Julia Minson and her mom.

Julia Minson and her mom. / Julia Minson

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

When Julia Minson was in graduate school, her mother was diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer.

It was a difficult time, and to cope, Minson became a student of the disease. She read through clinical studies and learned all the terminology she could. Her research uncovered something she found promising: a new experimental drug that had a small chance of helping her mom. But when she brought the idea to her mother's physician, Dr. Charlotte Jacobs, she was met with skepticism. Minson remembers what Jacobs said that day.

"No. It's incredibly risky ... she could bleed out. She could be paralyzed for what remains of her life. I could lose my license. I could go to prison. Absolutely not."

Minson pushed back, determined to consider any path that might help her mother. But in the end, Jacobs' final answer was a firm "no."

"I [left] 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,'" Minson recalled.

The tumor board was a gathering of the top oncologists in northern California. Every month, each doctor was allowed to present one case for the group to discuss. Dr. Jacobs had brought up Minson's idea.

"And they pretty much unanimously agreed that it was a non-starter for all the reasons that I already explained to you," Minson recalled Dr. Jacobs explaining. "But, you know, I really thought it was worth discussing and thoroughly thinking through and I'm sorry that we can't do it."

Disappointingly, Jacobs was right. A few weeks after that appointment, Minson's mother passed away. But Minson's interaction with Dr. Jacobs left a lasting impression.

"I still remember that conversation — 17 years later — as the time where I felt most heard, perhaps in my life," Minson said.

Minson is now a psychologist, and runs a research program at Harvard University that studies how people can be more receptive to views that oppose their own.

"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 a very stark example where she did not change her mind ... but I still felt heard."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

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