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She saw the dad who abandoned her living on the street. Then she fought to save his life.

The stunning before-and-afters of the homeless dad whose story went viral.

She saw the dad who abandoned her living on the street. Then she fought to save his life.

In April 2013, Diana Kim spotted her father for the first time in decades.

He was living on the street, disheveled and unkempt, and didn't have a clue who she was.


A photograph taken by Kim of her father while he was living on the streets. Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

As you can imagine, Kim — now 30 years old — didn't quite know what to think or how to feel. Her father had abandoned her when she was about 5, and she had no relationship with the seemingly homeless man before her.

"He hadn't been part of my life, he wasn't there," Kim explained. It was an emotional experience, "having to deal with my own personal feelings of being abandoned, and then at the same time recognizing that he's a person, just like [every other homeless person] I have reached out to."

"He wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't acknowledge me," she told Upworthy of that initial attempt to interact with him. "Then it started to really become clear to me that something is wrong with him mentally. He's mentally ill."

It was a unique situation for Kim, in particular, to find herself in.

Homelessness hit close to home for Kim long before she discovered her own father roaming the streets. She'd been an advocate for the homeless for years, and now her own father was among those she was fighting for.

Kim as a child, photographed with her father. Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Kim grew up in Hawaii, which is trying to curb unrelenting increases in homelessness — including a 24% increase in chronic homelessness just last year. Kim's turbulent family life left her battling what she considers "transitional homelessness" as a teen. Kim, who chose not to talk about her relationship with her mother, had slept in parks, lived out of a car, and relied on the kindness of friends to put a roof over her head some nights.

In large part because of her personal experiences, Kim began using photography to bring more visibility to homelessness back in 2003. "When you grow up at an early age and you experience struggle, that shapes the way you see the world."

Little had she known how much her advocacy would come full circle.

Homelessness has become a dire issue in the Aloha State, where chronic homelessness increased by 24% last year.

Kim was an ally to those living on the streets but could also remember the pain left behind by an absent father. It was only because her grandma had called, distraught and asking for help, that Kim agreed to find her father in the first place.

"He hadn't been part of my life, he wasn't there," she explained. It was an emotional experience "having to deal with my own personal feelings of being abandoned, and then at the same time recognizing that he's a person, just like [every other homeless person] I have reached out to."

As Kim later learned, her father was schizophrenic, and he'd stopped taking his medication.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Kim decided to fight for the dad who wouldn't even make eye contact with her — the dad she didn't know.

When she initially spotted him on the street, Kim's father did have a studio apartment he could go home to. But he lost it shortly thereafter — he'd been "scaring" his neighbors and wasn't able to take care of his personal hygiene.

"No one could get through to him," Kim explained. "He was evicted, and he had no place to go."

For the next several months, Kim routinely visited him on the street, trying to reconnect and persuade him to seek help. It was exhausting, and she didn't know if he'd survive.

But she did everything she could to help.

"At some point, you have to face your own fears and your own insecurities and your own pain," she told Upworthy. "And [for me] it was looking at my father and saying, 'That's my dad, and I'm going to help him, and I don't know what I have to do — I don't know what I'm supposed to do — to get through to him. But I'm going to stay with him and figure it out."

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Years ago, Kim started a photo blog, " The Homeless Paradise," that documents her interactions with Hawaiians living without stable shelter. After discovering her father, she began telling his story through the blog as well. Its pages are filled with tragedy, hope, and Kim's determination to help the world see Hawaii's homeless as people, not problems.

"I can't even count the number of times I have tried to get [my father] to accept clothing, and consider going to a shelter," she wrote in August 2014 about a particularly trying day with her dad. "Sometimes I walk away with a sense of defeat, other times I find myself feeling completely disconnected, and in this most recent encounter, I walked away feeling a mix of both."

In late summer 2014, Kim's father's health took a turn for the worse.

Someone called the police after finding him face-down on the sidewalk. Her father had suffered a heart attack. And because he had no ID or medical records, it took weeks for word to make it to Kim.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

Although her immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty — "I wasn't sure if he was going to make it" — medical attention ended up being the best thing for him.

In a way, his hospitalization was a blessing in disguise.

Her father's time in the hospital helped give him a new starting point.

Since his hospitalization about a year ago, Kim's dad has taken substantial steps forward in bettering his life. Now he's living in an assisted living residence and taking his medication, and Kim's relationship with him has evolved "day by day."

Upon his return to a healthier state, Kim learned that he'd battled serious mental health issues since 1990, which had affected his ability to nurture a relationship with her all those years.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

"To see my dad go from a place where he was really just a shell, and now to be filled again — with love, with hope, with dreams, and desire — it's an amazing experience," she said, noting he's even been able to get his driver's license again. "And I think that everyone who's out there is capable of it."

