#SABCS 2017 through a Patient Advocate’s Lens
#SABCS 2017 through a patient advocate’s lens is about my experience at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (#SABCS) 2017. Two descriptive words that sum it up quickly from my personal standpoint are, exhilarating and exhausting. I am an advocate for breast reconstruction options after mastectomy. That is my wheelhouse so I carefully contemplated the benefits of attending. But, there is no breast reconstruction without breast cancer. I found it to be a profound conference on many levels both intellectually and emotionally and well worth the experience.
A Robust Patient Advocacy Program
My decision to attend was solidified after learning about the robust patient advocacy program that SABCS has. Each evening, after the general sessions, patient advocates would gather to listen to selected “hot topics” of the day. We could listen, interact, and ask questions. There were notable speakers and leaders in the breast cancer world. I was honored to meet them. However, the true highlight for me was meeting other advocates. I sat with advocates I had never met in person and had only communicated with on social media platforms.
We all shared the same passion; to find out as much about breast cancer studies, developments, clinical trials, and trending topics so that we can push this information out to other patients and engage with our communities about these topics to better the system for all. What struck me most were the moments I would hear a fellow advocate quietly but firmly say something under their breath. I saw them squirm in their seat. Perhaps it was the inequities and disparities in breast cancer care, the lack of focused attention on the metastatic breast cancer community, the new clinical trials giving us changing information we all need to know about estrogen receptor positive breast cancer treatment, inflammatory breast cancer, or the myriad of tests that are being developed to study our immune system and fighting the ever-rigorous cancer bandit cells.
These sessions were both intellectually and emotionally exhilarating and exhausting for many of us. I saw the fatigue on everyone’s face as the week wore on. Besides the hot topics sessions, there were general sessions with global leaders in breast cancer research and clinical trials reporting their findings on a plethora of topics from new treatment for breast cancer, side effects of treatment, treatments to combat side effects, and even a clinical trial on my focused advocacy topic; A notable study on the dilatory effects of radiation in breast reconstruction.
Advocates are in a sense, warriors. We are warriors in the pursuit of knowing as much as we can about the disease of breast cancer so we can continue to fight our battle not only personally but for other survivors. Listening to these studies and knowing that things are progressing and changing for the better is hopeful. We are seeing an increase in the number of survivors and the years they are living even with metastatic disease, beyond what was predicted.
Advocates are Warriors
A rare moment for me on the final day of the symposium was standing with a fellow advocate, a male breast cancer survivor. We roamed around the huge room at the convention center to shake a few more hands, get a few more hugs, and swap a few more business cards. I met a woman who was living with metastatic breast cancer. Now here’s the kicker! As I stared at her warm and infectious smile after shaking her hand and watching her worn, weary face with a brightly colored, knitted cap on to cover her baldness she looked at me and said, “I’ve been living with mets for 18 years! I just wanted to see my child graduate from high school. Then I wanted to see him graduate from college. Then I wanted to see him get married. I got to see him get married, TWICE!”
I will cherish that moment and many more from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. I learned of new opportunities for further advocacy engagement, met some international medical professionals who listened patiently to my story and the focus of my advocacy in breast reconstruction, and above all I continue to be inspired by some of the strongest folks I know in the world of breast cancer, patient advocates. I will be back next year. I have new connections, new opportunities, and new arsenal to combat a disease we have yet to find a cure for.
We shall keep our advocate swords drawn in the pursuit of a better world for breast cancer survivors and those who have gone before us!