This is how a lifetime of potentially dangerous situations affects every woman.

Whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues — dress codes, rape culture, and sexism — there’s this thing that happens. People ask: Are things really that bad?

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Aren’t you being overly sensitive?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time, I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

Some of them don’t know. They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we aren’t always aware of it. But we’ve all done it.

We’ve all learned — by instinct or trial and error — how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable.

To avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all ignored offensive comments or laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired. It’s not something we talk about every day.

We don’t tell our partners or friends every time it happens.

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It’s so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

That at the tender age of 13, we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts.

That the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down.

That our old supervisor used to regularly pat us on the ass.

And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how routine these things are, so that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing, both internally and externally. We minimize it because we have to. To not shrug it off would put us in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We probably didn’t put a name or label to it, or even consider that other girls were doing the same thing.

But all the while, we were mastering the art of de-escalation.

We go through a quick mental checklist so that we can make a quick risk assessment. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Is he just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something affect my school/job/reputation?

In just seconds we need to be able to determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear or feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

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It’s the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a "friends with benefits” moment, even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We really don’t think anything of it. Until we hear that the "friend” who cornered us was later accused of rape. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Year’s Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those are the times we may tell our friends or partners about.

But all the other times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times, we just go about our business.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world:

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to our stomachs that we had to "play along” to get along.

It's feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s having our fingers poised over the "call” buttons of our phones when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend when a guy doesn't want to take "no” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded concert and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass. It’s knowing that, even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a Home Depot and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear him berate us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? Bitch.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted, or raped.

Photo via iStock.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted, or raped.

It’s realizing that we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this.

They have heard of things that happened. They’ve probably, at times, seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors so much of what we say or do.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? Maybe it’s because they just haven’t lived our reality. Maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis. And it doesn’t occur to us to talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience.

When I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the everyday sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching, when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing, they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe men won’t understand how pervasive everyday sexism is unless we start telling them and pointing to it when it happens.

Maybe I'm starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

Photo via iStock.

We de-escalate. We are acutely aware of our vulnerability — that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We get stares and comments from adult men before we can process what they mean. We learn at an early age that to confront these situations could put us in danger. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

The next time a woman talks about being catcalled and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t just nod. Really listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called "sweetheart" at work. The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language. The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable. Listen.

Listen because your reality isn’t the same as hers. Listen because it’s very likely that what you’re hearing about is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows was abused, assaulted, or raped.

Listen because she may be trying to make sure what she lived through isn’t something her daughter will have to live through. Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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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."