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How Melinda Gates' own history helped shape the billionaire's philanthropy.

Improved access to contraceptives has lasting benefits.

How Melinda Gates' own history helped shape the billionaire's philanthropy.

One of the wealthiest women on earth, Melinda Gates, recently opened up about an unexpected secret to her success: contraceptives.

The 52-year-old billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist detailed her intersection of personal and professional success in a blog post for Fortune. In it, she talks about the importance of making contraception available to women around the world, one of the core issues being addressed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In doing so, she touches on how important family planning resources were in her own success.

"It’s no accident that my three kids were born three years apart — or that I didn’t have my first child until I'd finished graduate school and devoted a decade to my career at Microsoft," she wrote. "My family, my career, my life as I know it are all the direct result of contraceptives. And now, I realize how lucky that makes me."


President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Melinda Gates for their work fighting poverty in 2016. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

In 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to bring contraception to 120 million women around the world.

The bold strategy, part of the group's Family Planning 2020 initiative, highlights the role that access to birth control has in lifting developing countries out of poverty. In July 2012, the foundation committed to spending more than $1 billion toward contraception access and information. In November 2015, the group committed an additional $120 million to the program.

The 2015 boost was intended to focus on three specific priorities: improving the quality of services and increasing the number of contraceptive options, reaching marginalized committees, and investing in local advocates around the globe to make the case for using family planning services.

In the foundation's most recent annual letter, they recommitted themselves to meeting 2012's ambitious goal. That matters.

While an additional 30.2 million women have access to contraception because of the Gates Foundation's work, they're a little behind the pace needed to hit the 120 million goal.

Copyright 2010 Gates Notes, LLC.

But they've got a plan, and it involves making the most of emerging technologies and long-term birth control solutions, as well as increasing their public advocacy. Overall, the family planning aspect of the Gates Foundation's work is just part of their overall campaign, which also includes improving access to vaccines, reducing infant mortality, and reducing malnutrition in developing countries.

Access to family planning is an essential component of any anti-poverty program.

"When a country sends a generation of healthy, well-educated young people into the workforce, it’s on its way out of poverty," Melinda explained in the foundation's letter. "But this doesn’t happen by accident. No country in the last 50 years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives."

On Twitter, she posted a short video explaining how family planning triggers a "virtuous cycle."

With President Trump's reinstatement of the global gag rule, the Gates Foundation's renewed commitment to making contraception accessible is more important than ever.

In one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated the so-called "global gag rule," a Reagan-era policy that restricts U.S. funding to organizations that so much as mention abortion as part of their family planning services. At risk is roughly $9.5 billion in global health funding. In a move that is ostensibly meant to reduce abortion, the likely result is a decrease in overall family planning services for women around the world, meaning more unplanned pregnancies, which means, yes, more abortions.

In recent years, the U.S. has seen its teen pregnancy rate drop by 25% for two really simple reasons: increasing access to contraception and improved sex education. After making access to long-term birth control available for free, Colorado saw its own teen pregnancy rate drop by 40%!

In her letter, Gates explained how she came to understand the global need for contraceptive access beyond her own personal experience.

"Most of the women I talk to in the field bring up contraceptives. I remember visiting the home of a mother in Niger named Sadi, whose six children were competing for her attention as we talked. She told me, 'It wouldn’t be fair for me to have another child. I can’t afford to feed the ones I have,'" Gates wrote.

"In a Kenyan slum, I met a young mother named Mary who had a business selling backpacks from scraps of blue-jean fabric. She invited me into her home, where she was sewing and watching her two small children. She used contraceptives because, she said, 'Life is tough.' I asked if her husband supported her decision. She said, 'He knows life is tough, too.'"

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

For more information on the Gates Foundation's work getting contraceptives to women in developing countries, check out the video below.

While Upworthy has a proud partnership with The Gates Foundation, I was not paid by the foundation to write this article.

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.

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."