Stunning photos show how a magpie returned the favor to the family that saved her.

Almost four years ago, Sam Bloom went on a trip to Thailand that changed her life forever.

She loves going on adventures with her husband, Cameron, and their three boys, and this trip was no different. One morning, after a dip in the ocean, they decided to get a juice and sit on the roof deck of their hotel. Sam leaned on an unstable part of the railing and fell, landing on the tile floor 18 feet below.

Just like that, everything was different.


Sam broke her back and fractured her skull, causing massive brain bleeding and swelling. Her injuries were so extensive that she wasn't able to return home to Australia for three weeks and had to stay in the hospital for another seven months. When doctors told her she'd never walk again, she says, it felt like a significant part of her died.

Shortly after returning home, the family stumbled upon a tiny three-week-old magpie that had fallen out of a tree.

Little did they know how much the tiny bird would change their lives.

Meet Penguin. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

The magpie was in desperate need of love and care. After a quick call to a veterinarian friend, the family decided to take her in. She required a great deal of attention, including feedings every three hours, but soon started to recuperate.

They named the magpie Penguin. From that moment on, she was part of the family.

Nap time. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Penguin often acted like a pet, but the Blooms never forgot the magpie was wild. She got a nest made out of a laundry basket and could come and go as she pleased.

It felt incredibly special, Cam says, that Penguin usually chose to hang with them.

She loved to clown around with the boys, stealing food off their plates and pooping on their shirts.

Breakfast. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Lunch. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Even though Penguin could be loud and messy (just like her brothers) she could also be the sweetest companion.

Reading. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Penguin's warm, quirky presence was especially meaningful to Sam, who was still recovering from her accident in more ways than one.

Cooking together. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

"She was great company," Sam explains over the phone. "I was going crazy being stuck at home. She was always on my lap or shoulder. She was good for me because I would just talk to her and tell her what was going through my head."

Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Sam says she often felt like she was whining too much about her situation to Cameron (to which Cam quickly interjects "Never!"), so she fell into the habit of sharing her feelings with the magpie.

Over the next several months, Sam's mood improved as she watched her kids and Penguin play together.

Kisses. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Music hour. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

When Sam had to do her physical therapy, Penguin joined her.

Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

And even got in some PT training herself.

Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin The Magpie.

After a few months, it was time for Penguin to leave the nest.

Setting Penguin free wasn't easy. The family set her up in a frangipani tree outside their house, but she often came back inside to escape the other magpies who tried to dive-bomb her. Magpies can be quite territorial, and Penguin seemed to be infringing on claimed property.

Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

Slowly, Penguin got used to leaving her human nest for longer and longer stretches. Then, over a year ago, she flew away for the last time.

Sam, ever an adventurer, made it onto the Australian para-canoe team and was away competing in the world kayak championship in Italy when Penguin left for good.

"Of course I miss her, but she came at a perfect time and left at a perfect time," says Sam.

The family was certainly sad to see her go, but Sam had been making major strides in her own recovery and finally felt she was in a good place emotionally and physically. The magpie had been there for her while she was recovering, just as her family had been there for Penguin when Penguin needed them.

No matter where she goes, Penguin will always be part of the Bloom family.

She gave them joy and love during a difficult time, and filled their house with laughter. Thanks to Cameron's amazing photography skills, the family also has a book full of incredible photos of Penguin enjoying life with them written by New York Times best-selling author, Bradley Trevor Greive.

Penguin with her family. Photo by Cameron Bloom/Penguin the Magpie.

It just goes to show that you never know what form hope will take when you need it most.

For the Bloom family, it happened to be in the form of a scrappy-looking magpie that needed their help; little did they know she'd end up saving them just as much as they saved her.

Check out an adorable video of Penguin's surprise return here:

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

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This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

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."