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A daughter's story of pushing to try a new experimental drug for her mom's cancer

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Julia Minson. When Minson was in graduate school, her mother was diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer. Minson dove into researching the disease and discovered there was a new experimental drug that had a small chance of helping her mom. So she brought it up with her mother's physician, Dr. Charlotte Jacobs (ph). Dr. Jacobs was skeptical, but Minson had done her research, so she pushed back.

JULIA MINSON: You know, here I am. I'm like a 26-year-old grad student in psychology arguing with one of the top oncologists in the world about a treatment plan. And she says, no, it's incredibly risky. You know, she could bleed out. She could be paralyzed for what remains of her life. I could lose my license. I could go to prison. Like, absolutely not. And so we go back and forth for a while. And she says, no. And I leave the office disappointed.

And then we came back two weeks later for whatever the next appointment was, and she said, I took your idea to the tumor board. And I said, what's the tumor board? And she said, it's a gathering we have once a month of all the top oncologists in Northern California where each of us gets to present one case. And I discussed your idea. And they pretty much unanimously agreed that it was a non-starter for all the reasons that I already explained to you. But, you know, I really thought it was worth discussing and thoroughly thinking through. And I'm sorry that we can't do it.

And it turned out she was right. Just weeks later, my mother passed away from the lung cancer. And I still remember that conversation 17 years later as the time where I felt most heard, perhaps in my life. And I have never seen her since when my mother passed away and, you know, never got to explain that my entire research program right now is about receptiveness to opposing views. And I think part of the reason that story is particularly precious to me is because I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that making somebody feel heard doesn't require changing your mind. And to me, that is like a very stark example where, you know, she did not change her mind, but I still felt heard.

SUMMERS: Julia Minson of Lexington, Mass. Minson is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. You can find more stories like this one on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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