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What's it like living with mental illness? Ask Wil Wheaton.

Wil Wheaton is the latest in a line of people to tell his story of what it's like living with mental illness for Project UROK.

What's it like living with mental illness? Ask Wil Wheaton.

Actor, writer, and producer Wil Wheaton recently recorded a video discussing what it's like living with mental illness.

You might know him from his work on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or "The Big Bang Theory," or perhaps you're one of his nearly 3 million Twitter followers — or maybe you don't know him at all.

No matter the case, you probably know someone like him.


Wheaton's video was for Project UROK, a nonprofit aimed at breaking down the stigma of mental illness.

His is just the latest in a series of videos by the organization (which is pronounced "project you are okay").

Writer and actress Mara Wilson ("Matilda") also opened up about her experiences with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression; blogger and media personality Perez Hilton recorded one about his struggle with anxiety and depression; and I even recorded one about my own bouts of depression and social anxiety.

Wheaton's experience is his alone, but there's some overlap with others who struggle with mental illness.

In the video, Wheaton mentions the fact that for years, he wasn't even aware that depression and anxiety were weighing him down — he just assumed that was simply how life was.

GIFs via Project UROK.

Later, he touches on the experience of finally seeking treatment and how that helped him regain stability in his life.

Trying to explain mental illness to someone who hasn't dealt with it is really, really hard.

There are so many misconceptions that go along with it. Depression is more than just feeling sad. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is more than just liking your apartment a certain way. Bipolar disorder is more than just having an up-and-down day.

Hearing the stories of others, with their similarities and differences, can help paint a picture of what it's actually like to live with mental illness. Most importantly, it can help those who do live with it to realize that they are not alone.

The purpose of Project UROK is to create a safe space for people with mental illness to share their stories and hear the stories of others.

"Project UROK is the resource I wish I'd had as a teenager when I was feeling isolated due to my severe anxiety, OCD, and depression," Project UROK founder Jenny Jaffe told me in an email. "We're creating a platform where all kinds of people can tell all kinds of stories related to mental illness in a way that's friendly, fun, inclusive, and non-judgmental. My ultimate goal is a world where we think of mental healthcare not as a luxury, but as a basic human right. We can only do so if we stop being afraid to talk about what mental illness really is and what it actually looks like."


The choice to use the term "mental illness" instead of just "mental health" is deliberate, intended to reduce stigma.

"I think we invoke the term 'mental illness' a lot as a way to dismiss people that society doesn't find particularly valuable," she told me. "Or we use it as an excuse for an inexcusable action. In both cases, the clear message is that mentally ill people as a whole are 'other,' and therefore not worth our time or care."

And she's absolutely right. We see the term used to describe people involved in mass shootings, for example. The reality is that people with mental illness are only responsible for around 3-5% of violent crimes. They're actually significantly more likely to be victims of violent crimes than to take part in them.

"Until we can talk about mental illness as an illness that, like anything else, requires professional treatment and care, we will continue to think of mental illness as something to be kept a secret."

"The reality is that 1 in 4 Americans struggle with a diagnosable mental illness. 'Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.' Until we can talk about mental illness as an illness that, like anything else, requires professional treatment and care, we will continue to think of mental illness as something to be kept a secret, and of mental healthcare as a non-priority," Jaffe said.

If you're like Wil Wheaton, Mara Wilson, Perez Hilton, or the tens of millions of others who live with mental illness, please remember that you're not alone. You are okay.


Photo courtesy of Capital One
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Growing up in Virginia, Dominique Meeks Gombe idolized her family physician — a young Black woman who inspired Meeks Gombe to pursue her passion for chemistry.

While Meeks Gombe began her career working in an environmental chemistry lab, after observing multiple inefficient processes in and around the lab, she took the initiative to teach herself to code in order to automate and streamline those issues.

That sparked her love for coding and imminent career shift. Now a software engineer at Capital One, Meeks Gombe wants to be a similar role model to her childhood mentor and encourage girls to pursue any career they desire.

"I'm so passionate about technology because that's where the world is going," Meeks Gombe said. "All of today's problems will be solved using technology. So it's very important for me, as a Black woman, to be at the proverbial table with my unique perspective."

Since 2019, she and her fellow Capital One associates have partnered with the Capital One Coders program and Girls For A Change to teach coding fundamentals to middle school girls.

The nonprofit's mission is aimed at empowering Black girls in Central Virginia. The organization focuses on designing, leading, funding and implementing social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods.

Girls For a Change is one of many local nonprofits that receive support from the Capital One Impact Initiative, which strives to close gaps in equity while helping people gain better access to economic and social opportunities. The initial $200 million, five-year national commitment aims to support growth in underserved communities as well as advance socioeconomic mobility.

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We live in a world where men, who have never and will never experience pregnancy or childbirth, make laws about women's reproduction, which in and of itself is a headscratcher. When we're talking about anti-abortion legislation, which effectively forces women to go through pregnancy and childbirth whether it's healthy for them or not, it seems like the people who actually experience those things should have a more heavily weighted say in such legislation.

Of course, women have varied opinions on the matter. (The most recent Gallup poll found that 53% of women in the U.S. identify as "pro-choice" and 43% identify as "pro-life.") But interestingly, a Twitter thread is showing how actual experience can either shift or concretes a person's views.

Writer Jennifer Wright wrote, "Raise your hand if pregnancy and childbirth only made you *more* pro-choice," and the responses came flooding in.

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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."