The brilliant way that one man is helping fellow veterans continue to serve others.
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Macy's

When he was just 7 years old, Jake Wood decided he wanted to help victims of war.

It started when he visited Mauthausen, a Nazi concentration camp in Germany where members of his family were forced to live during World War II. He saw the barren cells where people had once slept and the chilling areas where they were put to death.

As he looked over all the terrible aspects of the camp, he wished he'd been there to save people from suffering. In that moment, he decided to dedicate his life to helping people in distress — and that he'd do it by joining the military.


So in 2005, after graduating from college, he joined the Marine Corps and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

But when he returned home, despite having received awards for his many accomplishments as a sergeant, he didn't exactly find a long list of jobs that called for the skills he'd developed while serving.

The job hunt wasn't the only challenge Wood faced as a veteran returning to civilian life.

He went from spending 24 hours a day in a community with like-minded individuals to feeling isolated among civilians who couldn't relate to his experiences.

This transition has caused many veterans to lose their sense of purpose; the path they've been on for so long has ended, and they no longer feel like they're making a difference in the world.

But here's the thing: Veterans' skills are incredibly useful. They can be integral to so many nonmilitary-related situations, especially those that involve saving lives.

Wood got a huge reminder that his skills were still needed after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2010. The quake killed hundreds of thousands of people and completely devastated Haitian residents.

In many places, survivors were left without food, clean water, and medical aid, but the damage surrounding them was too difficult for emergency workers to get through safely.

Wood, however, had faced dangerous terrain like it before. And he'd been trained to see his way through it.

Armed with skills he learned in the Marines, Wood headed straight to the heart of the disaster in Haiti along with fellow Marine William McNulty and six other volunteer veterans and first responders.

Jake Wood and Team Rubicon. Image by Kirk Jackson, used with permission.

The Haitian government and aid organizations warned Wood's team not to go into the treacherous areas that needed the most help. However, despite the risks to their personal safety, they continued on their mission.

Thanks to their persistence, they were able to treat thousands of earthquake survivors who needed medical support and other aid. While the task had seemed impossible to other aid organizations, Wood and his team had just the right set of skills to reach some of the most vulnerable people.

With that in mind, Wood and McNulty started an organization called Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response group.

Team Rubicon volunteers working during recovery efforts. Photo by Jeremey Hinen, used with permission.

During his experience in Haiti, Wood had realized that the instability and resource limitations following a natural disaster are pretty much the same conditions that troops deal with in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing how to work as a team, assess risks, and provide emergency medical care is exactly how the troops got through those conditions — and exactly what disaster zones need.  

So, with Team Rubicon, veterans work with medical professionals to bring first aid, supplies, and manual labor to help communities recover as quickly as possible after they've been hit by a natural disaster.

A member of Team Rubicon helps out after 2015 tornadoes in Oklahoma City. Photo by Kirk Jackson, used with permission.

They completed four missions in their first year in 2010, and that number has risen ever since. In 2017 alone, they carried out 61 operations. The number of participants has ballooned as well, from that small team of eight in Haiti to more than 70,000 volunteers in 2017.

The Team Rubicon veterans have brought this invaluable training to areas such as Puerto Rico, where they removed debris and distributed medical supplies to survivors of Hurricane Maria. In Houston, they rescued residents stranded by flooding after Hurricane Harvey. In places like Honduras, they’ve helped teach local paramedics cardiac life support skills. All in all, Team Rubicon’s work has helped saved countless lives around the world, and here in the United States.

Team Rubicon responds after a tornado in East New Orleans. Photo by Jeremey Hinen, used with permission.

And thanks to support from brands like Macy’s, they’ll be able to reach even more communities. As part of Macy’s July 4 Give Back campaign, you can get 25% off your purchase in stores or online by donating $3 at checkout. $1 of each $3 donation will benefit Team Rubicon by helping deploy 35 Strike Teams on domestic operations to help survivors of disasters over the coming year.

But you’re not just supporting a disaster relief organization. Thanks to Team Rubicon, veterans can come together and use their skills for vital missions, which in turn helps remind them that they're valued members of an indispensable team. It's also a chance for veterans to live a fulfilling life after military service, surrounded by empathetic colleagues.

Team Rubicon rescuing Texans stranded by the Hurricane Harvey flooding. Photo by Kirk Jackson, used with permission.

Working with Team Rubicon provides that feeling of community so many veterans miss once they return to civilian life.

It also reminds veterans that they have so much to offer after leaving the military. The organization reports that 78% of participating veterans who were previously deployed say they've developed a greater sense of purpose.

One veteran, Richard Bly, had been struggling with symptoms of PTSD before he joined Team Rubicon. Now he says his disaster relief work has helped him step outside of his comfort zone. Today he’s shaking the hands of people whose homes he helped rebuild, and making eye contact with them — something PTSD had previously made difficult.

“Homeowners thank us, and it’s great,” Bly wrote of his experience, “but the unspoken thing about Team Rubicon is most of us get more out of it than we give, even if we show up and give our all, day after day.”

Team Rubicon in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Jeremy Hinen, used with permission.

And by supporting efforts like Team Rubicon, civilians can also help veterans make healthy transitions back into nonmilitary society.

For Wood, that lifelong vision of helping others never has to end. He's grown up to be the helpful, courageous man that his 7-year-old self once dreamed of becoming.

Salute those who serve by donating at Macy's to organizations that support veteran and military families from June 28th — July 8th.

via KOCO News 5

A story out of Moore, Oklahoma shows the power of what can happen when people look out for strangers in their communities and take action.

Michael Lynn was running some errands on June 15 on a hot Oklahoma day when he noticed a shirtless young man walking down the side of a service road. Sensing that the man needed some assistance he pulled up beside him and asked if he needed a ride.

The young man, Donte Franklin, 20, replied, "Yes, sir!"

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via KOCO News 5

A story out of Moore, Oklahoma shows the power of what can happen when people look out for strangers in their communities and take action.

Michael Lynn was running some errands on June 15 on a hot Oklahoma day when he noticed a shirtless young man walking down the side of a service road. Sensing that the man needed some assistance he pulled up beside him and asked if he needed a ride.

The young man, Donte Franklin, 20, replied, "Yes, sir!"

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."