Justin Baldoni and his wife made peanuts their son's first food. Wait, what?

I was super nervous the first time I fed each of my kids peanuts, terrified that they might have a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Kids can be allergic to any food, of course, but peanut allergies are particularly scary. While relatively rare, anaphylaxis isn't something you want to mess around with.

When my kids were babies, the prevailing advice was to delay introducing peanuts into a child’s diet in case they were allergic. So when I heard that actor/director/all-around-awesome-human Justin Baldoni and his wife were feeding peanuts to their 6-month-old son — as his first solid food, no less — I was intrigued.


Justin Baldoni and his wife, Emily, have a 2-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old son.

It never would have crossed my mind to give my kids peanuts as infants, and certainly not as a first food. But my kids are older, and research is ever-evolving.

Baldoni told me that he and his wife Emily decided on early introduction of peanuts after reviewing the research and consulting with their child's doctor about new data on how to prevent peanut allergies.

"Once we talked to our pediatrician and we found that it was safe and could greatly improve his chances of not developing a peanut allergy, we thought as parents we should give it a go," he says.

According to the latest research, "early and often" exposure to peanuts may prevent peanut allergies from developing later on.  

A landmark study released in 2015 found that early consumption of peanuts significantly reduced a child’s chance of developing a peanut allergy. The striking results of that study prompted new recommendations from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Instead of delaying or avoiding peanuts, the new recommendation is to start exposure to peanut proteins early — between 4 and 6 months — and continue to feed peanuts to children a few times a week to prevent allergies from developing.

Doting daddy that he is, Baldoni naturally wants to do what's best for his kids.

Dada? Probably not intentionally but I’ll take it! #dearmaxwell #6months

A post shared by Justin Baldoni (@justinbaldoni) on

Baldoni explained how he and Emily have gone about exposing their son Maxwell to peanut protein.

"Maxwell is primarily breastfed, so the first thing we actually introduced into his diet was peanuts," he said. "We took a little bit of ground peanut powder, and we mixed it in with his mama’s fresh breastmilk. And we just kind of spoon-fed it to him three times a week."

"As they say, early and often is what helps prevent it."

The guidelines are so new that many parents may not be aware of them — or they might be afraid to follow them.

Baldoni said they didn’t have this research when his daughter, Maiya, was a baby. She’s now almost 3. With new research being done all the time, recommendations are constantly changing, so it can be hard for parents to keep up.

Justin Baldoni with his daughter, Maiya. Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images.

It can also be nerve-wracking to follow new advice that flies in the face of old recommendations. Having experienced this myself as a parent, I asked Baldoni if he and Emily were nervous to give Maxwell peanuts.

"Totally nervous," he replied.

"Emily and I are just very aware. Her sister has a pretty severe nut allergy, and I have friends with peanut allergies, and I have family members with food allergies."

"I think as parents, anytime you’re going to introduce something into your child’s diet that helps to prevent a further allergy, it’s a scary thing. But once we talked to our doctor, we were much less nervous because Maxwell was also low-risk. So we just introduced it at home, and we watched him. He loved it, and he was fine, and so we just kept going."

The website preventpeanutallergies.org has information about what makes a child low-risk or high-risk for peanut allergy, in addition to other common questions about the research and recommendations.

Baldoni has partnered with organizations invested in preventing peanut allergies to help raise awareness about the new guidelines.

He's known for using his social media platform for good, and he and Emily decided that preventing peanut allergies in kids is a cause worth promoting. He's partnered with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI); the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT); and the National Peanut Board to spread the word.

Baldoni said he believes that if even one life is saved, it's worth it.

"I know and I’ve seen first-hand what a peanut allergy can do to somebody’s life and how it can affect them, and the fear that people experience when they have a peanut allergy, whether it’s on planes … eating at restaurants … always having to make sure, and double check, and triple check, and take an EpiPen with them ..."

"If there is a way to prevent this, if there was a way to make a child’s life that much easier, then absolutely I want to use my platform to help with that."

"We’ll never know, but if one parent does this and their child doesn’t develop an allergy and otherwise they would have, then I think this is really good and important work, and that’s something that I’m really passionate about — making sure that we’re always using our blessings and our gifts to pay it forward and help others."



While the Baldonis chose peanuts as a first food in consultation with their doctor, the ACAAI recommends that peanuts be introduced after other solid foods. Parents should consult with their doctors about any concerns they have about food allergies. For more information about peanut allergies and prevention, visit preventpeanutallergies.org.

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."