Kim's blossoming relationship with her dad further inspired her to build a career focused on helping those who need it.

With just one year left at the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law, Kim plans to use her degree to help people who've been in her father's shoes.

She volunteers at a nonprofit that provides legal services to veterans and homeless individuals and, of course, is still using her camera and blog to tell the stories of Hawaii's homeless.

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

"The camera itself has always been a catalyst for change in my eyes," she said. "But it's now bridging it with the world of law and policy, and being able to help shape the outcomes in our community that makes it really fulfilling and meaningful."

And perhaps the best part?

"He's really proud of me," she says.

Kim has also launched a Kickstarter to supply the homeless with a vital tool in keeping them safe: a bracelet.

"I realized shortly [after my father was hospitalized] how important it is to have IDs and other important documentation to reintegrate into society," she wrote on her Kickstarter page. "Many homeless individuals face the threat of losing their documents, having them stolen, or thrown away by city and county sweeps."

Kim's father looks at family photos. Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

That's why Kim partnered with CARE Medical History Bracelets in digitizing forms of ID and crucial medical documents for any homeless person who wants to participate. She aims to provide them with a bracelet so their personal information and health status can be more accessible to health professionals than her father's was.

The fundraiser is now closed, but it also helped Kim raise funds to produce photo books of "The Homeless Paradise." And Kim has told Upworthy that people can continue to support her work by donating or ordering prints of her photos on The Homeless Paradise blog. She says the proceeds will go for the ongoing efforts of the Kickstarter.

The past couple of years have been an emotional yet fulfilling roller coaster for Kim.

But one lesson she's learned is that love will always find its way into your heart if you let it.

"In the journey of emotionally and physically caring for my father, I learned that nothing can be truer than love," she wrote on her blog. "I love him. It doesn't matter what he did, or what he didn't do. The pain and suffering that he experienced, and caused me over all those years, didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was that he had the opportunity to live again, to function again, to have a second chance. And now he has it."

Photo courtesy of Diana Kim, "The Homeless Paradise."

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Davina Agudelo was born in Miami, Florida, but she grew up in Medellín, Colombia.

"I am so grateful for my upbringing in Colombia, surrounded by mountains and mango trees, and for my Colombian family," Agudelo says. "Colombia is the place where I learned what's truly essential in life." It's also where she found her passion for the arts.

While she was growing up, Colombia was going through a violent drug war, and Agudelo turned to literature, theater, singing, and creative writing as a refuge. "Journaling became a sacred practice, where I could leave on the page my dreams & longings as well as my joy and sadness," she says. "During those years, poetry came to me naturally. My grandfather was a poet and though I never met him, maybe there is a little bit of his love for poetry within me."

In 1998, when she left her home and everyone she loved and moved to California, the arts continued to be her solace and comfort. She got her bachelor's degree in theater arts before getting certified in journalism at UCLA. It was there she realized the need to create a media platform that highlighted the positive contributions of LatinX in the US.

"I know the power that storytelling and writing our own stories have and how creative writing can aid us in our own transformation."

In 2012, she started Alegría Magazine and it was a great success. Later, she refurbished a van into a mobile bookstore to celebrate Latin American and LatinX indie authors and poets, while also encouraging children's reading and writing in low-income communities across Southern California.

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Davina Agudelo was born in Miami, Florida, but she grew up in Medellín, Colombia.

"I am so grateful for my upbringing in Colombia, surrounded by mountains and mango trees, and for my Colombian family," Agudelo says. "Colombia is the place where I learned what's truly essential in life." It's also where she found her passion for the arts.

While she was growing up, Colombia was going through a violent drug war, and Agudelo turned to literature, theater, singing, and creative writing as a refuge. "Journaling became a sacred practice, where I could leave on the page my dreams & longings as well as my joy and sadness," she says. "During those years, poetry came to me naturally. My grandfather was a poet and though I never met him, maybe there is a little bit of his love for poetry within me."

In 1998, when she left her home and everyone she loved and moved to California, the arts continued to be her solace and comfort. She got her bachelor's degree in theater arts before getting certified in journalism at UCLA. It was there she realized the need to create a media platform that highlighted the positive contributions of LatinX in the US.

"I know the power that storytelling and writing our own stories have and how creative writing can aid us in our own transformation."

In 2012, she started Alegría Magazine and it was a great success. Later, she refurbished a van into a mobile bookstore to celebrate Latin American and LatinX indie authors and poets, while also encouraging children's reading and writing in low-income communities across Southern California.

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."