I am writing this while in the San Diego airport. I arrived the recommended two hours early and got through security quickly, so had some time. I stopped at the TCYB stand to get a frozen yogurt and took a seat to eat my cone. Another woman bought her food and then sat next to me. She asked if I had just attended the AACR meeting. I don’t know why she asked, as I wasn’t carrying the tote or anything that would have identified my participation. It turned out she had also attended the meeting.
Once I said I had attended, we struck up a conversation about the frustration of wanting to attend simultaneous presentations and having to pick and choose. We talked of what we’d liked about the meeting. We talked about the CD, available Podcasts, research abstracts. We got to talking further, and it turned out she was a scientist; an oncologist who had done extensive research into gastrointestinal cancers and was currently studying prostate cancer. I told her I was a gastrointestinal cancer survivor. We had an immediate connection.
I told her my cancer story and she told me of her husband, a more recent cancer survivor. We talked about her research and my survival. We talked about people we’d both known who had not survived the disease, young people who had much to live for. It was a wonderful conversation, in just minutes she felt like an old friend. I was inspired by her research; she was inspired by my survival. We were both almost in tears at one point. Before we parted, I thanked her for her dedication to cancer research; she thanked me for being a survivor, for being an example of research success. We exchanged information and plan to keep in touch via email.
Before the meeting I’d never spoken with anyone involved in cancer research. I’d probably have been intimidated by such a conversation. Having been in an environment attended by so many scientists for several days, though, and having interacted with them has really changed the equation for me.
When I heard of the Scientist-Survivor program, I wasn’t really sure I understood the philosophy. Now I feel I understand it on a more personal level. Maybe my airport interaction was a great illustration that scientists and survivors need to support, inspire and learn from each other, that we truly need to interact. Maybe in the end, our mutual passion and support will bring us that much closer to the goal of removing the terrible threat that cancer is to humanity.