Going to the bank meant taking a day off work for one mom. Then a course at the public library changed her life.
Courtesy of Queens Public Library
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If you were asked to imagine a public library, your mind would conjure up a familiar image: a giant room with books crammed onto every wall and shelf; patrons quietly reading at tables; a librarian (pleasant but stern) who would help you find anything you need but wouldn't hesitate to shush you at the slightest indication that your voice might raise above a whisper.

Perhaps these images were true during your childhood, but the library has changed. Though public libraries have always served as meeting places where people might gather for a book club or town hall, many are now full-fledged community centers where residents can not only borrow books and use computers, but also take part in programs that teach everything from life skills to job preparedness.

The Queens Public Library (which services the Queens borough of New York City) is a leader in this evolving space. The library's 66 locations boast more than 87,500 programs. These include standards like story time and knitting workshops, but also branch out into wellness (you can do yoga in the library!) and classes that help community members navigate the road to citizenship. And all of these programs are available within a mile of where most people reside. "Wherever you live in Queens, there's a branch near you," says Ewa Kern Jedrychowska, the deputy communications director for the library.

One program that's become overwhelmingly popular is "Ready, Set, Bank" (Listos, Clic, Avance), which the library offers in partnership with Capital One. Monique Hector, who manages programs with the library's Job and Business Academy (JBA), says JBA realized there was a need for a class on managing money and using online banking during existing workshops which helped residents find jobs.


"We provide resume assistance, cover letter assistance, mock interviewing," Hector says. "There's also a technology portion where we teach everything from how to use a computer to Advanced Excel and Word and PowerPoint. What we noticed in 2017 was that when we're working with individuals who are looking for employment, they also need help managing their money."

Hector's first focus was on helping people who were unemployed find a way to use their savings to create a sustainable lifestyle. But as classes progressed, JBA found there was another demographic they needed to reach: people, primarily Spanish-speakers with families, who worked hours that wouldn't allow them to get to the bank during business hours but weren't familiar with 24-hour online banking.

That's where Ready, Set, Bank came in. The program teaches residents how to use banking apps, busts myths about privacy and security, and empowers community members to take control of their money by learning how to check balances, deposit checks, pay bills, and send money from their phones, thereby reducing both late payments and stress for people who are already working so hard. Sixty-three nonprofits and organizations use Capital One's Ready, Set, Bank program across the country.

Courtesy of Queens Public Library

For Enelsida Maza, a Colombian woman who's been living in the Arvene area of Queens for the past 13 years, the program has been life-changing. Maza goes to the library regularly to help her son pick out books and take computer classes offered in Spanish. When a librarian told Maza about Ready, Set, Bank, (Listos, Clic, Avance) she was hesitant at first because she always thought she had to complete all her banking in person.

"Now I can do my financial transactions wherever I am without losing time," she says. "I don't have to be late for work or take a day off to go to the bank."

For Maza, one of the program's biggest benefits is that it's taught in Spanish. That's been helpful for many participants, Hector says. Queens is considered to be America's most diverse county and offering classes in languages other than English so no one has to feel uncomfortable or lost while trying to learn a new skill has brought in more and more participants.

An added benefit, Hector says, is that those taking the course will learn about the library's other offerings at the same time. Many go on to take English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes or avail the myriad other programs the library offers. For these people, the library becomes a safe space to learn and build community. Many participants, like Maza, bring in their friends and family members and they, in turn, bring their families, helping both the program and financial literacy grow.

The program is provided by Capital One. It's unbranded, meaning there's no pressure to sign up with or switch over to the banking institution — the organization simply wants to help people become more knowledgeable and empowered when it comes to their finances. That's why community involvement has always been a cornerstone of the company's ethos.

To help Ready, Set, Bank be as successful as possible, Capital One sends Financial Access Educators to help lead the workshops and provide feedback and insight. One employee, Hector says, jumped in and taught a few classes, staying behind to answer questions from participants and provide even more knowledge. In some neighborhoods, bankers have come in to talk to participants about how to best manage their finances. Since 2017, Capital One has provided financial support to keep the program going and expand it to as many branches as possible.

In response to the overwhelming positive feedback, the library is planning to add CreditWise — a workshop that deals with the ins and outs of holding a credit card — to its offerings soon. Hector hopes it will empower even more people to feel confident about their finances and pass on their knowledge to future generations.

To learn more about the Capital One's Ready, Set, Bank program, visit www.readysetbank.org.

Information about Queens Public Library and its programs can be found at queenslibrary.org.

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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."