I will be leaving tomorrow to attend the American Association for Cancer Research’s 100th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado as part of their Survivor-Scientist Program. This is the second annual meeting I will be attending, and my third AACR conference. I attended their Prevention conference the end of last year in addition to their annual conference last April.
Last year’s annual meeting had such a profound impact on me. I’m not sure what I had expected prior to going last year…it was the first oncology conference I’d ever attended (okay, my first medical conference ever). I was overwhelmed by the number of people attending the conference…thousands and thousands of scientists. So many scientists, all passionate and dedicated to eliminating cancer from our world. Scientists who were real and caring people, all devoted to seeing an end to the devastation cancer brings to our lives. Exceptional people with many years of education who have dedicated their brilliance, their time, their passion and their lives to seeing an end to cancer.
It gave me such hope; it made me know that many people care about us and our struggle. I for the first time in my medical career saw the faces behind the scientific journal articles I’d always read. Real people with spouses and kids and a sense of humor. People I could have lunch with, have a conversation with.
It made me know that many people care about seeing an end to the pain and terror cancer brings to our lives. They are learning so much that will one day help us. And I met so many other survivors who were also advocates, who had done so much. I so wanted to emulate their advocacy, I wanted to make a difference to other cancer patients, as they did.
I was inspired in so many ways.
How I got involved in the Scientist-Survivor Program is a kind of fun story. A woman who had seen my web site emailed me. I’m not sure how she came to find my site as she is a long term kidney cancer survivor, not an appendiceal cancer patient. She wrote me to say that my advocacy efforts reminded her very much of the efforts of a friend of her, a kidney cancer survivor who founded the Kidney Cancer Association based out of Chicago, but who had later succumbed to the disease. She’d participated in advocacy efforts through that organization and gone on to become very influential in advocacy efforts on a state level.
It turned out she lived in a town only 30 miles from me, so strange as via the Internet I’ve comunicated with cancer patients from all over the world since publishing my site. Not only were we neighbors, we were about the same age. We traded phone numbers and talked for hours several times…we truly connected and developed a great respect for one another. She had participated in the AACR’s Scientist-Survivor Program years before and said she wanted badly for me to become involved with the program. She sent me a link to an application to the program, said that a recommendation letter was required and that she wanted to write my recommendation letter. She asked me to please apply.
So, I filled out the application, not really knowing what I was applying to, sent the recommendation letter and waited to hear if I’d been accepted.
About the same time I sent the application, I’d received another email from a woman who wrote for CR Magazine, a new cancer magazine I was unfamiliar with. She had a cancer blogger column and asked if I’d be willing to be interviewed and for my blog to be the subject of one of her columns. I was very flattered and accepted. During the phone interview, I discovered the magazine was a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research…the same organization who sponsored the Scientist-Survivor Program. As it turned out, the editor of the magazine was also the Survivor and Patient Advocacy program director for the AACR; she was in charge of the Scientist-Survivor Program. The columnist for the magazine didn’t know I’d applied to the Scientist-Survivor Program. Just a coincidence.
In the end I met the editor of the magazine, Gwen Darien, a woman I truly admire and who is a cancer survivor also, when I attended my first AACR annual meeting.
Such a cool sequence of events.
I’ve had an overwhelming number of those kinds of coincidences since first deciding to advocate for my cancer. In the end, I really don’t think they are coincidences…I think I’m on the path I’m meant to be on. I am grateful for the purpose an initially terminal cancer diagnosis, though an experience horrible beyond words once, has given to my life.
I’ll try to write here from the conference over the next several days. Chicago to Denver tomorrow! Stay tuned!