American Girl's newest doll accessory is about so much more than toys.

Two years ago, Anja Busse, then 11, created a video and online petition urging popular toymaker American Girl to add a little something to its lineup of toy offerings.

Three months earlier, Anja had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to stop producing insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugars. Without replacing insulin, either via multiple daily injections or an insulin pump, a Type 1 diabetic like Anja will die.


Anja with one of her two American Girl dolls. Photos courtesy of Ingrid Bussy, used with permission.

And while Anja loved her American Girl dolls, she wanted them to be more like her. Specifically, Anja wanted to have for her dolls the very things that literally keep her alive, like an insulin pump and blood-testing meter.

It's a big adjustment to be diagnosed with a life-altering disease as a child.

I know because I was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 9 years old. One minute, I was packing for my first week away from home: sleep-away Girl Scout camp. The next minute, plans changed and I was packing for a week at the hospital. While I was supposed to be doing fun camp stuff like riding horses, doctors at the hospital were figuring out how much insulin I'd need to survive and teaching my parents and I how to avoid possible long-term complications like blindness and kidney failure.

It's possible to live very well with Type 1 diabetes, but it's a challenge for a young child to transition into this new life.

Anything that helps make that easier on a child is always welcome, and for many kids who like dolls, it's natural to want their dolls to reflect their reality.

Anja's petition received over 4,000 signatures and some media attention, but not much happened ... until two weeks ago, when American Girl released a diabetes care kit!

Post from Diabetic American Girl, Anja and Ingrid's Facebook page that supported her petition. Used with permission.

The new American Girl Diabetes Care Kit includes all the things a Type 1 diabetic needs: a blood sugar monitor, lancing device, insulin pump, insulin pen, medical bracelet, glucose tablets, log book, ID card, stickers, and carrying case.

Product photos provided by American Girl, used with permission.

Anja was thrilled.

"I'm so excited!!! I feel like this is something that will really help diabetic kids cope with this disease and make them not feel alone," she said as her mom, Ingrid Busse, and I chatted over Facebook for this story.

Anja and her American Girl doll, complete with her new diabetic accessories.

And she wasn't the only one!

Lots of parents shared photos on Anja and Ingrid's Facebook page of their adorable kids who have Type 1 diabetes with their newly accessorized dolls:

Photos originally posted by the Diabetic American Girl Facebook page (run by Anja's mom, Ingrid) with permission of the photo owners, shared here with Ingrid's permission.

"We are so excited that diabetic kids will be able to walk into any American Girl doll store now and be able to see and buy a doll that truly looks like them," Ingrid said.

The new kits are wonderful for the kids, but they're also great for teaching others about the challenges children with Type 1 diabetes face.

One thing Ingrid would like everyone to know is that there's no cure for her daughter's disease.

"The majority of people don't know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and [there] are a lot of misconceptions," she told me. "People tell us that she got it from eating too much sugar or that they know of a diet that will cure it. ... To survive, [Type 1 diabetics] need to prick their fingers six to ten times a day, count the carbs in everything they eat so they take the right amount of insulin, and take insulin injections four to six times a day or via an insulin pump that is attached to them."

With any luck, these new toys will be beneficial to both the kids who have the disease and those around them.

This isn't the first time American Girl has made an effort to create toys for kids facing differences or challenges.

They've made several accessories, like a hearing aid:

And arm crutches:

And even a lunch kit for kids with food allergies:

American Girl also created a line of dolls without hair, which could be comforting to children who have lost their hair to chemotherapy.

It's easy to roll our eyes and say kids don't need toys that are just like them.

But the truth is that having their real lives reflected by their toys is a big deal for a lot of kids — and it's a big deal for everyone else, too.

The challenges kids face are sometimes made just a tiny bit easier when their dolls can experience them, too. Take Jerrensia, for example. This vivacious 6-year-old uses arm crutches to walk with her prosthetic legs.

Jerrensia in the American Girl store, where she did some shopping as part of her sixth birthday celebration. Photos by Jen Kroll, shared with her permission.

Jerrensia's mom Jen Kroll's Facebook post about a Target ad showing a child using arm braces went viral late last year. Jerrensia was excited to see a child just like herself in an advertisement. Jen was excited for others to have the opportunity to see a child like Jerrensia in an advertisement.

At the time, Jen told me every step that makes the challenges children face when they have special needs and different abilities more mainstream is a big deal. American Girl dolls are widely known and loved, so how great is it for everyone to see these differences?

When I brought the arm braces for American Girl dolls to her attention, Jen was in tears. Jerrensia is a big American Girl fan (as you can see in these photos!), and having a big part of herself reflected in her toy means the world to Jerrensia.

And that right there is reason enough to appreciate these options.

It's exciting to see that toy manufacturers are listening to consumers.

"We’re thrilled with the reaction that we’re hearing from our young fans and their parents," Stephanie Spanos from American Girl wrote to me via email about the response the diabetic kit has drawn.

While nobody from American Girl reached out to Anja or Ingrid, I think it's safe to say that companies are taking notice of consumers' desires. And I know American Girl dolls are pricey and out of many families' budgets, but what if all toymakers got on board with offering more options?

We can all take a page out of Anja Busse's book and do our best to make our voices heard!

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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."