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.
Being a survivor and patient advocate means keeping up to date with the latest in treatment options and hearing the latest news in cancer research. ASCO is the perfect conference for just that.
It's been about a week since ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) came and went. Lucky for me, it just so happened to have taken place in my backyard. I live in Chicago and the conference was within walking distance. As a patient advocate, I find it important to go to events like ASCO but find if you can't get a scholarship, take part via a nonprofit or work for a company that is represented there, going to something like ASCO takes a bite out of your wallet. I got to skip the airplanes, trains and airports to get there since it was so close. I was there representing a nonprofit I volunteer with, so I spent some time at the advocacy booths. The best part is that also meant spending a little time hearing the happenings at ASCO.
I am a seven-year breast cancer survivor, so naturally, breast cancer is what I usually want to hear about. ASCO is for all cancers. It's a massive convention held once a year in Chicago that usually includes just under 40,000 attendees to the convention itself. That's a lot of cancer fighters, survivors, medical professionals and pharmaceuticals. That number alone blows my mind. On a positive, I love seeing this many people who have dedicated their lives to fighting cancer. On the negative, unfortunately my thoughts still go to the fact that there are this many people who are gathered together to learn about cancer, fight cancer and figure out a way to cure cancer and yet we don't have one. I try not to dwell on that part too long, but if you have seen ASCO in person, you know what I mean. It goes to show how strong cancer is, unfortunately. But, dwelling on that gets us nowhere, so I move on from that thought, focusing on all the fighters and new treatments that tend to arise from conferences such as this.
Let's talk about the advocates in attendance. My favorite part of walking around ASCO is seeing other patient advocates and survivors. I don't have the numbers of attendance of advocates, but I can tell you, when I run into one, we are loud and proud. After all, we are the ones that the 40,000 attendees are there for, are we not? We are the ones pushing for better treatment, pushing for the cancers we have seen ourselves or seen loved ones fight and even succumb to. So, we are the ones that need to be heard and I love that there is a good crowd of advocates in attendance. Directly at the opening of the exhibit hall is a huge section of advocate booths. They are all together making it easy to make the rounds. Yes, we are surrounded by pharmaceuticals that are showing off the latest and greatest from new treatments and drugs to new technology. That's fine with me, but I love that the advocates get primary spot number one. As a medical professional, you can't walk through the exhibit hall without having a look at who the advocates are. Now, many just pass right by either not caring or perhaps not having the time for a brief visit with the advocates, but many do. They want to know what we do, who we are and why we are there. I love that. We are there to be heard. We are there to help the others who may not be able to speak. We are there for the ones that don't even know they will have a walk down the cancer road. Some people stop by to talk about trials they are working on and others just want to hear about what we do so they can bring back the information to their patients. That means mission accomplished, at least in my book.
Lastly and the biggest, is the news on the latest development in treatment of cancer. There are so many different talks, presentations, abstracts, posters, etc. It's too much to see it all, so I made sure I stayed focused. The biggest excitement in the breast cancer world came from the results of a massive breast cancer trial involving women with early stage breast cancer. The trial is called TAILORx. You may have heard of it or participated if you are a breast cancer survivor. I won't go into the details, but the reason the trial was such big news is its findings show that many early-stage breast cancer patients don't need chemotherapy. There is a lot more that goes into it, so I suggested if you are interested you speak with your doctors. However, the excitement was felt in the room when it was discussed. This trial could change treatment options for women with certain stage and certain types of breast cancer. That's exciting! That's why I like to go hear the happenings. And let's face it, isn't that why many of us choose to become patient advocates. I like to think that my treatment and support were made possible by the patient advocates before me. Now, it's my turn to do the same.