Everyone has the power to be a social impact hero. Just ask these women.
True
L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth

We live in a world where more and more women are being encouraged to embrace their strengths every day — but it's an uphill battle.

While the upcoming generation is already being touted as the generation that will "save the world," the young women in that group are still fighting to have their voices heard.

That said, all this social activism is empowering women in new and exciting ways. By standing on platforms for change that inspire them, whatever that may be, women's voices are being raised to new heights, and, as a result, they're reaching many more girls and women eager to pick up the torch.


L’Oréal Paris is amplifying these inspiring voices through their Women of Worth program.

Since 2005, L'Oreal Paris has been honoring women making a significant impact in their communities through their passion for volunteerism and giving back to others.

Shandra Woworuntu. Photo via L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth.

Each year, L’Oréal Paris selects 10 Women of Worth Honorees to receive a $10,000 grant in support of their charitable cause. Following a nationwide vote, Honoree Shandra Woworuntu was chosen as the 2017 National Honoree, and received an additional $25,000 grant in support of her organization, Mentari. A survivor of human trafficking and domestic violence, Shandra founded Mentari, which is a nonprofit organization that assists victims of human trafficking free of charge. Even though she's just one woman, her efforts are making a monumental difference.

Here's a look at three other women whose strengths made a huge impact in their own communities.

The 2017 Women of Worth. Photo via L'Oreal Paris/Upworthy.

1. 19-year-old Cassandra Lin started Project Turn Grease Into Fuel (TGIF), which strives to get leftover grease converted into fuel for underserved families to heat their homes.

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, during the 2008 recession, Cassandra learned many families couldn't afford to heat their homes in the winter.

"I think the fact that some people have to make the decision of whether to put food on the table, or to heat their homes, is a really difficult decision that no family should really have to make," says Cassandra.

Cassandra at 10. Photo via L'Oreal Paris/Upworthy.

At just 10 years old, she was determined to come up with a solution.

While visiting a green energy expo at the University of Long Island, Cassandra learned that you could turn used cooking oil into Biodiesel fuel. So she started going around her neighborhood to local restaurants to see if they'd be willing to donate theirs.

Several got on board, and soon enough, TGIF was helping local families and shelters stay warm in the winter.

A restauranteur donating cooking oil to TGIF. Photo via L'Oreal Paris/Upworthy.

And it's not just about philanthropy — using biodiesel fuel is also much better for the environment. In fact, to date, TGIF's efforts have offset almost 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

2. Meanwhile Valerie Weisler is giving strength and confidence back to teens all over the world who've been bullied.

When Valerie was 14, her parents told her they were getting a divorce, and just like that, she shut down. Suddenly she became this person who didn't talk or make eye contact, which unfortunately made her a target for bullies.

Kids started leaving cruel notes attacking her behavior in her locker. It didn't take long for those words to sink in.

"I just branded myself with all those words and told myself that they were right," says Valerie.

Then, one day she saw another kid getting bullied by his locker, and her perspective changed. She told him he wasn't alone in what he was going through — he told her that validation meant more to him than she could possibly know.

That night, she went home and started her nonprofit — The Validation Project.

Photo via The Validation Project.

The organization not only provides support for teens who feel like outsiders, it connects them with a project they're passionate about that also happens to generate social good. It's all about reminding them they're capable of anything.

"Sometimes you just really need somebody else to tell you that you have that worth inside of you and show you how you can use it," says Valerie.

Today, the Project works with approximately 6,000 teens in 105 countries around the world.

3. And Deborah Jiang-Stein helps incarcerated women move on with their lives, and not be defined by their past.

Deborah was actually born and spent the first year of her life in prison because her mother was incarcerated. She then spent the majority of her childhood in foster homes, and almost wound up back in prison on a number of occasions.

Eventually, however, she was able to pull herself off her destructive path, and founded UnPrison Project — a nonprofit dedicated to helping incarcerated women lead a successful life after their release.

"The theory is that if there're self-development programs, self-esteem education, literacy improvement inside, that they'll have the skills on the outside to do something differently and be a resource," says Deborah.

Deborah Jiang-Stein. Photo via L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth.

But it's not just about developing life skills. A large part of Deborah's job is sharing her own story with incarcerated women so they can see that it's possible to take a different path after prison.

Deborah says it's about taking away the label of "prisoner," and showing these women who they truly are.

"When I'm at a prison, what I see before me isn't prisoners," says Deborah. "I see people's mothers, and aunts, and grandmothers, and daughters, and sisters, and we relate to each other like that."

Thanks to bold activists like this, more and more women will know they can do anything through both strength and conviction.

"We see them all as agents of change and we want them to be able to identify problems in their own communities, and eventually be able to rally people around that issue to create systems change," says Rana.

Inspiring agency within others is what every Woman of Worth Honoree strives to achieve. And, thankfully, the next generation seems more than ready to be that change, and take on whatever challenges come their way.

For more on the Women of Worth campaign, check out the video below:

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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."