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She worked with the civil rights movement in 1964. Here's her truth now.

I reached out to a civil rights movement veteran expecting to get some nice quotes about hope; what I got was so much better.

She worked with the civil rights movement in 1964. Here's her truth now.

Shaun King, a professor and leader in the modern movement for racial justice, said in a Facebook post:

"If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW."


Image of Black Lives Matter protest in Missouri via Jarred Gastreich, used with permission.

I have definitely wondered that. Who would I be if I had been born then? I needed to get some advice for how to move forward today, as the civil rights movement continues.

I found Jane Adams of Carbondale, Illinois, on the website Civil Rights Movement Veterans.

White mob marching in Little Rock, Arkansas. Photo by John T. Bledsoe/Library of Congress/Flickr.

The site is a magical treasure trove of our country's wisdom. Each person on the site — and there are hundreds — has written a letter, a testimonial about their time fighting in the civil rights movement. Jane Adams was at the very top of the list on the front page of the site.

Jane participated in the Freedom Summer of 1964 and '65.

Jane was a white teenager who saw injustice, didn't like it, and tried to help. I'm not a teenager, but I am white. I'm in that boat, too, so her story stuck out to me.

Her parents were back-to-the-land folks from Chicago. Her dad bought a farm in the 1950s and worked for the unemployment office in Carbondale — a part of Illinois that's closer to Kentucky than Chicago. Despite her parents' more Bohemian origins (at least by the standards of Southern Illinois), she was mostly raised on a farm there, one of the only homes to have running water at the time it was built.

The Freedom Summer was a tactical moment in the civil rights movement that recruited hundreds of white students from the North to come to Mississippi for a summer, and Jane was part of that group.

Jane's story was fascinating to me for many reasons.

First, here is an excerpt of what she said about her time in Mississippi on the Civil Rights Movement Veteran website:

"I went to Mississippi with Freedom Summer and was assigned to Harmony Community in Leake County, working on Federal Programs. ...

The work changed my life. It was far more important to me than anything I — a naive youngster — contributed. As Bernice Reagon said, 'I was reborn in the Civil Rights Movement.' I learned, more than anything, that people make history. I saw heroism that I could never have imagined, and a sense of hope that infused people who had lived all their lives with the degradation of white supremacy. I also saw what is probably the most important kind of leadership — that at the level of communities, where people have to confront and deal with the people who make their day-to-day lives possible."

I was intrigued, so I called Jane to learn more.

As it turns out, she had a lot to say about growing up, her civil rights work and the work of today's civil rights leaders.

She told me that her summer in Mississippi was a violent summer. Three participants were killed. But that was part of the deal.

"We were shipped in. We all knew, if a white person got beat up, a white person from a good family with connections to legislators, that had a lot more impact than a black field hand who didn't know anyone connected to power," she said. "We were brought down because we could awaken the consciousness of a nation ... hopefully and get Congress to act."

Civil rights activist Priscilla Stephens being arrested in 1961, in Florida. Image via State Archives of Florida/Florida Memory/Flickr.

"As Bernice Reagon said, 'I was reborn in the Civil Rights Movement.'"

I asked Jane what she thought of all that's happening today with Black Lives Matter and with just "the world today" in general.

I was expecting some encouraging, hopeful quotes. But what I got instead was a challenge.

Civil rights movement boycott and picketing of downtown Tallahassee in 1960. Image via State Archives of Florida/Florida Memory/Flickr.

She challenged me, and anyone interested in participating in social change, to watch out for what she called "the politics of grievance" — a fight for political change based solely upon the hardships a group has faced — and to always find something to fight for, even when you're fighting against so much.

"There was a positive thing that people were fighting for," she said, "that people were willing to risk their lives for. Fighting for the right to vote, the right to hold jobs, the right to go to school ... the right to be treated like an equal person."

Jane reminded me there's a wonderful banality to the dream of equality.

Humans just want to be treated like humans. Black lives should matter. It's almost boring because it's so obvious — it's often not shiny, but it is important.

The 1963 march on Washington. Photo by Rowland Scherman/U.S. National Archives/Flickr.

The last story Jane told me really captured the delightful banality of living in a just world:

While wandering around a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, she says a young guy asked her husband to take a photo. Jane's husband did, and that was that. She told me it was a normal, everyday moment, but for Jane, a white person in a predominantly black crowd, it was really significant.

For her, it was a moment where everyone, in a crowd supposedly fraught with racial tensions, was just treating each other as humans. Unremarkable humans.

"We got giddy over it!" she remembers. "Like 'Wow, this is what we fought for. This is what we put our lives on the line for. To be in a place where we could just be.' That's what we were fighting for."

A Black Lives Matter protestor in Brooklyn in July 2016. Image via lolololori/Instagram.

Jane reminded me that I can't just be mad if I really want to inspire others and even myself.

Instead, I have to find something worth fighting FOR, not just against. Yeah, it's kind of obvious, but it also cracked my mind open in the best way.

I hope that y'all can find someone to talk to when America's path to justice gets bumpy (tragically bumpy), like it has lately. For me the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website was the perfect place to start finding inspiration about how to take steps forward.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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."