Period poverty keeps women and girls from reaching their full potential, in the U.S. and around the world
Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash
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There are few certainties in life, but one thing women and girls can generally depend on is a monthly period. Come hell or high water, Aunt Flo is likely gonna show, and it's almost always going to happen at an inopportune time.

Now imagine what life looks like for those who lack access to period products.

Katie is in the 6th grade. She lives in the poorest county in Kentucky, where almost everyone works in coal — and there is too little education and too much meth. Katie's family doesn't have enough money to eat or keep the power on consistently. Personal hygiene is an afterthought, which is why when she gets her first period, she has no choice but to stuff old washcloths into her underwear before going to school.

Later that week, when she runs out of washcloths, she simply stops going.


For girls like Katie, it's easy to see how menstruation each month can stand in the way of a high school graduation or keeping a summer job — and could eventually prevent them from climbing out of poverty altogether.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, approximately 500 million women and girls live without access to essential tools for menstrual hygiene management, such as period products and handwashing facilities, but what many of them do have is a boatload of shame. Across the board, menstrual health is hugely underfunded and over stigmatized, leaving people like Katie at a huge disadvantage.

Thorsten Kiefer, co-founder of WASH United — a non-profit organization that focuses on improving menstrual hygiene and human rights worldwide — told Upworthy that he wants to see period poverty become a thing of the past. His goal is to "create a world in which no woman or girl is limited because of her period by 2030," because Kiefer hates injustice.

That general distaste for ignorance and injustice is what led him to pursue a career in human rights law, and later spurred the idea for WASH United. It bothered Kiefer that no one wanted to talk about toilets and handwashing, and as a result, people suffered. "I guess I'm really interested in taboo social issues no one else wants to touch," he said.

In 2013, WASH United took their work a step further and created Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day), a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management for all women and girls. The main goal of MH Day is to break the silence, raise awareness and change negative social norms surrounding periods.

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This goal is why his organization partners with brands like Always to bring the issues around menstrual health to the forefront.

Always ramped up production and shipping of pads in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with a goal of getting products into stores quickly and donating them to those in need through charity partners. So far, the company has donated over five million period products across the United States, as well as worked to find relevant ways to ensure that girls and their families have access to information and resources that they need to navigate their periods with confidence.

Clearly, the more attention periods get, the more resources will become available for the people who need them the most.

"I'm most proud of the MH Day partnership as a whole — of how this extremely heterogeneous group of organizations ranging from tiny, grassroots non-governmental organizations to corporate giants like Procter & Gamble sings together like one gigantic choir to make our voice heard loud and clear for one single purpose: empower women and girls to achieve their full potential and realize their dreams," Kiefer said.

"Maybe 'proud' is not even the right word. To see MH Day in action just makes me really happy."

Girls like Katie, if armed with period products, an education and a supportive environment, can change the world. The question is, will we help them get what they need?

To support this effort and other programs like it, all you have to do is keep doing what you're doing — like shopping for period products. Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

via The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart made Stephen Colbert and his audience uncomfortable on the "Late Show" Monday night when he went on a rant about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stewart believes the virus probably came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, instead of the once near universally accepted belief that it emerged from wet markets in the area.

"Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of this pandemic … which was more than likely caused by science," he said to nervous laughter.

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via The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart made Stephen Colbert and his audience uncomfortable on the "Late Show" Monday night when he went on a rant about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stewart believes the virus probably came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, instead of the once near universally accepted belief that it emerged from wet markets in the area.

"Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of this pandemic … which was more than likely caused by science," he said to nervous laughter.

Keep Reading Show less
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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."