Read the surprising, hilarious, blunt, yet sweet letters kids write to the military.
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“Imagine that you worked in an office building, and you couldn’t leave it for weeks at a time.”

Ensign Christine Conlon says, "That’s what it feels like to be deployed on a Navy ship."

The USS Ross in port at Souda Bay, Greece. Photo by Spc. 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released/U.S. Navy.


Conlon works aboard the USS Ross, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer (think three pegs in Battleship) stationed off the south coast of Spain. Every season, the USS Ross and its inhabitants are deployed on a four-month patrol in and around the Mediterranean area.

During those deployments, life at sea becomes pretty boring, pretty fast.

So a letter like this can often make someone's day:

All letters courtesy of Ensign Nick Tsusaki/U.S. Navy.

The letter reads:

Dear Service Member,
Thank you for risking your life for my community. I'm so thankful for what you're doing. Earlier we wrote about how we were brave. I said I let my sister get KFC instead of me getting Taco Bell. That's nothing compared to what you do. I can't say thank you enough. My great uncle was in the military. It would be great if you would write back. I appreciate your courage and sacrifice. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
Sincerely,
Your biggest fan,
Destiny



Sailors may be at sea for several weeks at time, so once they've read, watched, and played everything they brought with them on deployment, entertainment can be pretty scarce.

"We really value the small things," Conlon says. “When you get a package and it’s got a new nail polish or new movies, and you can say ‘All right, I’ll set aside time to do this on Wednesday,’ it gives you something to look forward to.”

The enthusiasm for correspondence is universal. “It’s a delight to get mail,” says Ensign Nick Tsusaki, who works alongside Conlon on the Ross. “Everybody looks forward to getting mail.”

In addition to correspondence from family and friends, military personnel receive thousands of letters and packages from strangers — including from kids.

Letters like this one:

Dear Soldier,
Thak you for prtekteg us. I am in 1st grad but I know a lot.
from Juliette.

Back home in the States, community organizations frequently run letter-writing campaigns and package donations for service members overseas. Every time there's a mail delivery, personally addressed packages are accompanied by hundreds of letters and cards from citizens around the country.

The anonymous mail often offers a brand of levity that’s entirely its own — particularly when kids are the letter writers.

“It makes your day getting these little kids’ cards. I usually scan through the package for bad handwriting ‘cause that’s how you know they’re gonna be funny. Kids really do say the darndest things,” Tsusaki laughs.

Dear Soldier,
Hello! I hope you are well. Thank you for fighting for us. My favorite thing is soldier. I love soldier. Are you okay? Well I feel happy for you.
Love,
Kinley


The messages often reveal that the kids have little clue what goes on overseas, but they understand that the sailors and soldiers are far from home and could use a little love.

Dear Soldier,
Thank you for risking your lives for other people. I'm sorry if your friends died. I appreciate everything you do for the country.
Your new friend, Michael.

“Even when it’s crazy stuff, like ‘I hope you don’t die’ or ‘Thank you for giving your blood for me,’ stuff like that, it’s still nice to get something that someone took some time to do,” says Lt. j.g. Sean Mansfield.

“And it’s a good conversation starter for five hours of night watch when you’re standing alone with somebody in the dark,” adds Tsusaki.

Dear Soldier,
Thank you for fighting for our country. You are our hero. I know it is scary. I wish I can help you but I am a kid.

Whether the packages contain something funny or something touching, it’s clear that handwritten notes have an amazing ability to make an impact.

Out at sea, sailors aren't totally disconnected — they're still able to email family and chat online with friends. But it's not quite the same as a card or letter handwritten in the mail.

"It’s nice to get a text saying, 'hey man, you’re the best,'" says Mansfield, "But mail just takes a significantly higher level of care and concern. You know that someone thought about what you wanted, put it in a box, wrote the address, drove it to the post office. You know that person really cares."

Conlon sums it up in a sentence: "It's just nice to know someone was thinking about you."

Want to send a card or letter of your own? You can write to a soldier online via the USO or visit A Million Thanks to learn more about sending physical letters and packages. Your contribution is always appreciated.

via Kat Stickler / TikTok

Kat Stickler has created a hilarious series of videos about her husband that a lot of women say they can relate to because theirs behave the exact same way.

Stickler is a mother who shares funny videos about her domestic life on TikTok where she's earned over six million followers.

In the videos, she transforms into her husband Mike by throwing on a backward baseball cap and adopting a deeper voice. From the videos, it's pretty clear that Mike always wants some sort of praise for doing the things he's supposed to do.

The interesting thing about the couple is that they went from dating to parents pretty much overnight. Three months after their first date, Kat was pregnant and they were married.

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via Kat Stickler / TikTok

Kat Stickler has created a hilarious series of videos about her husband that a lot of women say they can relate to because theirs behave the exact same way.

Stickler is a mother who shares funny videos about her domestic life on TikTok where she's earned over six million followers.

In the videos, she transforms into her husband Mike by throwing on a backward baseball cap and adopting a deeper voice. From the videos, it's pretty clear that Mike always wants some sort of praise for doing the things he's supposed to do.

The interesting thing about the couple is that they went from dating to parents pretty much overnight. Three months after their first date, Kat was pregnant and they were married.

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."