When childhood photos remind us of our most precious relationships
Gretchen Kelly (left), Annie Reneau (right)
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When I was a kid, we had an entire living room shelf full of photo albums to pore through when we wanted to relive family memories. Now, several decades later, we flip through digital albums, instead. But the feelings that family photographs invoke are still the same. Every photo tells a story, and some photos hold tales and truths that are particularly dear to our hearts.

I was visiting with my friend Paula recently when she pulled up a sweet old photo of our sons together.


Paula Fitzgibbons

Paula and I met in a parenting group 15 years ago. Our oldest daughters were nearly identical in age and we both had newborn babies, so we started planning regular play dates together.

Soon those play dates became a lifeline to our own sanity, and our friendship blossomed. We got together several times a week for years, essentially raising our kids together. Paula didn't have any family living nearby — no grandparents to gush over her children, no cousins to bond with — so our family became their extended family.

"I entered parenting without having been parented well myself," says Paula, adding that our marathon playdates gave us a chance to parent in a community. "Sometimes I'd even call and say, 'I can't parent today. How about if I do all the cooking and you do all the parenting?' So we did. In that way, I learned how to be the parent I never had."

While our girls were same-aged peers, our sons were seven years apart. Paula says that her son Sevvy had always wanted a brother, and when my Isaac was born, it was like Sevvy's wish was fulfilled. Indeed, our boys grew an incredibly sweet bond, less like friendship and more like brotherhood. Isaac followed Sevvy around like a puppy, and Sevvy doted on Isaac with a mixture of mentorship and protectiveness.

Life happened and we eventually ended up moving to different parts of the country. Our boys are now 18 and 11, but we still get together and reminisce about how those formative years meant so much to both of our families. This photo encapsulates the joy and care that defined our families' relationship.

Annie Reneau

Gretchen Kelly also has a precious sibling photo, but hers holds beautiful, bittersweet memories of her beloved baby brother, Todd.

At 16, Todd was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare type of bone tumor that generally hits people at a young age. He was eight years younger than Gretchen and 11 years younger than their older sister. "He was the baby of the family and spoiled rotten by all of us," Gretchen says. He passed away in 1999 at age 18.

"There's a photo of he and I that tugs at my heart because he has his arm casually draped over my shoulder and it perfectly captures our relationship and dynamic," says Gretchen.

Gretchen Kelly

"I don't remember what he said when we took this picture, but I know he said something to make me laugh while he stayed casual and cool for the photo. That was his way. He could keep a straight face and make you laugh in spite of yourself. And he could ALWAYS make you laugh."

"This is the picture that always leaves a lump in my throat," she adds. "It makes me smile—it is exactly how we were together. He was the baby brother who I adored, but at times, as he matured, it was as if he was the older sibling. Protective and wise beyond his years. But mischievous. Always mischievous."

Gretchen keeps another photo of Todd on her "inspiration wall" in her office, this one during his cancer journey.

Gretchen Kelly

"Obviously cancer was already taking something from him at this point," she Gretchen. "But not his smile. He somehow made all of us laugh and smile even when we were terrified of everything he was going through. I keep this picture on the wall in my office. His smile is what I will always cling to, his determination to not let cancer steal his joy or his humor. This serves as a reminder of determination and grit. When things get hard, as they tend to do, I look at this picture and he reminds me we can do hard things, and sometimes we can smile through it."

Photos aren't just snippets of our lives — they are images of joy and love, of family and community that can move us and inspire us. But these days our photos frequently get lost in the digital deluge of modern life. They end up archived on a hard drive somewhere or buried deep in social media.

Google Nest is trying to make it easier to keep treasured photos front and center with the Google Nest Hub — a device that serves as a digital photo frame and personal assistant. You can choose any album from Google Photos, such as "Family" or "Favorites," and the Nest Hub will display them on rotation. The Live Albums feature takes the work out of updating the photos by letting you create an album that automatically adds photos of the people who matter to you most. You can share a Live Album with anyone you want, just like any other album in Google Photos. The Nest Hub even adjusts to the lighting in the room so your photos look less like images on a screen and more like real photos.

Here's to the snapshots that remind us of our loved ones at all stages of life. They truly are among our most precious belongings.

Google is providing Nest Hubs to USO families to help them feel closer this holiday season. Join us in supporting the USO at uso.org/googlenest.

via KTLA 5 / YouTube

A little after 7:30 on Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriffs received multiple reports about a herd of cows running through the streets of Pico Rivera, a city 11 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

This Twitter video does a perfect job of encapsulating the surprise residents felt when they saw 40 cows running through their quiet suburban neighborhood.

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via KTLA 5 / YouTube

A little after 7:30 on Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriffs received multiple reports about a herd of cows running through the streets of Pico Rivera, a city 11 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

This Twitter video does a perfect job of encapsulating the surprise residents felt when they saw 40 cows running through their quiet suburban neighborhood.

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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."