Being a commanding officer in the Navy takes guts. So does being her husband.

In order to aspire to be an excellent leader, you need to have an excellent team.

Just ask Emily Bassett. She has been selected as the commanding officer of one of the Navy's newest littoral combat ships.

We should probably pause there for a moment because she's doing big things.


According to the U.S. Department of Defense, approximately 200,000 women are serving in the military right now. That number accounts for less than 15% of the total armed forces population in the U.S. When it comes to female senior officers, that percentage drops significantly.

But Emily doesn't want a pat on the back for being one of the few women who continue to ascend through the military ranks. Instead she wants to focus on how she arrived there so others can do the same.

Emily thoroughly enjoys her role for the military. All photos from Emily Bassett and used with permission.

Motivation was never an issue for Emily. As far back as she can remember, she knew she had what it takes to be a shot-caller. "When I was growing up I told everyone that I wanted to be an ambassador, a boss, a leader, or something," Emily told me. "Once I got older, the military interested me and became my avenue to leadership."

She received a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship from Boston University and entered the service directly after graduation in 1999. Once she joined the military, it didn't take her long to notice that there weren't very many people who looked like her. "Women were few and far between," Emily recalled. "Of the few that were there, even fewer lasted beyond the four-year point."

Why?

"Because many of us were looking for partners. Asking a guy you've just met to pack up his career and follow you is usually a non-starter."

Emily knew she wanted a husband, kids, and her career. But making that work would be tricky.

The four-year point is when many in the military make their decision to stay or leave. Emily had to make that decision shortly after meeting her future husband.

Will Bassett was an active duty pilot in the military when they met. Emily remembers the early days of dating as if they happened yesterday.

Emily and Will are all smiles when they're together.

"It was love at first sight," Emily recalled. "I really wanted to continue with my military career, and the reason why I was able to was because we both agreed that it worked for us. One of us wasn't giving up something for the other."

While enjoying a latte at Starbucks, she wrote out her 20-year plan on a napkin and asked Will, "Does this work for you?" He agreed that it did. Wedding bells followed two years later.

Part of their plan included children. Since Emily can be on a ship for months at at time, Will needed to be home full time with their two young children, Edward and Isabel, so he retired as a Navy pilot and became a stay-at-home dad. Again, it was a situation that worked for both of them.

"Will is an 'all-in' dad, completely 100% in," Emily beamed. "He cooks, he cleans, he reads stories, he fixes leaks and remodels bathrooms, he does it all. We would be lost without him."

Emily recognizes that many women can do it alone — single parents balance the demands of kids and work all the time — but it wasn't a part of her plan.

Will loves the bonding time with his kids.

The amount of stay-at-home dads are rising, but does society accept them?

Although the current number of stay-at-home dads in America increased to a total of 2 million, many of these men cannot shed the negative stereotypes that follow them. Emily has heard stories about how stay-at-home dads are ridiculed for "spending their wives' money," or for being unwilling to find "real jobs."

Fortunately, Will is secure enough in himself to be the parent at home while Emily pursues her career in military leadership. Even his kids are secure with it.

"When I went to pick up my 4-year-old daughter Isabel from school recently, one of her classmates asked why I always get her," Will said. "Isabel responded proudly that it's because her mommy is busy taking care of sailors on a ship, and my daddy is here with me. It was a cool moment that demonstrated how much my daughter appreciates the work we do."

Daddy and daughter enjoying a silly moment.

Let's deliver some real talk here — the next time a man is asked how he juggles fatherhood and his career, it will be the first. In heterosexual, two-parent families, moms are always known to step up on the home front. Now that more women are stepping up in their careers, it's long overdue that more of the men in those relationships take over at home to level the playing field.

These career choices can be tough. Luckily, Emily has a support group that's helping her through it.

There aren't very many people like Emily in the military, and finding women in her role to share ideas and frustrations with used to be difficult for her.

Now Emily is a member of a Lean In Circle, which are intimate groups of peers who share a similar bond — and both men and women can participate. Her particular group consists of female leaders in the military, and they enjoy monthly candid conversations about all facets of their careers and life at home. It's become an invaluable part of her growth as a leader and mother.

Emily enjoys a healthy balance between being a mom and a military leader.

"Lean In Circles have been a huge benefit to me for mentorship and professional development," Emily told me. "But what keeps me going back after three years is that my circle is a safe place to discuss leadership challenges and our biases that hold women and mothers back."

Many of the women in Emily's Lean In Circle are moms and their spouses stay at home with the kids, like Will does. It provides more proof that the Bassetts aren't the only ones with a similar family dynamic.

Not every woman pursuing a career needs a partner at home (clearly). But for some families, it works.

Yes, it's possible for our daughters to be CEOs, business owners, entrepreneurs, senior military officers — or whatever their hearts desire. Most importantly, they can tackle these careers while also being amazing mothers. They're not mutually exclusive.

The Bassetts are an amazing family and team.

Families come in all different forms. But it's awesome to see this couple making things work while smashing stereotypes at the same time.

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

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."