More

My open letter to pregnant women everywhere.

Many women experience infertility, a premature birth, or infant loss, but we don’t talk about it much.

My open letter to pregnant women everywhere.

Pregnancy is no walk in the park, and I know this all too well.

With a tiny human slowly growing inside of you for more than nine months, you are bound to be uncomfortable. But, while pregnancy challenges both your mind and body, I have a request: I want to ask expectant mothers to embrace the bump.

Let me explain: I’m a statistic, one of the millions of women out there who didn’t experience the perfect pregnancy and would give anything to reach full term with a child.


I guess you can say I’m the trifecta of mishaps. I spent years dreaming of having a child, only to face infertility. After my husband and I found out we were expecting triplets, a series of medical setbacks caused me to go into labor at 22 weeks. And while we have one beautiful survivor now, two of my triplets eventually passed away because of their extreme prematurity. That’s why my heart sinks when I see expectant mothers publicly post about how "over it" they are when it comes to their third trimester.

I remember spending several weeks on bed rest in the hospital, constantly praying for my triplets to sit tight for just a few more weeks.

Even a few days could have made a difference. By 20 weeks gestation, I was almost the size of a full-term pregnancy and I could barely turn from one side of the bed to the other.

All photos here by Stacey Skrysak, used with permission.

I had three babies using my bladder as a boxing bag, yet I was only allowed to get up a few times a day due to my health. On the day I went into labor, it felt like I had been punched in the gut. The pain from contractions was tough, and the attempts to stop the labor were even more difficult.

But, even worse than all of that pain combined was the emotional, unbearable pain of knowing that my children would most likely die. In that instant, as the doctor told me I had to deliver, I wanted to go back in time. I longed to feel my babies kick and remember the carefree days when my pregnancy was easy.

Many women experience infertility, a premature birth, or infant loss, but we don’t talk about it much.

For those women, like me, pregnancy can be a painful memory. I was robbed of my pregnancy and never got that magical delivery room experience; there was no picture-perfect moment of me happily holding my children.

Instead, I delivered my first triplet and held her in my arms as she passed away shortly after birth. The chaos, fear, and heartache is what I remember, not the beauty of bringing a new child into the world.

So here’s what I want you to know: I’m not asking you to stop complaining.

I'm not asking you to censor your experience either or to walk on eggshells when you feel the physically and emotionally draining side effects of pregnancy. Pregnancy is hard. And even three years later, I still make fun of my squishy belly, a post-pregnancy problem that I’m stuck with for good, much like those pesky chin hairs that forgot to go away after my children were born.

Instead, I’m simply passing along an observation from someone who’s had another kind of experience, and I’d like to encourage you to be empathetic to moms like me. As you stare at your swollen feet and clench your chest with heartburn, please think of your friends and social media acquaintances who might be silently struggling.

Until I shared my journey of infertility, I didn’t realize how many women also secretly struggled with it. I had no idea how many families experienced life in the NICU until I was in the midst of that journey. I think you’d be surprised at how many people you know are praying for the chance to someday have a healthy child.

via PeopleStanding / Instagram

One of the best things about social media is that there are some pages that deputize the general public to find great content and submit it to be published. It's like harnessing a mind-hive of funny to create a place where it can be enjoyed by everyone.

The People Standing page on Instagram is a great example of this type of crowdsourcing for comedy. The site has over 140,000 followers and features candid, user-submitted pictures of people standing awkwardly that were taken all over the globe.

Here are 17 of the best.

Keep Reading Show less
via PeopleStanding / Instagram

One of the best things about social media is that there are some pages that deputize the general public to find great content and submit it to be published. It's like harnessing a mind-hive of funny to create a place where it can be enjoyed by everyone.

The People Standing page on Instagram is a great example of this type of crowdsourcing for comedy. The site has over 140,000 followers and features candid, user-submitted pictures of people standing awkwardly that were taken all over the globe.

Here are 17 of the best.

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."