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One man is making beautiful reminders of love in unlikely places. One wall at a time.

In a world where it can seem like hate is winning, I'm glad he's playing for the other team.

One man is making beautiful reminders of love in unlikely places. One wall at a time.

Ever drive by a neighborhood* and think: "I wonder who lives here...?"

(*Or ride by! Shout out to bikes and public transportation!)

Artist Stephen Powers, aka ESPO, did.


A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on

And his answer to that question is truly beautiful.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/40792735199/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

<3

Powers is the man behind the "A Love Letter to the City" public art project.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/41795971025/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

It started in Philly and has since spread to cities around the world, from Baltimore to Dublin to Brooklyn to ... your town next?

When you're just passing through neighborhoods — especially in places that have a reputation as rough or violent, like West Philly or Baltimore, where "Love Letters" have popped up — it's easy to forget there are moms, dads, cousins, and grandmas living there.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/41795340354/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

Folks who laugh, who cry, who love, and everything in between.

And that's where Powers' project, which began in partnership with Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, comes in. To remind us about love.

Noted. ;) Picture by me!

Yeah, it's cheesy, but kind of necessary. There are enough reminders of hate!

Powers is adamant that the art be about the people who live in the neighborhoods where he paints the murals. So, step one: Talk to the people and get inspired.

"I have to go to a city first and talk to people," Powers said to The Atlantic's CityLab. "Then, I try to make those conversations into visual communication. I liken what we do to being a visual sound system. We engage and we learn, and ultimately we head out to a wall and figure out what fits—in every way. Then we paint it. Painting is the easy part."

He says, "It's public art in the way it should be — working with the public."

regram parsons with one from @sredles24. for my man Milton Eager, words courtesy of Mr Chris. 20 years ago he moved in the neighborhood and not long after heard drug dealers shooting out all the car windows on the block. He had his kids lie down on the floor and he called the police. The police wouldnt risk sending officers to his block, instead they told him to move. People would ask Mr Chris why he wouldn move, and he said "I am here because its home" Thats a Baltimore Love Letter from Mr Chris to his community and from us to you.
A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on

In the Instagram, Powers notes:

" ... for my man Milton Eager, words courtesy of Mr Chris. 20 years ago he moved in the neighborhood and not long after heard drug dealers shooting out all the car windows on the block. ... People would ask Mr Chris why he wouldn move, and he said "I am here because its home" Thats a Baltimore Love Letter from Mr Chris to his community and from us to you.

There's nothing quite like reading love letters inspired by complete strangers written large (literally ... on a giant wall in bright paint) to make you realize that our human struggles are the same.

The first of these murals are visible all along the train path running through West Philadelphia, Powers' old hometown neighborhood.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/41794565373/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

But you can also see them from the ground.

I took that picture! From the ground!

And according to Powers' Instagram, even Pope Francis peeped his work as he rode the elevated train in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, beautiful muse in well worn shoes. like the guy hauling away a handtruck of left over free water from the pope visit. Thank you Francis for hopping the El to see this refreshed for fall by Mike Levy, freshed in the first place by @thelossprevention
A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on

The caption reads:

"Philadelphia, beautiful muse in well worn shoes. like the guy hauling away a handtruck of left over free water from the pope visit. Thank you Francis for hopping the El to see this refreshed for fall by Mike Levy, freshed in the first place by @thelossprevention"

The aim of "Love Letter" is to take all the incredible humanity going on behind the walls of these neighborhoods and make it visible to everyone by putting it on the outside.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/43164435219/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

As Powers told BrainPickings:

"The art is secondary to bringing the community together and getting everyone to agree on something. The wall stands as testimony to a unified community, even if the artwork is completely boring."

It reads: "Knocked on your door / legs tired back sore / migraine fur sure / nor more I swore / you smile I'm cured." Photo also by me.

All of his murals are about one thing: LOVE.

Powers told CityLab:

"Yeah, I'm a romantic! Duh! I'm jealous of musicians, jealous of how music is a medium people integrate into their lives in a way they rarely do with art. I like to think of myself as a visual blues musician — I'm painting love songs. When you pick up a guitar, what else would you want to play? Everything is for love. It's the original motivation for everything. Exclamation point."

Whether you've been in love before, love your mom, or only figure out what love is like by listening to old Motown songs, every human can relate to LOVE.

Photo taken by me.

That's why these murals are so brilliant.

West Philadelphia, where Powers is from, is a bit rough around the edges, and not many folks from outside of West Philly tend to go there.

And if you don't know people, how can you see them as your neighbors?

In a world where we're sometimes so removed from each other, where we watch the news of mass shootings, riots, war, and sadness from behind our individual computer screens, Powers' murals are there to remind us all of just how similar we all really are.

Ain't it the truth. This pic also taken by me.

We all love exploring. We love beauty. We love. Period.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/43162359469/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

In a world where there are far too many reminders that hate is alive and well, I'm grateful for Powers' work. It's a reminder that love is behind every wall, in every neighborhood, and in every heart.

<3

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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."