Let the games begin...


CURE invited Kathleen (Kat) Werner, a breast cancer survivor, to serve as a guest blogger during the 33rd annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, December 8-12. You can read her full story here.What do you get when you put 36 advocates, leaders from advocacy groups large and small, and survivors in a room with at least five representatives from the biggest pharmaceutical companies? No, it's not the start of a bad joke; it's the start of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Last night this group of advocates gathered for a welcome dinner. We shared our stories of what brought us to this day. How our advocacy journey started and what we hoped to do for the future. There was talk of the National Breast Cancer Coalition's (NBCC) 2020 breast cancer deadline campaign, mention of new mammography guidelines, friends lost, sisters saved and a general theme that all of our children need to be spared from the battle we have lived. I have said it before, but if the cure to breast cancer was based on the character of the warriors fighting to end it, we would have found a cure a long time ago. Everyone in that room, around those tables and entering those doors had made a sacrifice to be there. A sacrifice in time, money, physical health, cultural barriers or sheer distance. We had advocates from every corner of the world. From remote islands off of New Zealand, Egypt, Nigeria, Scotland, Australia and every corner of the United States. It is humbling to belly-ache about the health care or cancer problems in this country only to hear the story of a Nigerian woman whose sister died of breast cancer, having not told anyone of the lump she found because of lack of proper treatment and cultural stigma. The picture of how many people we are fighting for grows bigger. We suddenly realize the diversity of this non-biased disease and realize a cure in any country can have a worldwide impact on saving lives. This morning (Wednesday) is the first day of the SABCS. For us advocates, our job starts early. The NBCC offers a free session for advocates called the "Project LEAD Advance Topic Session." (Project LEAD is a premiere science training course provided by NBCC to equip advocates to have an educated seat at the table with researchers in the ongoing dialogue of breast cancer science.) NBCC brings in top researchers from cutting edge institutions all over the country to give a brief overview of some of the highlights of research in the past year and being shared in coming days at the SABCS. It's an intense science session, with the correct assumption that most of the advocates in the room are highly trained and educated and don't need the information "dumbed down." Issues of genetics, metastasis, stem cells, biomarkers, personalized medicine, cell biology, radiation and major areas of concern are addressed in a quick overview to highlight some of the most promising new or developing science. Wednesday afternoon, SABCS officially began for the rest of the attendees. There will be several types of sessions over the next few days: -Educational Sessions: Designed to provide people with a better understanding of the talks they hear using the techniques that will be described. They provide researchers with a guide to the techniques they should be considering for their studies.-Panel Discussions: A group of researchers, health care providers, doctors and/or advocates that consult on clinical practices and best methods and collaborative ideas.-Mentor Sessions: Exclusive to the advocacy community, these sessions match advocates with top researchers and clinicians to provide upcoming highlights and clarification on issues that may be and are being presented this week during the SABCS.-Networking Sessions: Bringing together groups to foster collaboration, such as young investigators, like sciences, similar methods and like interests.-Plenary Sessions: A large session that brings together all attendees. It often contains the highlights of the year, exciting new developments that would be of interest to the entire research community. It is a platform for awards and recognition of innovative research and researchers pushing the limits to make real advancements. On the last day, a "Year in Review" session brings together a synopsis of some of the research highlights from 2010. -General Sessions: Researchers will present their individual studies and their latest findings. It is usually divided into several presenters with a set time to present their findings and slides. Most general sessions have a theme where groups of similar areas of research are presented in sequence as the same session. -Clinical Science Forums: A dialogue amongst clinicians and researchers on some of the more controversial topics and how we should view the various sides and parties involved. Often contains a panel of various parties to comment on how these issues affect different demographics and decision makers. -Poster Sessions: A room filled with posters lined on the walls, each representing an individual research project from a principal investigator, post-doctoral, pre-doctoral researcher, clinician or (in fewer instances) an advocacy group. A poster discussion pulls out some of the stand-out posters with positive or negative results from their original hypotheses to create a dialogue on the direction for future or ongoing research. -Case Discussion: A panel of clinicians, researchers and advocates where actual patient scenarios are presented and arising problems address with the expertise of the panel with comments on new suggestions, perspectives of treatments, outcomes and novel approaches. Please use these descriptions as your guide to the context the research is reported 1n, by myself and various other groups coming out of the SABCS this week. Kathleen "Kat" Werner is a cancer research advocate after being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. She travels the country and sits at the table with private and government agencies, fighting for the best treatments for newly diagnosed women and ultimately a cure for breast cancer. She lives is Blacksburg, Virginia with her husband of 11 years, Jeff, and her three young children.

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