Do you know what food insecurity looks like? This woman's story might change your mind.
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Kroger

Nicki Amos knew that finding dinner was going to be a stretch.

It was evening in suburban Phoenix, and Amos, a single mother with two young girls, was going through a rough patch. She had a job as a cashier, but it barely covered her expenses. Rent was a monthly burden. So were her water bill, her electric bill … even paying for gas.

With money so tight, she even took a risk and drove her car without reregistering it. “I was very strategic in my driving to make sure I didn’t end up in front of an officer,” she says.


Amos and her family, present day. Photo provided by Nicki Amos.

But there was one other serious challenge: Amos had to figure out how she was going to feed both her daughters and herself.

She was under a lot of pressure. Something had to give.

So that night, after making sure she had dinner for her kids, she searched for an affordable meal for herself. What she found was meager, but for the time being, it worked. Amos and a friend, also a divorcee, drove to a restaurant with a bar, where they found a happy hour with complimentary snacks. They nibbled on the finger food. And then Amos went home.  

It was a desperate attempt at a meal, but this wasn’t the worst night she’d had.

On other nights, Amos had to skip meals entirely in order to make ends meet.

After all, she says, her first priority was always her children’s well-being.

Amos' daughters. Photo provided by Nicki Amos.

“As long as the kids were OK, I was OK,” she continues.

She made sure they had a nutritious dinner — even if that meant preparing what she affectionately called “potato chip casserole,” a mishmash of the remaining foods in her cupboard and fridge.

“There was probably a vegetable of some sort and a protein mixed in,” she says. “It was whatever we had and probably a can of cream of mushroom soup.”

But she couldn’t afford to treat herself with the same care. She’d skip a meal here, skip a meal there. She was just doing what she had to do, she reasoned.

And though she bore through her struggles and eventually secured a better job as a district manager of Fry’s, the grocery retailer, Amos had faced a stark reality.

Like millions of other Americans, she was food insecure.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle/Unsplash.

It’s an issue that inspired her to become an activist herself. She began volunteering at the St. Mary’s Food Bank, a nonprofit organization, and later even joined their board of directors. All the while, she spoke out about the broader issue of food insecurity — and the harmful misconceptions about hunger in America.

“It’s not only homeless people who face food insecurity,” she says. “It could be one of your children’s friends. It could be someone you go to church with. And you wouldn’t know it.”

This isn’t just one person’s speculation about a social issue. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some 41 million Americans were food insecure in 2016. That’s about 12% of U.S. households that, at some point throughout the year, struggled to obtain enough food.

And millions of food-insecure Americans actually belong to ordinary households. Think: two parents, two kids, a house, and a steady income.

For these families, food is often part of an impossible calculus.

Should they buy fresh milk or should the money go toward a gallon of gas? Enough meat for the whole family or medicine for one person?

“Invariably the casualty is food,” says Diana Aviv, the CEO of Feeding America, a national nonprofit that runs food banks across the U.S.

Photo via Feeding America

Aviv says that many large-scale issues force people to make these tough choices. For one, underemployment is widespread: Too many people work part-time and can’t find full-time work.

Many Americans also don’t have a lot in savings. One survey, for instance, found that 57% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings accounts. With so little reserves, it isn’t hard to imagine how an unexpected ER visit could force a family to cut back their eating.

Aviv says that public policy can hurt people too. Certain federal programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, help families pay for the cost of food. But in many cases, if you make even just a little too much money from your job, you don’t qualify for the assistance.

“Those families in some respects are even worse off,” she explains.

Photo via Feeding America

But if so many people are struggling, why don’t we hear about it more? The answer is simple: People are embarrassed to admit they can’t pay for food.

Over the last year, Aviv traveled the country doing in-depth interviews of people facing hunger. And she found that shame often keeps people from sharing their stories.

“People were incredibly embarrassed about their situation,” she says. “Children in school are not going to put up their hands in classes and say, ‘I’m hungry, please give me food.’”

They’ll be isolated, and there’s a fear that they’ll be teased by their classmates. And so a lot of food insecurity is hidden.”

But the tide does appear to be turning.

The issue has begun to garner more media attention, and on the national level, many companies and organizations are mobilizing to take action.

One campaign called Zero Hunger Zero Waste, spearheaded by The Kroger Family of Companies, a founding partner and major donor to Feeding America, aims to reduce America’s massive problem with food waste, while at the same time helping to end our widespread problem with hunger.

The campaign aims to provide 3 billion balanced, nutritious meals to food insecure households by 2025. And they’re well on their way — the campaign has already donated 330 million meals. They’re also advocating for public policy solutions to address hunger in the United States.

Photo by Nicolas Barbier Garreau/Unsplash.

These efforts highlight the changing attitudes around hunger in America.

“Don’t let pride get in the way,” Amos says. “I’m sure nobody knew what I was going through because that’s not something you want to share with other people. But there are great organizations out there that can help.”

A change of attitude is also key for those who are food secure. It’s important to remember that individuals may be struggling — even if outwardly they look fine, Amos says.

Amos also stresses that, with food insecurity such a widespread phenomenon, we should feel called to action.

“I can’t imagine that many children are going to bed and may be hungry,” she says. “I can’t accept that.”

People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

Keep Reading Show less
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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."