Lessening how much stuff you have can bring you joy. But it can also protect our planet.
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Have you ever thought about how much stuff you have?

Think about everything — from furniture to appliances all the way to that shirt you bought on sale that one time that you swear you're going to wear one day. How much do you estimate it adds up to? (Don't worry, we'll wait.)


Well? GIF via "Coming to America."

Have that number in mind? Hold on to it.

Now get this: The number of things in the average American home by one projection is 300,000.

Yes, that's a huge number. (Although when you consider all the little knickknacks we have lying around, 300,000 might not be that bad? I mean, my kitchen drawer alone probably has a thousand things in it right now.)

Story of my life.

But when you compare that number to people living a minimalist lifestyle, 300,000 things can seem astronomical.

For instance, one man from Japan, Fumio Sasaki, has only 150 items to his name. That's it! Yet he's perfectly content and feels that having less stuff has allowed him to hone in on what really matters in life.

He told Reuters, "Spending less time on cleaning or shopping means I have more time to spend with friends, go out, or travel on my days off. I have become a lot more active."

Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus sum it up perfectly on their website, aptly titled The Minimalists, by saying: "Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important — so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom."

Granted, owning only 150 things may be a bit more on the extreme side of minimalism, but New York Times best-selling author Marie Kondo presents a slightly different approach.

In her world-renowned book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," Kondo writes about getting rid of stuff that doesn't bring you joy so as to maximize your own happiness. You can own as little or as much as you like, but if that DVD collection of "Dawson's Creek" you've had lying around for years doesn't really make you feel anything anymore, chuck it!

Don't worry, Dawson. It'll be OK. GIF via "Dawson's Creek."

Now, whichever side of the spectrum you gravitate more toward, the same idea seems to come out — clearing away clutter can actually change your life for the better.

That being said, do a lot of us have too much stuff?

Back in 2007, Annie Leonard answered that question with her revolutionary documentary, "The Story of Stuff." She brought to light how people's desire for more was severely hurting our planet's resources and the health of many.

The life cycle of stuff: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Image via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube.

As more and more people buy and consume more things, big businesses are compelled to produce more products at a quicker rate to ensure a profit. But in the process, they pay little attention to the depletion of natural resources and, of course, the accumulation of waste. It's a vicious cycle.

That's where The Story of Stuff Project comes in.

It's a community of changemakers all working toward continuing the mission that the original documentary set in motion.

"The Story of Stuff Project exists to look at the system of the materials in our lives and the economies that support them — from extraction to disposal," Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns, explained. "We’re really concerned with how we make use and dispose of the stuff in our lives and ultimately, what we do with the project is create stories about different points in the system and mobilize citizens to then take action towards metric outcomes that benefit both the environment and people."

When stages in the life cycle work together, great things can happen. GIF via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube.

Through different methods of storytelling — from podcasts to books to mini-movies — The Story of Stuff Project is zeroing in on important issues that have a global impact. Whether it's their tell-all on the hazards of plastic water bottles or their movement to ban plastic microbeads in toiletries from wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, there is no doubt these changemakers are telling the stories that can help make the world a better place.

Remember that number from the beginning? Think about it again.

A lot us can get caught up in wanting more stuff. But with a little reevaluation, keeping our numbers down makes it possible to improve our own well-being, the well-being of others, and the planet.

And should you decide to start lessening the things that don't bring you joy, keep in mind that donating it could spark some joy in someone else. Maybe it's just a matter of finding a creative way to reuse it.

In fact, a little creativity can go a long way. One study found that if 300 million Americans reused just one shirt, that would save 210 billion gallons of water and 1 billion pounds of CO2. Imagine that.

So next time you think about throwing away some stuff, just remember all the other factors that come along with it. Yes, it might seem pretty small at first — but trust us — the impact is monumental.

"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

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"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

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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."