deserve birthday parties, homeless or not.

After learning that more than 2,000 kids live in homeless shelters throughout her area of College Park, Maryland, Schinnell's thoughts went directly to a place many others wouldn't think of: birthday parties.

Understanding the importance of kids having confidence and feeling loved, she decided to launch Extra-Ordinary Birthdays to throw individualized birthday parties for homeless kids that most likely wouldn't get to have them otherwise. In the past two years, she's thrown over 200 birthday parties and has partnered with six shelters in Maryland and D.C.

3. Melaney Smith from Athens, Georgia

When Melaney met a young girl who loved to read, but had no books, it gave her an idea.

All kids should have books available to them.

It prompted her to launch Books for Keeps to make sure that kids have access to books at home, especially during the summer months when they're out of school.

You could say it's catching on.

Her organization has been giving out around 45,000 books every year to kids in need, which means summer recess has become a lot more fun (and educational!) than it used to be for many.

4. Elissa Davey from Vista, California

Elissa thinks everyone deserves to be remembered after they're gone, so she's making it happen.

Giving proper funerals to those who've been abandoned.

Elissa Davey was so distraught after reading a news article one day, she launched an organization because of it.

The article was about an abandoned baby boy who was found in a trash can. When she talked to the coroner and was told the boy would go to an unmarked grave if no one claimed him, she realized just how often that situation occurs.

Elissa couldn't just sit there and let it happen. She launched Garden of Innocence to provide personalized and dignified burials for abandoned children up to eight years old.

17 years later, she and her volunteers have provided services for 288 children. It's heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

5. Jaha Dukureh from Atlanta, Georgia

When Jaha speaks, people listen. Even President Obama.

Empowering youth and changing perceptions on FGM.

You know what's not often talked about? Female genital mutilation (FGM). It's a heavy topic, no doubt, but considering 504,000 girls are at risk of experiencing it in the United States (and so many more around the world), that's exactly why it needs to be discussed.

There is no one better to lead that discussion than 24-year-old Jaha Dukureh, a survivor of FGM herself. She has started the organization Safe Hands for Girls to empower and educate young girls and communities about the dangers and effects of FGM.

Through her work, Jaha has directly saved more than 100 girls from FGM, and she has been instrumental in the creation of the Girls' Protection Act of 2010, which criminalizes the transport of U.S. girls abroad for FGM. Additionally, her 2014 Change.org petition, which collected more than 220,000 signatures, resulted in the Obama administration directing the CDC to investigate the prevalence of FGM in the United States.

When Obama gets involved, you know you're a big deal.

Congratulations to these women! They are five refreshing examples of the good in this world and an inspiration to us all.

Celebrate these incredible ladies and this year's 2015 Women of Worth honorees by reading their stories and voting for the 2015 National Honoree to receive an additional $25,000 toward her cause!

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."