Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
My last point of training was going to the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), which takes place the first week of December. It’s the biggest breast cancer symposium in the country and a chance for doctors, researchers and advocates to get together to hear the latest updates in research and clinical trials.
For the past 18 months, I have been participating in a program called RISE (Respected Influencers in Science through Education) offered through Young Survival Coalition. The training involves learning the science of cancer as well as training to become a patient advocate. My last point of training was going to the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), which takes place the first week of December. It’s the biggest breast cancer symposium in the country and a chance for doctors, researchers and advocates to get together to hear the latest updates in research and clinical trials.
I find it quite interesting to hear the latest results from clinical trials and research in the cancer realm. I know that the research and insights presented in years past is what brought on my own treatment seven years ago. I know that some of the treatment and new findings that are discussed today will help benefit others who are going through cancer now or will go through it at some point in their lives. I also know that we all hope that this research will one day prevent people from having to take those steps along the cancer path.
Being at a symposium this large was a bit more overwhelming than I thought it would be. For starters, I had no idea that there really was this much research and this many clinical trials going on. Yes, some could say I am naive at that, but until I saw it with my own eyes I guess I just didn’t realize the enormity of it all. I was also overwhelmed and a bit disappointed, I guess you could say, that I was in a room with 7,500 other medical professionals and advocates all in it for the same thing - how do we put a stop to this horrible disease - and yet none of us still had an answer. It brought on the thought of is this really how strong cancer is. That many people in one room listening to all this unbelievable research and there is still no cure? I guess it is a little depressing to say, but I’d be lying if that was not one of my take aways from the week.
However, overall, I found that as I listened to these doctors and researchers present their findings, their clinical trials and their ideas as to where to take the science of cancer next, overall, I was still filled with hope. These people have brought the fight of cancer to all new levels.
There are so many new treatments, new drugs and new ways to fight cancer. I learned about a number of new technologies that can test a tumor to see the likelihood that it will come back or not, allowing doctors to then prescribe the right treatment for their patients. This opens the door to have the discussions between doctors and patients to decide if chemotherapy is necessary as well as decide the best surgery options. This means that we could be walking down a road where over treatment might be a thing of the past. It wasn’t too long ago when no one knew there were different types of breast cancer and each one was treated the exact same way. Now these scientists are finding different ways to breakdown the cancer and lead the doctors and patients down a path with more adaptive therapy to that particular cancer and patient. Even though this type of technology was not around when I was diagnosed I am thrilled to see that people now have that option for further discussions with their medical teams.
The other takeaway I have from my week at SABCS was quite a bit of the clinical trials and research still pertained to me and my treatment path. I have constant anxiety, even after all this time, that I picked the right treatment and made the right decisions. I still wonder if my doctors were right in what they prescribed. I trust them, but that anxiety always just creeps in. Hearing the results of long-term clinical trials that follow similar paths to my treatment made me happy with my decisions. Some of these trials provided what I thought I already knew and others just reassured me that my decisions were best for me.
I know that we have a long way to go in fully understanding cancer, why it happens, how to stop it and how to keep it from coming back. Yes, it is frustrating we are not as far as we all hope. I’d be a fool to say otherwise. Yet, after spending a week hearing everything that has come out of SABCS and what is being pursued long after this year is over I do have my hopes. I do believe there is good research being done and good results only to still be found out in the years to come and maybe even in one short year when the next SABCS comes up again.