Hate vs. debate—a tale of two e-mail responses to an article I wrote

I've been writing for the people of the internet for more than a decade, so I'm used to my fair share of hate mail. I don't generally share the details of my inbox with the public (choosing instead to send screenshots to my close friends so we can vent about the insanity of the world together), but two e-mails I received from people who had similar complaints about an article I wrote seem like they offer a lesson of sorts about how we should—and shouldn't—communicate with each other.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about some people's reactions to the murder of Cannon Hinnant, a 5-year-old North Carolina boy shot and killed by a neighbor while out riding his bike in front of his house. It was a terrible, tragic story. Anti-BLM forces quickly jumped on it, complaining that the national media didn't cover the story like they would if the races were reversed (Hinnant was white, his killer was Black). A #SayHisName campaign accompanied the complaint, usurped from the BLM movement. My piece pointed out the reasons why that complaint was problematic.

You can read the piece here if you want the context for the emails I'm going to share with you.

As with many articles I write, the reactions were split. I got messages from people thanking me for expressing exactly what they had wanted to say, and messages from people who vehemently disagreed. I always a bit amazed when people take the time to track down my e-mail address to share their thoughts on what I write, and I generally appreciate it, even when they're writing to tell me they disagree with me. But the disagreement messages for this article were on a whole other level.


If it were just the one horrible message, I'd write it off as just some whacko. But I got multiple messages and comments that were boiling over with hatred. I had to block one guy from my Facebook page for dropping in to address me—a woman he has never met—as a "hypocritical bitch" and a "f*cking c*nt" with no other arguments made. (Out of curiosity, I took a peek at his profile and found out he was a fitness/performance coach who had volunteered with a kindness initiative. Interesting, huh?)

But the cherry on top of this article's hate mail sundae was this email from a man named Edger. Prepare now for a bunch of profanity. (You might also need a key for this: gfy = go fuck yourself, pos = piece of shit, msm = mainstream media.)

Here we go:

"Say his fucking name!

Your liberal pos article telling us not to compare Cannon Hinnant's murder to the scam blm bs or politicize the tragedy is unbelievably fucked up bitch. THAT is exactly what you motherfuckers have been doing for six fucking months over this blm scam bullshit, so gfy you scumbag pos!!!

We are sick of you leftwing blm socialist scam artist destroying America and will fight to the death for our country. And we will win.

I pray one or better yet all of your kids get cancer and die, so you can feel the pain of what you liberals have done to this innocent family and Americans with your cold hearted liberal left wing politically motivated articles and tweets. All of you heartless and trashy liberal degenerates will pay dearly one day, God willing.

CNN, MSNBC and CNBC did not pick up the story until just a few hours ago and only after the outrage of their deafening silence was raised loudly by patriotic Americans, unlike you msm liberals pos assholes.

You pathetic pieces of shit do not come close to understanding how angry we all are, but you will in November, you corrupt vermin.
HOW DARE YOU EVIL FUCKING SCUM.
FU!!!"

So fun, right? Clearly, the dude has some issues, but this is really not too far off from public comments I receive on Facebook regularly on my articles. Our public discourse has devolved into radicalized idealogues spewing the anger and hatred their chosen media outlets keep them coming hooked on instead of actually discussing ideas and issues.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Another email I received on this article exemplifies the kind of disagreements we can and should have, even if we're coming from totally different perspectives.

Hi Annie

First if I want to say I'm sorry you were subjected to all those vulgar tirades from those that did not like your article on Cannon. Those were uncalled for and just immature.

But that is not to say I agree with your article. There are some flaws or liberties you took with your argument. The 30 second google search on news stories does come up with hits, but most from Thursday or Friday of last week. When the murder took place on Sunday. One very local News to NC Did report it on Sunday night.

Second, you wrote, on average, three children are killed every day. But that includes those over the age of 12. I don't think 16 thru 18 year old count as children. Those over the age of 12 make up half of the three children. If you focus on the 8 and under group(Which is more appropriate for this case), it's more like one per day. And I'd be willing to bet, In not one case, did a man walk up to a child in the street and shoot him point blank in the face. Just the heinous of this crime should have made more of a National splash.

I am not asking for demanding justice. His killer was caught.

But in these days of all this racial unrest, I truly believe that, if the races were reversed, this would have been the first story on Good Morning America on Monday morning. Wouldn't you agree? Or at least agree that is a good possibility? Of course I can't prove that and can't cite any examples of when this actually happened.

Anyway, I wanted to write and share my thoughts. I am just so tired of the media bias.

Mike

Now, that's a message I can do something with.

The obvious lesson here is "Be like Mike, not like Edger," but how do we get people to do that? As I said, I've been writing on the internet for 10 years. I've written about all kinds of contentious topics, from racism to breastfeeding in public. Up until this year, the foulest message I'd received was on an op-ed I wrote five years ago about not assuming every family does Santa Claus—a take that earned me a "Stop being such a whiny c*nt and stop f*cking up your kids" message to my personal Facebook page. I get messages like that regularly now.

There are ways to discuss our perspectives—assuming your perspective isn't wrapped in denying someone's humanity or basic human rights—with civility and reasoned arguments. I am happy to debate issues and do so frequently, but it's impossible to have a discussion with someone who says they hope your kids get cancer and die. Hatred like that is cancerous itself, but unfortunately it feels like its metastasizing throughout the body politic.

I wish I had a perfect answer for how to stop it, but I don't. All I know is that we won't survive this if we don't figure out something quick.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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."