People from states with harsh winters are sharing tips with Texans for staying safe and warm
Photo: Canva, @mixbecca/Twitter

A polar vortex swept through the southern United States this week, bringing snow and ice storms and record low temperatures that have debilitated the region. Texas in particular has been hit hard, and with an energy infrastructure that's not designed or prepared for such weather, millions of people have been without power for days.

People who aren't used to cold weather, who live in homes that aren't designed to retain heat, who don't have winter gear to keep them warm, are struggling to stay warm without power and heat. Some don't have water, either.

While politicians bicker over who is to blame for the dire situation, Americans are doing what they can to help. For those of us in the north, that means sharing knowledge and experience for how to stay warm when the heat goes out.

Several viral threads on Twitter have proven incredibly helpful as people offer their best tips for handling the frigid temperatures while staying safe. (Sadly, we've seen several deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning—running a car in a garage and heating a home with a charcoal grill are things you should avoid at all costs.)

Twitter user from Michigan @mixbecca shared this bullet list of advice:


"Okay southern friends / people without power -- as someone who has lived through many, many power outages in negative temps, while the priority is to get somewhere warm if you *can* if you're trapped at home -- here of some of the things that can help:

- Layers of loose-fitting clothes will keep you warmer than layers tight.

- Put towels / blankets / etc over windows, and if you can, choose a "warm room" for all of you to stay in that you can insulate. Shove towels under doors, tape over door frames if possible.

- Keep your hands and feet warm. Put them under your armpits, wrap them if you have to. Wear a hat indoors if needed to keep your ears warm.

- If you still have water, bottles of hot water at the foot of your bed under your sheets will help warm them up / create a "cave" of warmth.

- Turn on ALL your faucets so a teeny, tiny drip is going. Trust me. You DO NOT want your pipes to burst in negative temps. It is an actual nightmare. Someone on my tl was worried about wasting water but you will waste a lot more if you flood your house.

- If you still have gas you can use, a hot pot of water on the stove will help with heat and humidity; dry air indoors in the winter is the worst. Boiling pots of water will help on both ends also.

- Pantyhose are a godsend for layering. Those bitches are WARM. Wearing them under baggy sweatpants or something will make a world of difference. We did this when Michigan got hit with an ice storm and we had no power for a week.

- If you've never had to layer in the cold before, some of the best things you can wear are wool, flannel, silk, and fleece. Moisture-wicking fabrics and natural fibers are ideal for under layers; wool and flannel for top, bc they insulate you but they can't wick moisture away.

- If there are multiple levels to your house, just accept that the top floor is going to be the warmest. Heat rises, cold air sinks. If you have a particularly toasty bedroom it's easier to convert that to a 'warm room' instead of trying to heat the entire house.

- Shut doors to any rooms you don't absolutely need. Stuff towels under the doors. Got an office, a spare bedroom, etc? Seal it off so you're not "wasting" warm air on that room.

- DO NOT: Bring a generator inside. Ever. EVER. And don't run it in your garage, either. Generators have to run 30 ft away from your home; most northerners know this, but we can't expect southerners to.

- During the day, you can pull towels / etc down from windows if you have bright sunlight in and -- this is going to sound silly -- sitting in the sun in dark-colored clothing is a godsend when you're stuck in a freezing ass house.

- Make sure you recover windows at night if you're able to heat foods -- hot foods like tea, soups, etc will help. There's a reason ever ~idyllic~ Christmas movie has folks coming in from the snow to drink hot cocoa and broth, lol. now is the time to live your greatest tea / soup / chili aesthetic dreams.

- If you have pets, you need to monitor them when they're outside. Dogs can get frostbite on their paws; let them out to do their business and bring them back in. Animals are good at letting you know when they're cold, but don't be afraid to make blanket nests / etc for them

- If you're desperate to block drafts and you have them, pool noodles are a godsend. Cut them in half (length-wise not like....down the middle) and wrap them in fabric and jam that shit under your door.

- For bedding, fluffy stuff goes closest to you (goal is to have pockets of warm air!). The thinner and denser the layers of bedding are, the closer they should go to the top. So if you're sleeping with, say, a fluffy duvet and two blankets, duvet touches your skin, blankets on top.

I am literally so sorry for everyone stuck in this position. Being without power in the cold is a nightmare. You'll feel like you're losing your mind, and cold /hurts/.

(tldr: Multiple loose layers, block the drafts, block off as many rooms as possible, and hot drinks, if you can.)"

Others added to the list with their own tips, such as holding hot drinks against your heart to keep your core warm. Limbs will feel the coldest, but keeping the center of your body warm is more important than you'd think.

Movement warms you up, but you don't want to break a sweat since the moisture will make you colder.

Other tips include:

- Melt snow in buckets to use for flushing toilets if your water is shut off.

- Your hot water tank holds a lot of fresh water. If your water is shut off, you can drain it from your water heater

- Line windows with cardboard for insulation. Saran wrap window edges. Bubble wrap works as insulation as well.

- Depending on the outdoor temperature, you can put food in plastic bins or coolers out in the snow.

- Stay hydrated. Your body uses a lot of energy just to stay warm, and your body regulates its temperature more effectively if it's properly hydrated.

- Hats are a must. You lose a lot of heat out of your head.

- If you must drive somewhere, go slower than you think you should, and don't slam on your breaks. If you lose control, don't turn the wheel sharply. Try to stay along the rumble strip on the side of the road where you have more traction.

- Check on neighbors, especially if they live alone and/or are elderly.

- Again, don't run the car in the garage and don't use a barbecue indoors. If you have a gas oven, don't use it to heat the house. Carbon monoxide poisoning is real.

People in Texas have expressed gratitude for the tips, in addition to being thankful for people not making fun of those who are struggling.

It's heartening to see people coming together virtually to help strangers who live thousands of miles away, reaching out with sympathy and solidarity.

Anyone who's experienced a power outage during the winter knows how brutal the cold can be. And since folks in Texas and other southern spots aren't used to or prepared for it, handling that situation is even harder.

Hang in there, southern friends. We're hoping this crisis passes soon for you all.

People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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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."